Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is Anything Sacred? Would You Believe Free-Range Chicken?

I used to live with three women, all of whom qualify as “foodies.” For the moralist reader, let me add that I have mended my ways and now live monogamously with one woman. The other two women, former housemates of ours, are our daughters grown and gone.

Given this foodie family constellation, and keeping in mind the slim possibility that one of these three women might actually read this post, I here take an oath: I have nothing against foodies!! But, boy, did I howl with laughter and then wince with pain at this article in the March Atlantic, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies.” 

Author B. R. Myers takes on our cultural obsession with food and in particular the way we have conferred divine status on those who pretend to teach us about it:

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 … a secular seder.”

Incredible but true, Myers even offers a tip of the hat to the Catholic viewpoint on gluttony:

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 … 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. 

I did not know that there is a paragraph in the Catechism outlawing foodie-ism. But maybe there should be.

Could foodie mania be a sign of the end times? Myers leaves us with that possibility:

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.  

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