Vegan wolf

Important NEWS
regarding Animals, the planet, your health and the worlds health!

Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony.

Vegan Home
vegan foods
keep on hand
to avoid
VEGAN Recipes
Vegan Cooking Tips
Choosing a SOYMILK
Meatless Meats
In the NEWS
Famous Vegetarians
Vegan Shopping
Great Links
Authors Notes.

Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony


The Atlantic March 2011


The Moral Crusade Against Foodies


Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony.


By B. R. Myers


We have all dined with him in restaurants: the

host who insists on calling his special friend

out of the kitchen for some awkward small talk.

The publishing industry also wants us to meet a

few chefs, only these are in no hurry to get back

to work. Anthony Bourdain's new book, his 10th,

is Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of

Food and the People Who Cook. In it he announces,

in his trademark thuggish style, that "it is now

time to make the idea of not cooking

'un-cool'-and, in the harshest possible way short

of physical brutality, drive that message home."

Having finished the book, I think I'd rather have

absorbed a few punches and had the rest of the

evening to myself. No more readable for being an

artsier affair is chef Gabrielle Hamilton's

memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter.



It's quite something to go bare-handed up an

animal's ass Š Its viscera came out with an easy

tug; a small palmful of livery, bloody jewels

that I tossed out into the yard.



Then there's Kim Severson's Spoon Fed: How Eight

Cooks Saved My Life, which is the kind of thing

that passes for spiritual uplift in this set.

"What blessed entity invented sugar and cacao

pods and vanilla beans or figured out that salt

can preserve and brighten anything?" And I

thought I knew where that sentence was going. The

flyleaf calls Spoon Fed "a testament to the

wisdom that can be found in the kitchen." Agreed.


To put aside these books after a few chapters is

to feel a sense of liberation; it's like stepping

from a crowded, fetid restaurant into silence and

fresh air. But only when writing such things for

their own kind do so-called foodies truly let

down their guard, which makes for some engrossing

passages here and there. For insight too. The

deeper an outsider ventures into this stuff, the

clearer a unique community comes into view. In

values, sense of humor, even childhood

experience, its members are as similar to each

other as they are different from everyone else.


For one thing, these people really do live to

eat. Vogue's restaurant critic, Jeffrey

Steingarten, says he "spends the afternoon-or a

week of afternoons-planning the perfect dinner of

barbecued ribs or braised foie gras." Michael

Pollan boasts in The New York Times of his latest

"36-Hour Dinner Party." Similar schedules and

priorities can be inferred from the work of other

writers. These include a sort of milk-toast

priest, anthologized in Best Food Writing 2010,

who expounds unironically on the "ritual" of

making the perfect slice:



The things involved must be few, so that

their meaning is not diffused, and they must

somehow assume a perceptible weight. They attain

this partly from the reassurance that comes of

being "just so," and partly by already possessing

the solidity of the absolutely familiar.



And when foodies talk of flying to Paris to buy

cheese, to Vietnam to sample pho? They're not

joking about that either. Needless to say, no one

shows much interest in literature or the arts-the

real arts. When Marcel Proust's name pops up, you

know you're just going to hear about that damned

madeleine again.


It has always been crucial to the gourmet's

pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream

cannot afford. For hundreds of years this meant

consuming enormous quantities of meat. That of

animals that had been whipped to death was more

highly valued for centuries, in the belief that

pain and trauma enhanced taste. "A true

gastronome," according to a British dining manual

of the time, "is as insensible to suffering as is

a conqueror." But for the past several decades,

factory farms have made meat ever cheaper and-as

the excellent book The CAFO [Concentrated Animal

Feeding Operations] Reader makes clear-the pain

and trauma are thrown in for free. The

contemporary gourmet reacts by voicing an

ever-stronger preference for free-range meats

from small local farms. He even claims to believe

that well-treated animals taste better, though

his heart isn't really in it. Steingarten tells

of watching four people hold down a struggling,

groaning pig for a full 20 minutes as it bled to

death for his dinner. He calls the animal "a

filthy beast deserving its fate."


Even if gourmets' rejection of factory farms and

fast food is largely motivated by their

traditional elitism, it has left them, for the

first time in the history of their community,

feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man

on the street. Food writing reflects the change.

Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that

once marked its default style has been losing

ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing.

References to cooks as "gods," to restaurants as

"temples," to biting into "heaven," etc., used to

be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive

recourse to religious language always betrayed a

certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now

the equation of eating with worship is often made

with a straight face. The mood at a dinner table

depends on the quality of food served; if

culinary perfection is achieved, the meal becomes

downright holy-as we learned from Pollan's The

Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), in which a pork dinner

is described as feeling "like a ceremony Š a

secular seder."


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? (The

"slow food" movement that we keep hearing about

has fewer than 20,000 members nationwide.)


