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Mike Filigenzi

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"The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Mike Filigenzi » Sat May 04, 2013 2:03 pm

There's an article currently on the Slate website by L.V. Anderson that reviews a new book on food culture. The book is called "Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America", by Alison Pearlman. I haven't read the book, so I'm not sure whether I'd agree with Anderson's take on it, but she indicates that it pretty much damns "foodies" as stuck up class warriors, looking down their noses at the common folk. I plan to pick up the book as I'm curious as to whether it's as out to lunch as the review would indicate.

I'm not sure where to start with Anderson's piece as there's almost nothing in it that makes sense to me. I will agree with her that some foodies can match hipsters in being unbelievably annoying. That's about it, though. She seems incapable of grasping the fact that for most "foodies", the hobby is all about seeking out and experiencing interesting foods and flavors. To her, it's all about seeking out feelings of superiority over the proletariat.

From what she says, the book looks at the changes in high-end restaurants, from the French-oriented, technique-intensive places of the forties and fifties to the more "omnivorous" restaurants of today, which emphasize ingredients more and technique less. Apparently, this somehow represents a new level of faux-sophistication and exclusivity. She's not very good at explaining how this works, but she tries.

She starts with exhibition kitchens, basically claiming that they portray a sanitized process of food preparation that ignores the hard work and long hours put in by dishwashers and prep cooks.

Foodies hypothetically know better—they know restaurants are built on the backs of grunts—but they pay extra not to help improve kitchen labor conditions, but to induce chefs to play-act a fantasy of leisurely, creative cooking. So much for foodie solidarity with the people who produce their food.


I don't understand this. I'm not a big fan of exhibition kitchens, but I do enjoy watching skilled professionals at work. What's wrong with that? Are basketball fans being bourgeois because they like watching skilled professionals compete while not being "in solidarity" with the minimum wage workers who sweep the arena floor after the game?

She then goes on to criticize fusion cuisine as "cultural appropriation". So apparently, if I go get a kimchi quesadilla from our local Korean-Mexican place, I'm "hijacking cultural differences in order to soothe my own anxieties about social change". Really? And here I just thought I enjoyed the interesting combination of flavors embodied in that quesadilla.

Next, we're told that the recent emphasis on quality of ingredients and simple preps is evil because chefs are now valued for their access to these expensive and rare ingredients rather than their talent for modifying more prosaic ingredients.
What appears to be a celebration of the natural and the simple is in fact more constrictive and less attainable, because it depends not on talent but on means and access.

It's hard to believe that she's not intentionally ignoring the fact that much of what's being celebrated is the talent of the people producing these ingredients, which is why the menus in such places often tell you who raised the meat and produce. So on the one hand, we're supposed to be "in solidarity" with the dishwashers and busboys and on the other, we're to ignore the contributions that farmers and ranchers make to what goes on a menu. Sorry farmers, NO SOLIDARITY FOR YOU! (She also, of course, ignores the fact that many chefs do some very creative things with these ingredients.)

Then she hits the other extreme, embodied in molecular gastronomy, where technique is everything. From what she writes, she believes that the only reason it exists is to demean the masses by making fun of what they eat. She uses the example of a dessert made to look like a tiny McDonald's hamburger. The fact that most dishes made using these techniques have nothing to do with fast food is ignored. Instead, she makes the argument that it's all about making fun of poor people.
At best, modernist chefs’ fake fast food is a lazy, meaningless rehashing of pop art tropes; at worst, it’s an ugly manifestation of foodies’ deep-seated disdain for the poor.

The idea that this might be done in order to put a smile on a patron's face is completely ignored. This isn't entertainment, folks, it's class warfare. Remember that the next time someone serves you something that makes you laugh.

