The F-Word

I have been reading an awful lot about Foodies lately.

An assignment for school has me analyzing 25 online food articles.  Some are written by true “gastronomes” (Item: Did France’s Le Fooding movement just snub Guy Savoy?!) while others take a grittier approach (Silk moth caterpillers = good eating!).    Despite their differences, one characteristic has been painfully universal: it’s all sort of embarrassing.

Take that with a grain of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.  Writing about food is obviously something I really care about.  There are many writers who do good by drawing attention to certain issues, and many more that grow personally from thinking through what they eat (taking into account the the occasional fluff).  But what about the writer who masks gluttony as appreciation?  Or the smug celebrity chef who’s fences keep the public out?  Foodies may be fun, some may be talented, but often, they’re wolves in Curried Lamb’s clothing.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read B.R. Myers’ Atlantic article, The Moral Crusade Against Foodies.  Basically, it’s an informed rant against pretentious food writing.  And while Myers’ argument has no shortage of gross generalizations, it shines a spotlight on a trend that may harm as much as it helps.  Take the following (glorifying) passage from the Best Food Writing anthologies:

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!”

Enlightening?  Without a doubt.

Pumpkin Friday and Critical Nonsense

1. Louis, 2. Allen, 3. Hester, 4. Grand, 5. Rivington, 6. Suffolk IIX, 7. Elizabeth (I named them, too.)

Dedicated readers may remember a weird little phase I went through this time last fall:  I carved pumpkins, constantly.

Every Friday morning I would wake up extra early, carve a Jack-o-Lantern, and display it on a busy intersection a block from my apartment.  Pumpkin Fridays were social experiments.  They were meant to answer 2 questions:

  1. How long could a shiny new Jack-o-Lantern survive in one of the most trafficked and drunken intersections in Manhattan?
  2. Could I move the needle of the Lower East Side’s festivity meter by introducing a steady stream of gourd art?

The answers, respectively, were about 2.5 days and maybe a little.  But it turns out they weren’t the important questions anyway.  The real insights of Pumpkin Fridays were in how they affected me.  I have to admit, that month and a half was especially grueling.  The jack-o-lantern process – even when streamlined – is long and messy.  You’d be surprised how badly a pumpkin a week can carve into your own free time (and sleep cycle, as it were).

Still, there was something intensely energizing about the whole thing.  So much so that as I remember it now, I feel that same electricity charging me up again.  Not because the pumpkins were making a splash in the community, not because they were particularly well done, not really because they were important in any way.  In fact, I found the process so exciting for just the opposite reason – carving the pumpkins had no immediate value.  It was an act of pure, impulsive, creativity… and zero reason.  Acting on that impulse – and freeing myself from the constraints of utilitarian time management – was one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve ever had.

It’s pretty wild how often being in this program has made me forget that lesson.  Time is very precious here, and when any resource starts to thin, it’s the superfluous nonsense that gets chopped first.  But what if the superfluous nonsense is what keeps you going?  Exhibit 1: It’s October 6th and my pumpkin count is still at zero.  Exhibit 2: How many new eating goodly posts have you read since September?  This blog may be a huge time drain, but it’s also one of my greatest sources of inspiration.  It sucks how easily the really important stuff can get reasoned away.

This is the last day before fall break.  I’ve got a midterm in an hour, a couple projects to hand in after that, and I’m out the door.  In the days to come, I really hope to rediscover my balance between what’s sensibly critical and what’s critical nonsense.  Of course – seeing as how I woke up early to study, but ended up writing about pumpkins instead – I might be well on my way.