The same bias is apparent in writing that

purports to be academic or at least serious. The

book Gluttony (2003), one of a series on the

seven deadly sins, was naturally assigned to a

foodie writer, namely Francine Prose, who writes

for the gourmet magazine Saveur. Not

surprisingly, she regards gluttony primarily as a

problem of overeating to the point of obesity; it

is "the only sin Š whose effects are visible,

written on the body." In fact the Catholic

Church's criticism has always been directed

against an inordinate preoccupation with

food-against foodie-ism, in other words-which we

encounter as often among thin people as among fat

ones. A disinterested writer would likely have

done the subject more justice. Unfortunately,

even the new sociological study Foodies:

Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet

Foodscape is the product of two self-proclaimed

members of the tribe, Josée Johnston and Shyon

Baumann, who pull their punches accordingly; the

introduction is titled "Entering the Delicious

World of Foodies." In short, the 21st-century

gourmet need fear little public contradiction

when striking sanctimonious poses.


The same goes for restaurant owners like Alice

Waters. A celebrated slow-food advocate and the

founder of an exclusive eatery in Berkeley, she

is one of the chefs profiled in Spoon Fed. "Her

streamlined philosophy," Severson tells us, is

"that the most political act we can commit is to

eat delicious food that is produced in a way that

is sustainable, that doesn't exploit workers and

is eaten slowly and with reverence." A vegetarian

diet, in other words? Please. The reference is to

Chez Panisse's standard fare-Severson cites

"grilled rack and loin of Magruder Ranch veal" as

a typical offering-which is environmentally

sustainable only because so few people can afford

it. Whatever one may think of Anthony Bourdain's

moral sense, his BS detector seems to be working

fine. In Medium Raw he congratulates Waters on

having "made lust, greed, hunger,

self-gratification and fetishism look good." Not

to everyone, perhaps, but okay.


The Roman historian Livy famously regarded the

glorification of chefs as the sign of a culture

in decline. I wonder what he would have thought

of The New York Times' efforts to admit "young

idols with cleavers" into America's pantheon of

food-service heroes.



With their swinging scabbards, muscled

forearms and constant proximity to flesh,

butchers have the raw, emotional appeal of an

indie band Š "Think about it. What's sexy?" said

Tia Keenan, the fromager at Casellula Cheese and

Wine Café and an unabashed butcher fan.

"Dangerous is sometimes sexy, and they are

generally big guys with knives who are covered in




That's Severson again, by the way, and she

records no word of dissent in regard to the

cheese vendor's ravings. We are to believe this

is a real national trend here. In fact the public

perception of butchers has not changed in the

slightest, as can easily be confirmed by telling

someone that he or she looks like one. "Blankly

as a butcher stares," Auden's famous line about

the moon, will need no explanatory footnote even

a century from now.


But food writing has long specialized in the

barefaced inversion of common sense, common

language. Restaurant reviews are notorious for

touting $100 lunches as great value for money.

The doublespeak now comes in more pious tones,

especially when foodies feign concern for

animals. Crowding around to watch the slaughter

of a pig-even getting in its face just before the

shot-is described by Bethany Jean Clement (in an

article in Best Food Writing 2009) as "solemn"

and "respectful" behavior. Pollan writes about

going with a friend to watch a goat get killed.

"Mike says the experience made him want to honor

our goat by wasting as little of it as possible."

It's teachable fun for the whole foodie family.

The full strangeness of this culture sinks in

when one reads affectionate accounts (again in

Best Food Writing 2009) of children clamoring to

kill their own cow-or wanting to see a pig shot,

then ripped open with a chain saw: "YEEEEAAAAH!"


Here too, though, an at least half-serious moral

logic is at work, backed up by the subculture's

distinct body of myth, which combines

half-understood evolutionary theory with the

biblical idea of man as born lord of the world.

Anthropological research, I should perhaps point

out, now indicates that Homo sapiens started out

as a paltry prey animal. Clawless, fangless, and

slight of build, he could at best look forward to

furtive boltings of carrion until the day he

became meat himself. It took humans quite a while

to learn how to gang up for self-protection and

food acquisition, the latter usually a

hyena-style affair of separating infant or sick

animals from their herds. The domestication of

pigs, cows, chickens, etc. has been going on for

only about 10,000 years-not nearly long enough to

breed the instincts out of them. The hideous

paraphernalia of subjugation pictured in The CAFO

Reader? It's not there for nothing.


Now for the foodie version. The human animal

evolved "with eyes in the front of its head, long

legs, fingernails, eyeteeth-so that it could

better chase down slower, stupider creatures,

kill them, and eat them" (Bourdain, Medium Raw).