After reading this review, I went to Amazon and read their summary of the book. It doesn't sound much like what Anderson's written, so this may be a very unfair portrayal of it. I hope so. I'd like to think that Anderson's the one who's completely out to lunch here.
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Rahsaan

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Rahsaan » Sat May 04, 2013 3:11 pm

My take on this is that she's probably describing a few people she knows and those people are likely to be very different from the WLDG demographic. The question is which style of 'foodie-ism' is more prevalent.
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Robin Garr

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Robin Garr » Sat May 04, 2013 3:27 pm

This is oddly coincidental, Mike. I might normally be shy about posting this, but in response to your post ... I made a presentation in a class ("Multiple Intelligences in Christian Education") just the day before yesterday that bears on a similar issue, food from a theological perspective. I may have riffed away from the following script here and there, but this is what I wrote in my lesson plan. I wouldn't insist that others follow this exact approach, but it works for me. The class seemed to agree, too, but maybe that's just because part of the lesson involved making them hummus. :mrgreen:

Food justice has been an important part of my journey since the 1970s, when, as a budding “foodie” in the age of Julia Child and James Beard, I discovered Frances Moore Lappé’s thought-provoking book, Food First, and its practice-oriented follow-up, Diet for a Small Planet.

It was then that I felt a spiritual recognition that IF I answered the lure of the sensory and social pleasure of good food and drink, THEN I should feel a parallel responsibility to be aware of, and to advocate for, the social-justice issues surrounding food.

Those issues are are not trivial.

They are GLOBAL (food distribution and production economy driving world hunger) ...

REGIONAL (supporting a just agricultural policy and speaking truth to and about agribusiness), and ...

LOCAL (caring about, and taking action to help resolve, the problems of hungry people lacking a proper nutritional base in our own cities and towns ... helping with food distribution and feeding programs ... getting involved in efforts to eliminate “food deserts” in neighborhoods poorly served by access to nutritious food ... and helping teach people how to feed themselves and their children wisely and well.

How can a American well-off by world standards enjoy an indulgent meal without being conscious that much about our world and national food system is broken? Popular food-justice books like Michael Pollan’s recent
The Omnivore’s Dilemma and movies like Food Inc and Forks Over Knives only amplify this call.

And, once aware, how can one sit by silently without getting involved?

Matthew 25 offers a simple idea: “… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Mike Filigenzi » Sat May 04, 2013 4:03 pm

Rahsaan - I'm sure there are some people out there who are serious about food who fit the profile she's describing. I haven't met any, though. The people I've met who look down on others based on food choices tend to do so based on ethical or environmental concerns rather than issues of class. Of course, most people I know who like to eat aren't extremely wealthy and must choose to forego other pleasures in order to eat at a really top-notch restaurant every now and then. Perhaps her issues are more common among the very wealthy (which would make them pretty rare)?

Robin - You'll apparently have to turn in your official foodie badge as you can't be interested in both great food and social justice. :wink:
"People who love to eat are always the best people"

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Jo Ann Henderson

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Jo Ann Henderson » Sat May 04, 2013 7:04 pm

If she is not a foodie herself who thinks that the hobby and pursuit of the good food experience has been hijacked by the snobbish morally bankrupt -- why does she even have an opinion? How difficult is it to ride a high-horse anyway? :?
"...To undersalt deliberately in the name of dietary chic is to omit from the music of cookery the indispensable bass line over which all tastes and smells form their harmonies." -- Robert Farrar Capon
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Mark Lipton

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Mark Lipton » Sun May 05, 2013 12:41 am

Jo Ann Henderson wrote:If she is not a foodie herself who thinks that the hobby and pursuit of the good food experience has been hijacked by the snobbish morally bankrupt -- why does she even have an opinion? How difficult is it to ride a high-horse anyway? :?


I'm with you, Jo Ann. I'd first be interested in how she defines the term "foodie" or if she even uses that term. People have cared about what they eat since time immemorial and some of us care enough to actually learn how to prepare it and enjoy the labors of others who've learned how to prepare it. If this makes me morally bankrupt, so be it, but I resent the idea that only those who have expendable income can be "foodies" as I understand the term. Several of the women who taught me a lot of what I know about cooking were far from well off financially, but were exceptional cooks who cooked as much out of necessity as out of a desire to create something delicious. I've had fantastic meals in dingy, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and on the streets of Asian cities.

