21 Feb 2011

I Heart Tiny Treats

Posted by annmcolford

Ah, I love it when a provocateur stirs up the fooderati. This week’s tweaker is B.R. Myers, adamant and opinionated vegan*, whose article “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies” in The Atlantic browbeats everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Michael Pollan to Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. (All of his targets are meat eaters, incidentally, although Pollan is the writer behind the mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”)

Myers lumps these varied writers together under the heading of gluttony, which he defines as a preoccupation with food. His article contains some valid critiques of the food-fetishism on display in some circles, along with the pop-culture adulation of celebrity chefs and “reality” cooking shows. Mostly, though, it’s an articulate rant against those who he seems to have decided are not as pure as he is.

Plenty of readers have commented on the article at the Atlantic website, and some writers (like Robert Sietsema at the Village Voice’s “Fork in the Road” blog, and rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman, back in The Atlantic) have written their own pieces, critiquing the critique. Those articles have prompted their own comments, and on and on it goes among the virtual chattering classes. (Yes, yes, I know, I’m part of it, too.)

But neither Myers nor his critics talk about the connections among people that happen over food. Myers argues that, for “foodies,” the quality or authenticity or daring nature of the food is the most important factor in a meal—and certainly for many that is the case. A whole subgroup of food enthusiasts thrives on the hedonistic individual enjoyment of exquisite or rare foods. (Bourdain is certainly in this class, as are those who flit from private dining events to the newest cutting-edge restaurants, gushing about their experiences online.)

While the hedonists get lots of attention, most of the people I know who would consider themselves part of the “food movement” do so out of concern for the environment, for health, or for social justice reasons—in addition to savoring the joys of tasty food. Enjoyment is part of the mix, obviously, but it’s enjoyment of the whole experience, not just a single-minded focus on the culinary skill needed to produce the dish or the rarity of the ingredients.

I have disliked the term “foodie” for a long time. I find it both dismissive and overly broad, and while I’m sure I’ve employed it in the past I don’t use it often. (In fact, I haven’t used it in any other post here, until this one.) A foodie is a stereotype—like all stereotypes, it has some basis in fact, but it’s really just a convenient label with little nuance that can be slapped on a group of people. And by slapping a label on people, we rule out the possibility of actually knowing them and understanding their quirky, often contradictory, motivations.

Enough of that. In other news, this past week also held Valentine’s Day (or, as my buddy Ed Clark posted on Facebook, “Single Awareness Day”). While most people think of the day as a celebration of romantic love, I’m thinking that we need to expand the party to include all forms of affection between people: the love of friendship, the bonds of siblings and families of choice (i.e., those who aren’t related but should be), the sweetness between parent and child. Along with that, we need to not glorify the grand romantic gesture—the dozen long-stemmed roses, the candlelit dinner, the pricy and glittery adornments—at the expense of small but genuine expressions of love and caring. Not that there’s anything wrong with grand romantic gestures. They can bring delight. But relationships are not built in a day. It’s the daily considerations that pay off in the long run, those small choices that help the ones you love to grow and be joyful.

My date for Valentine's Day

So today, I’m going to think about all the people in my life who bring me joy, and I’ll try to come up with some little token or action that will express my affection for them. And then I’ll try to do the same for myself. Like having a little snack of almonds and dates: a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of substance. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

* DISCLAIMER: Not that there’s anything wrong with being a vegan, opinionated or otherwise. Or vegetarian, or pescatarian, or an adherent of Meatless Monday. All are lifestyle choices, and people who make those choices have to think long and hard about where their food comes from and how to find food that supports their values. They make mindful decisions about food. So do I. We have that in common.

There is, however, nothing admirable or mindful about being a humorless scold. :-)

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2 Responses to “I Heart Tiny Treats”

  1. Thank you, Ann, thank you so much for expanding the definition of love…and friendship…and joy in relationships. Yes! That’s what been so long missing in and of Valentine’s Day.

    I love your blog.


    Kim Steffgen

  2. LOVE that last line. I just wrote a similar couple of posts (going up this week) in response to a high-minded post on riding bikes (or cycling). Labels create distance, as does self-righteousness.


    Barb Chamberlain

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