Foodie Pseudery (18)
This is by Todd Kliman:
I watched tears streak down a friend’s face as he popped expertly cleavered bites of chicken into his mouth … He was red-eyed and breathing fast. “It hurts, it hurts, but it’s so good, but it hurts, and I can’t stop eating!” He slammed a fist down on the table. The beer in his glass sloshed over the sides. “Jesus Christ, I’ve got to stop!”
But please do. Please do stop!
Tears streaked down my cheeks….tears of laughter. Where do you find them?!
Nice job — you’ve taken this passage completely out of context, just as the earlier Atlantic Monthly piece did.
I was describing a friend eating an infernally spicy Szechuan dish. The tears are tears of pain, from the heat. The agitated excitement is a result of the heart-racing phenomenon that you find with some Szechuan cooking — it triggers something in us akin to adrenaline.
The piece this comes from is not a paean to gluttony, or whatever nonsense B.A. Myers tried to make it out to be. It is a piece about obsession and connection, and the tone is that of a mock confessional.
Thanks for the response! I’ve read the original piece, and I’m afraid that I’m still with BA Myers on this one.
His reading of the piece missed, possibly intentionally, the tone I’m talking about. Easier to support an argument that way.
Don’t see where you get gluttony out of the piece itself. Irrational exuberance, maybe. True gluttony is self-satisfied and complacent — the indulgence of royals in what they believe to be their due. It’s not joyous. It’s not about sharing and communicating an excitement. It’s not about discovery.
I’m not going to apologize for food giving me joy. There’s enough Puritanism as it is.
I understand your point and I’m not being Puritanical. My point with this post – and the foodie pseudery series – is to flag food writing which I find ridiculous and amusing: I think that a grown man moaning over spicy food and forcing himself to keep going is completely bonkers, even if the piece is written tongue-in-cheek. The best food writing has a sense of perspective – I think this essay lacks it.
The grown man didn’t “force himself” to keep going; he chose to keep going.
There’s a difference.
Forcing himself to keep going = ridiculous.
Choosing to keep going = caught up in a spell of something; seduced; compelled.
Have you never had an experience in your life that caught you unawares and lifted you, if only for a moment, out of what Walker Percy described as the consuming “everydayness”?
And/or felt compelled to seek that high again and again and again? We could be talking about potato chips, and going until you finish off the crumbs at the bottom of the bag. We could be talking about spontaneous get-togethers that go on all night. We could be talking about a lot of things.
You say that the best food writing has “a sense of perspective.” I think the best food writing gets at things that go deeper than the plate. If this one didn’t, I don’t think I would have received as much email about it as I did, from readers on four different continents. I don’t think it would have been anthologized. I don’t think a publisher would have come forth and asked me to expand it into a book.
I think there is something fundamentally hilarious and ridiculous about a man having a transcendental experience while eating chicken, however good that chicken may be. Clearly your readers and publisher disagree.
I think it’s hilarious, too.
For sure — a little ridiculous. At the same time, I think there’s something wonderful about the obsessiveness of it, the loopiness of it.
Which, I think, explains the tone of that piece.
It was not meant to be a considered, balanced look at something. It’s food writing as Romanticism, which I think is what you and Myers are missing about this idiom. It’s not realism, and is not aiming to be. Wouldn’t work, this tone, for book reviews or theater or even CDs — but somehow it’s right for food. Celebratory, indulgent, spirited, amused, hyperbolic, large, large, large …