We have eaten them for so long that meat-eating

has shaped our souls (Pollan, The Omnivore's

Dilemma). And after so many millennia of

domestication, food animals have become

"evolutionarily hard-wired" to depend on us

(chef-writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The

River Cottage Meat Book). Every exercise of our

hungry power is thus part of the Great Food Chain

of Being, with which we must align our morals.

Deep down-instinctively if not consciously-the

"hardwired" pig understands all this, understands

why he has suddenly been dragged before a leering

crowd. Just don't waste any of him afterward;

that's all he asks. Note that the foodies' pride

in eating "nose to tail" is no different from

factory-farm boasts of "using everything but the

oink." As if such token frugality could make up

for the caloric wastefulness and environmental

damage that result from meat farming!


Naturally the food-obsessed profess as much

respect for tradition as for evolution. Hamilton,

in Blood, Bones and Butter, writes of her

childhood dinners: "The meal was always organized

correctly, traditionally, which I now

appreciate." Even relatively young traditions

like the Thanksgiving turkey must be guarded

zealously against efforts to change or opt out of

them. Foreign traditions destigmatize every dish

even for the American. In Best Food Writing 2010,

one foie gras lover asks another whether he would

eat tortured cat if there were sufficient

Mongolian history behind the dish; the answer is



So tradition is an absolute good? No. When it

dictates abstention from a certain food, it is to

be rejected. Francine Prose shows how it's done

in her prize-winning Saveur article, "Faith and

Bacon." I need hardly explain which of those two

she cannot live without. Prose concedes that

since pigs compete ravenously with humans for

grain, her Jewish forefathers' taboo against pork

may well have derived from ecological reasons

that are even more valid today. Yet she finds it

unrealistic to hope that humans could ever

suppress their "baser appetites Š for the benefit

of other humans, flora, and fauna." She then

drops the point entirely; foodies quickly lose

interest in any kind of abstract discussion. The

reader is left to infer that since baser

appetites are going to rule anyway, we might as

well give in to them.



But if, however unlikely it seems, I ever

find myself making one of those late-life turns

toward God, one thing I can promise you is that

this God will be a deity who wants me to feel

exactly the way I feel when the marbled slice of

pork floats to the top of the bowl of ramen.



Yes, I feel equally sure that Prose's God will be

that kind of God. At least she maintains a civil

tone when talking of kashrut. In "Killer Food,"

another article in Best Food Writing 2010, Dana

Goodyear tells how a restaurant served head

cheese (meat jelly made from an animal's head) to

an unwitting Jew.



One woman, when [chef Jon] Shook finally had

a chance to explain, spat it out on the table and

said, "Oh my fucking God, I've been kosher for

thirty-two years." Shook giggled, recollecting.

"Not any more you ain't!"



We are meant to chuckle too; the woman (who I am

sure expressed herself in less profane terms) got

what she deserved. Most of us consider it a

virtue to maintain our principles in the face of

social pressure, but in the involuted world of

gourmet morals, constancy is rudeness. One must

never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or

ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the

French in regarding "any personal dietary

prohibition as bad manners." (The American foodie

is forever projecting his own barbarism onto

France.) Bourdain writes, "Taking your belief

system on the road-or to other people's

houses-makes me angry." The sight of vegetarian

tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor

fills him with "spluttering indignation."


That's right: guests have a greater obligation to

please their host-and passersby to please a

vendor-than vice versa. Is there any civilized

value that foodies cannot turn on its head? But I

assume Bourdain has no qualms about waving away a

flower seller, just as Pollan probably sees

nothing wrong with a Mormon's refusal of a cup of

coffee. Enjoinders to put the food provider's

feelings above all else are just part of the

greater effort to sanctify food itself.


So secure is the gourmet community in its

newfound reputation, so sure is it of its

rightness, that it now proclaims the very

qualities-greed, indifference to suffering, the

prioritization of food above all-that earned it

so much obloquy in the first place. Bourdain

starts off his book by reveling in the illegality

of a banquet at which he and some famous

(unnamed) chefs dined on ortolan, endangered

songbirds fattened up, as he unself-consciously

tells us, in pitch-dark cages. After the meal, an

"identical just-fucked look" graced each diner's

face. Eating equals sex, and in accordance with

this self-flattery, gorging is presented in terms

of athleticism and endurance. "You eat way past

the point of hitting the wall. Or I do anyway."


If nothing else, Bourdain at least gives the lie

to the Pollan-Severson cant about foodie-ism

being an integral part of the whole, truly

sociable, human being. In Bourdain's world,

diners are as likely to sit solo or at a

countertop while chewing their way through "a

fucking Everest of shellfish." Contributors to

the Best Food Writing anthologies celebrate the

same mindless, sweating gluttony. "You eat and

eat and eat," Todd Kliman writes, "long after

you're full. Being overstuffed, for the food

lover, is not a moral problem." But then, what

is? In the same anthology, Michael Steinberger

extols the pleasure of "joyfully gorging yourself

Š on a bird bearing the liver of another bird."

