Every so often, someone mocks the execessive nature of “foodies” and the culinary world turns collectively defensive. The most recent offering is a 4,000-word article titled The Moral Case Against Foodies by B.R. Myers published in this month’s issue of The Atlantic.
Subtitled “gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony,” the story reads like a hit piece. He wanders from topic to topic, from the exotic eat-anything exploits of Anthony Bourdain to people who obsesses on pork to various young chefs to the hyperbole of passage in the Best Food Writing anthologies to the work of Kim Severson, the widely respected food journalist with The New York Times.
His issue is that “these people really do live to eat” and thus, perpetually in search of their next culinary conquest. Everything “they” talk about or write about is food-related and excessive, from 36-hour dinner parties to Bourdain bragging about eating a bat to a food writer waxing poetic about a bowl of ramen. It’s hard to nail down exactly what point he’s trying to make in this meandering piece, nor does he offer an solution or alternative.
The only thing that Myers achieves is to represents “foodies” as a single-minded group of elitists not be trusted. Foodies are godless eating machines who must never be exposed to Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” lest one day they stalk like gustatory zombies after your newborn, roast it over an open pit with a homemade marinade, then serve it with a reduction sauce made from the hearts of frail, young birds. For fun.
It’s too bad that Myers painted such broad strokes as he has some genuine kernels of concern in his argument. He brings up some interesting issues, such as: Should people partake in gluttonous meals for sport? Or slaughter animals for the consumption of only part of the beast? Should the beliefs and faiths of people who conflict with fanatical eaters be diminished or violated, say, by unwittingly forcing meat on a vegan or pork on a kosher Jew? Do food writers need to rely on so darn much hyperbole? Focusing on one might have made a more compelling article.
But then he goes after pork, and a woman has her limits.
I don’t think he gets it. Anthony Bourdain eats sheep’s testicles or bat because it’s good show biz. He does sit because while it might fascinate the rest of us, we’re not going to do it, the same way that people who harbor no intension of committing crimes watch detective shows or horror movies. Not to mention, “extreme eaters” consume what locals eat, so should the foodies be blamed for eating testicles or bat, or should the finger be pointed at the Third World residents who started the practice in the first place?
We see these extremes because the weird makes entertainment, whether it’s good or bad is a subjective call. Even Myers refers to them as the “culinary fringe.” But then he lumps all food lovers, gourmands, culinary writers and adventurous eaters in with them, and with that, I he loses the point he’s making.
One can find extremes in everything. A handful attempt to climb Mount Everest each year, so should everyone who enjoys a good hike be demonized?
As expected, there are numerous rebuttals. I think the best one was printed by The Atlantic itself, penned by Nicolette Hahn Niman, a livestock rancher, environmental attorney, and author the excellent book, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. Niman contends that in the piece, Myers “mostly establishes only that from his outpost in South Korea, he is more than a little out of touch with what’s happening with food in the cities, suburbs, and rural communities of the United States.”
Some others, worth reading:
- Francis Lam at Salon.com refers to the piece as an “excoriation of food lovers” that is furious and vicious. “It’s also dumb and sad.”
- At Eating Real Food, David Mulder notes that while it’s easy to scoff at the piece initially, perhaps it’s worth taking it as a caution. No one wants to be considered a snob, after all.
- Part of Myer’s issue is with what he maintains is a fallacy of sustainable meat, a point that doesn’t sit well with Jill Richardson at LaVidaLocavore.org
- Kate Hopkins at the Accidental Hedonist makes it clear that she believes that it’s not just foodies targeted, but food writers in general.
- The general population of eGullet weighs in on the message board.
- In Cooking in the ‘Cuse, Jennifer Burrows sees the piece as a missed opportunity to talk about those who want to eat well and responsibly, say eating organic on a budget. “But those folks don’t get book deals.”
- Ruth Tobias had so much to say, she wrote about it in two parts.
Know of any other good pieces on the subject? Share them in comments.