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Fed Up

This is a short – and late – post because I’ve around 275,532 first-year test scripts to mark. In between correcting essays on the South African War, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the Scramble for Africa – yes, wild times this weekend – I’ve been thinking about the recent emergence of a small, yet fierce, anti-foodie movement.

Perhaps ‘movement’ is too strong a word. But it seems to me that there is an increasing unwillingness to tolerate the preciousness and snobbery of foodie-ism. In an extract from his new book on the subject, Steven Poole launches a vicious attack on the ‘food madness’ which has gripped the middle classes:

It is not in our day considered a sign of serious emotional derangement to announce publicly that ‘chocolate mousse remains the thing I feel most strongly about’, or to boast that dining with celebrities on the last night of Ferran Adria’s restaurant El Bulli, in Spain, ‘made me cry’. It is, rather, the mark of a Yahoo not to be able and ready at any social gathering to converse in excruciating detail and at interminable length about food. Food is not only a safe ‘passion’ (in the tellingly etiolated modern sense of ‘passion’ that just means liking something a lot); it has become an obligatory one. The unexamined meal, as a pair of pioneer modern ‘foodies’ wrote in the 1980s, is not worth eating.

Similarly, Hephzibah Anderson makes the point that for all its pretensions of ethical eating, foodie-ism has done very little to change the ways in which most people eat:

If foodism really is about to fizzle, it’s hard to imagine what its legacy will be. Foodists are slavish in their devotion to authenticity, but flipping through bygone cookbooks rarely leaves a person licking their lips. Most of it is revolting. A decade hence, aren’t Heston Blumenthal’s spruce-spritzed mince pies likely to seem just as off-putting? In truth, some molecular gastronomical creations (gorgonzola cheese volleyball, anyone?) don’t sound all that far removed from foodstuffs you’ll find at the nether-end of the dining scale (I’m thinking Turkey Twizzlers and Tater Tots). Naturally, devotees insist that ideas flow in the opposite direction: high-foodism is to the average plate as the Milan catwalk is to the high street. But while it’s true nouvelle cuisine, for instance, brought us the Roux Brothers – ‘the Beatles of gastronomy,’ as Blumenthal labelled them – couldn’t a case be made for Delia Smith having had far more impact on what we actually cook?

Foodie-ism was the product of prosperity: it emerged first during the boom years of the 1980s, and then appeared again – with distinctly moral and ethical overtones – in the early 2000s. It makes sense, then, that the demise of foodie-ism, if that is what is happening, should occur in massive economic crisis. When the poor and unemployed in Greece, Spain, and Britain go hungry, and when people riot in Mexico and Iran because of high food prices, hyperventilating over authentic tapas seems in very poor taste indeed.

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Sad news: the brilliant, fearless, and wonderful Eric Hobsbawm died today. His writing made me want to become an historian. I am immensely proud to have been awarded my doctorate from his department.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Deon #

    I would say that foodies have brought food back into the spotlight and have stirred a healthy interest in good and, hopefully, ethical food. However, most people now need cooks and chefs that are willing to teach them how to use the amazing ingredients that they have discovered to create the food they would like to eat.

    October 1, 2012
  2. Jen B. #

    I always think that “foodie-world” is a fun place to visit for a night out. There is a restaurant in Montreal I’ve been to twice, that really matches wine and food courses, so it is fun to try my food with my wine, and then with Theo’s, and see just how different the sensation can be. But it is about the social experience, as well as the food. The same goes for a lot of great experiences that I have or remember that involve good food: Mince pies and mulled wine at Burough Market on a Sunday, my brother’s homemade calzones, Easter lunch with (named) saddles of lamb and mint sauce, even the incredible filling sensation of a few square centimeters of raw beluga skin on a cold arctic day.

    The problem is when it becomes about only the food. I’ve usually encountered this when eating with other people. First, there is the dinner party where all your host talks about is dinner. Where and how the meat and vegetables were grown/raised, where they were bought, how they were sacrificed, prepared, marinated, braised, cooked, poked, prodded, massaged, and generally elevated to the holy experience you are now consuming. Repeat for every spice used. Any of these points is interesting. All of them together are not. The opposite is when you are the host, and everything you put on the table is analyzed and subtly criticized by your foodie guests. They never buy mangos, it is too difficult to get them locally grown. You should try the rice from this shop, it is free-trade. Fifteen minutes on the gastric and moral benefits of free-range eggs. Their spiritual journey towards being a locavore (I really like this word, because one can also interpret it to mean “crazy-eater”). It makes me want to simultaneously lock the freezer so they can’t see the bag of frozen vegetables, and feed them jello and marshmallows for dessert.

    I think that these people are a bit like the horrible food critic in Ratatouille: So busy analyzing the food that they are becoming positively anti-social. I love that in the end what melts his heart is not just the ratatouille, but the happy home of his childhood that it makes him remember. Good, varied food is a luxury, and when the fun goes out of it, it kinda looses the point.

    October 1, 2012

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