He also talks of "whimpering with ecstasy" in a

French restaurant, then allowing the chef to hit

on his wife, because "I was in too much of a

stupor Š [He] had just served me one of the

finest dishes I'd ever eaten." Hyperbole, the

reader will have noticed, remains the central

comic weapon in the food writer's arsenal. It

gets old fast. Nor is there much sign of wit in

the table talk recorded. Aquinas said gluttony

leads to "loutishness, uncleanness,

talkativeness, and an uncomprehending dullness of

mind," and if you don't believe him, here's

Kliman again:



I watched tears streak down a friend's face

as he popped expertly cleavered bites of chicken

into his mouth Š 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!"



We have already seen that the foodie respects

only those customs, traditions, beliefs,

cultures-old and new, domestic and foreign-that

call on him to eat more, not less. But the foodie

is even more insatiable in regard to variety than

quantity. Johnston and Baumann note that "eating

unusual foods is part of what generates foodie

status," and indeed, there appears to be no

greater point of pride in this set than to eat

with the indiscriminate omnivorousness of a rat

in a zoo dumpster. Jeffrey Steingarten called his

first book The Man Who Ate Everything. Bourdain

writes, with equal swagger, "I've eaten raw seal,

guinea pig. I've eaten bat." The book Foodies

quotes a middle-aged software engineer who says,

"Um, it's not something I would be anxious to

repeat but Š it's kind of weird and cool to say

I've had goat testicles in rice wine." The taste

of these bizarre meals-as researchers of oral

fixation will not be surprised to learn-is

neither here nor there. Members of the

Gastronauts, a foodie group in New York, stuff

live, squirming octopuses and eels down their

throats before posting the carny-esque footage



Such antics are encouraged in the media with

reports of the exotic foods that can be had only

overseas, beyond the reach of FDA inspectors,

conservationists, and animal-rights activists.

Not too long ago put out an article

titled "Some Bravery as a Side Dish." It listed

"7 foods for the fearless stomach," one of which

was ortolan, the endangered songbirds fattened in

dark boxes. The more lives sacrificed for a

dinner, the more impressive the eater. Dana

Goodyear: "Thirty duck hearts in curry Š The

ethos of this kind of cooking is undeniably

macho." Amorality as ethos, callousness as

bravery, queenly self-absorption as machismo: no

small perversion of language is needed to spin

heroism out of an evening spent in a chair.


Of course, the bulk of foodie writing falls

between the extremes of Pollan- esque sanctimony

and Bourdainian oafishness. The average article

in a Best Food Writing anthology is a

straightforward if very detailed discussion of

some treat or another, usually interwoven with a

chronicle of the writer's quest to find or make

it in perfect form. Seven pages on sardines.

Eight pages on marshmallow fluff! The lack of

drama and affect only makes the gloating

obsessiveness even more striking. The following,

from a man who travels the world sampling

oysters, is typical.



Sitting at Bentley's lustrous marble bar, I

ordered three No. 1 and three No. 2 Strangford

Loughs and a martini. I was promptly set up with

a dark green and gold placemat, a napkin,

silverware, a bread plate, an oyster plate, some

fresh bread, a plate of deep yellow butter

rounds, vinegar, red pepper, Tabasco sauce, and a

saucer full of lemons wrapped in cheesecloth.

Bentley's is a very serious oyster bar. When the

bartender asked me if I wanted olives or a twist,

I asked him which garnish he liked better with

oysters. He recommended both. I had never seen

both garnishes served together, but Š (Robb

Walsh, "English Oyster Cult," Best Food Writing




I used to reject that old countercultural

argument, the one about the difference between a

legitimate pursuit of pleasure and an addiction

or pathology being primarily a question of social

license. I don't anymore. After a month among the

bat eaters and milk-toast priests, I opened Nikki

Sixx's Heroin Diaries (2008) and encountered a

refreshingly sane-seeming young man,

self-critical and with a dazzlingly wide range of

interests. Unfortunately, the foodie fringe

enjoys enough media access to make daily claims

for its sophistication and virtue, for the

suitability of its lifestyle as a model for the

world. We should not let it get away with those

claims. Whether gluttony is a deadly sin is of

course for the religious to decide, and I hope

they go easy on the foodies; they're not all bad.

They are certainly single-minded, however, and

single-mindedness-even in less obviously selfish

forms-is always a littleness of soul.


Vegan Home
vegan foods
keep on hand
to avoid
VEGAN Recipes
Vegan Cooking Tips
Choosing a SOYMILK
Meatless Meats
In the NEWS
Famous Vegetarians
Vegan Shopping
Great Links
Authors Notes.

Please, Consider Making a Donation


100% goes toward keeping VeganWolf online
and Spreading a compassionate way of Life

Email Veganwolf