Down With Foodies

B.R. Myers really misses the point in his take-down of foodies (and by proxy food culture):

The moral logic in Pollan’s hugely successful book now informs all food writing: the refined palate rejects the taste of factory-farmed meat, of the corn-syrupy junk food that sickens the poor, of frozen fruits and vegetables transported wastefully across oceans—from which it follows that to serve one’s palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows, Earth itself. This affectation of piety does not keep foodies from vaunting their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals—but only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction. This has much to do with the fact that the nation’s media tend to leave the national food discourse to the foodies in their ranks. To people like Pollan himself. And Severson, his very like-minded colleague at The New York Times. Is any other subculture reported on so exclusively by its own members? Or with a frequency and an extensiveness that bear so little relation to its size?

It would be one thing if Myers were offering what he believes should be the bedrock of food culture and food writing, as opposed to what Michael Pollan, Alice Waters and Anthony Bourdain currently offer, but all he does is spend 3,700 words writing like a disgruntled child because he’s not allowed to play too.

Yes, food culture — like any insulated culture (hello music writing on the web and the revelation that most normal people have no idea who Arcade Fire is!) — can be a bit pretentious and gluttonous and hyperbolic.

But pushing people to be thoughtful of what they eat, to extol the virtues of cooking for oneself, to question the current state of mass-agro-farm practices and ask if there is a better way is a good thing. A necessary thing. And yes, I wish there was more food writing from some of these people who would make actual food resonate with everyday folks, who could talk about ways to stretch a budget so there’s more produce in one’s diet. Jamie Oliver did it fairly well in his recent ABC show.

But Myers doesn’t argue against those things, he just wants to whine that Anthony Bourdain gets to travel to Vietnam to eat Pho, or that Michael Pollan can afford to buy $4 peaches at the Farmer’s Market. It’s contrarianism for the sake of contrarianism, really.

And it’s not just this particular article.  “Myers writes as if the purpose of criticism were to obliterate its object. He scores his little points, but so what?,” writes Garth Hallberg, for The Millions.  More to the point, “Myers’ faux-populist ranting is betrayed by his own obvious elitism,” argues Francis Lam. Which is true, in a sense. It’s hard to specify, what exactly, Myer’s has issues with. Foodies’ elitism? Their indifference to Kraft Mac and Cheese?

It’s like listening to somebody complain that Pitchfork doesn’t cover music “real” people listen to. Well, no shit. If you don’t like what they are writing about, move along and find someone who is. Or better, challenge with honest feedback about why they should be writing about Justin Bieber, The Grammys, Top 40, et. al.

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