A lot of gauntlets have been thrown these past few weeks in the world of food criticism. Alan Richman used his monthly GQ review to rant about the state of service in restaurants (and go on a tangent about sexual harassment accusations), Hannah Raskin of Seattle Weekly questioned the need for food critics at all and Anthony Bourdain said some harsh words about Southern food maven Paula Deen, who fired back.
To recap: Bourdain is not a fan of Deen's cooking. He told TV Guide she was "the worst, most dangerous person to America." Deen responded, claiming, "You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills . . . It wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to feed my family, too."
Bourdain says stuff like this all the time, he's deliberately hyperbolic and comedic about it, and he is even sick of his own rants. Despite that Bourdain in fact had said nothing new, the comments he made to TV Guide have snowballed due in no small part to the pickup from the New York Post, and now everyone seems to need to weigh in on the state of food snobbery.
In the New York Times, former restaurant critic and current op-ed columnist Frank Bruni devoted a column to it, "Unsavory Culinary Elitism." He criticized Bourdain's choice of words, "...treating Deen, Lee & Co. with anything that smacks of moralizing and snobbery isn’t likely to move them or their audience toward healthier eating. It’s apt to cook up resentment. And we’ve got enough ill will and polarization in our politics. Let’s not set a place for them at the table."
On Twitter, Bourdain confessed that Bruni had "many good points," though he also re-tweeted the Village Voice's take. Rebecca Marx argued, in a piece very much worth reading, "Deen is no less a member of the culinary aristocracy than Bourdain -- they just belong to country clubs with different rules."
Andrew Zimmern and friend of Bourdain's also weighed in, summarizing, "Tony is one of the most caring, kind, loving people I know but he is painted as a cold-hearted cynic. And, Paula probably cooks less of the food she is famous for now than she used to."
In the Atlantic, food writer Jane Black suggests that Food Network stars may be the exact people needed to bridge the gap between food elitists and the Paula Deen demographic. "Many Americans actually like to cook and a growing number want to learn. What if the magic ingredient to changing the way we eat turned out to be Paula Deen after all?"
At least mostly everyone, food snob or not, can agree about one overarching facet: there is still massive change needed to fix our food system and the way people eat. Now we just have to figure out how to do it.