OTOH, the fetishism of food is indeed a problematic avocation. Those people who are so jaded by dining that they feel compelled to dine routinely at the top restaurants in the world may need to look in the mirror now and again and question what other ends they could put all that money to. (People say the same thing about folks like me who drink wine with their meals, so perhaps I should just stop here)

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Jeff Grossman/NYC

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Sun May 05, 2013 2:00 am

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."
-- attributed to Cardinal Richelieu (who said it in French, of course)
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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Shaji M » Sun May 05, 2013 3:10 pm

Well said Mark. I was going to simply say that that the desire to enjoy food, wine and even water, goes beyond socio-econo-cultural boundaries. Money often is an impediment to getting all that we want to try in life, but given the opportunity all human beings would aspire to the same. You said it better than I.
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Lou Kessler

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Lou Kessler » Sun May 05, 2013 4:30 pm

My mother was an excellent cook a fact which she always attributed to her mother who was of Italian extraction. My grandmother always maintained that with a little effort people could eat better and more interesting meals. My mother who was the youngest of ten was considered the best cook among her six sisters based on the idea she could do more with less in the way of ingredients. I later came to understand that was because we were the poorest among among my mother's siblings. At an early age my mother taught me how to pick the better fruits and vegetables at the markets. My mother had many interesting versions of dishes that contained inexpensive cuts of meats and fowl.
If I could wave a magic wand I would eliminate hunger, war, etc but dealing with reality I'm not personally responsible for the state of the world. Robin if you want to go through life wearing a hairshirt, :( so be it. For myself I have felt guilty enough every morning considering my Jewish, Catholic, background. I don't need the French Laundry as a steady diet but a plate of pasta can be prepared properly and taste wonderful if a little effort is used. :D
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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Robin Garr » Sun May 05, 2013 11:37 pm

Lou Kessler wrote:Robin if you want to go through life wearing a hairshirt, :( so be it.

I don't see where I said anything remotely like that, Lou. You've seen me eating in Napa. :lol: What I said was substantively different, but it's really not worth arguing about.
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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Lou Kessler » Mon May 06, 2013 5:24 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Lou Kessler wrote:Robin if you want to go through life wearing a hairshirt, :( so be it.

I don't see where I said anything remotely like that, Lou. You've seen me eating in Napa. :lol: What I said was substantively different, but it's really not worth arguing about.

I'm sorry Robin if I misinterpreted what you said but it seemed to me that's what you were saying. Nothing worth arguing about.
Last edited by Lou Kessler on Mon May 06, 2013 9:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Jay Miller

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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Jay Miller » Mon May 06, 2013 9:26 pm

No one is allowed to enjoy themselves if anyone in the world is unhappy!

I've seen this attitude many times in the past and never had any sympathy with it.

There should be no art - how can you waste time enjoying beauty when some people have nothing?

Food should be plain - how can you enjoy food when some people go hungry?

There should be no gay pride marches - how can any gay person go to a party or have a good time when not all gay people in the world have civil rights? This was very common in some far left gay circles back in the '90s.

I remember Doris Lessing describing life in post-WWII England and how offended people would get by anything that wasn't plain and drab. "Don't you know there was a war?"


"Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Personally, rather than going around worrying that other people might be having a good time I hope that everyone has joy and pleasure in their lives. If for some people that derives from a good meal then I hope they enjoy it.
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Re: "The moral bankruptcy of foodie-ism"

by Lou Kessler » Mon May 06, 2013 9:42 pm

Jay Miller wrote:No one is allowed to enjoy themselves if anyone in the world is unhappy!

I've seen this attitude many times in the past and never had any sympathy with it.

There should be no art - how can you waste time enjoying beauty when some people have nothing?

Food should be plain - how can you enjoy food when some people go hungry?

There should be no gay pride marches - how can any gay person go to a party or have a good time when not all gay people in the world have civil rights? This was very common in some far left gay circles back in the '90s.

I remember Doris Lessing describing life in post-WWII England and how offended people would get by anything that wasn't plain and drab. "Don't you know there was a war? Thanks Jay

















"Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Personally, rather than going around worrying that other people might be having a good time I hope that everyone has joy and pleasure in their lives. If for some people that derives from a good meal then I hope they enjoy it.
Thanks Jay

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