As a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly points out,
It has always been crucial to the gourmet's pleasure that he/she can eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford.
For thousands of years, lording it over the "commoners" has meant gorging on a rich, animal-based diet. More recently it has meant taking on a "holier than thou" stance about what you eat, whether you are a "kill-it-yourself carnivore" who likes to get to know his/her livestock before it is slaughtered, or a pure "raw foodist" who seeks fresh, organically grown coconuts imported from the Philippines or someone who buys a loaf of gluten-free bread that costs more than a night at the movies.
All foodies are not elitist, yet food means something different to each of us. "Food culture" is way too big to be just "one culture." We need "clubs." The gourmands have their club. The "macho, Anthony Bourdains" have their club. Of course, the opposite of that club is the vegan club, which Mr. B detests. Everyone has his or her "food neighborhood. Lets face it, food is personal.
Can I criticize one club and praise another? Well, yes. Does that make me elitist? I don't think so. Think for a minute about what food is and is not. Look at the Food Network today. What started as educational programming for home cooks is now about showmanship and competition, values that have little to do with the importance of food. The Food Network thrives on showmen like Bourdain who glorify eating live animals in the same way reality shows glorify people's self-destruction.
Is a food show that glorifies the killing of animals healthy for our food culture? Violence is glorified in video games, in movies, and in pop music. Do we need to extend violence into our food? How does watching Louis Cole eat a live scorpion enhance our lives?
"To Louis, anything is food," his Facebook page for his web series Food For Louis states. I didn't watch his gastronomic feats. I suppose enough people do, in the same way we rubberneck on the highway when there is a car wreck.
There is a higher value to food. Food culture values nourishment, love and fulfillment. Violence toward animals need not be celebrated by our "food culture." Chefs need not be glorified or worshiped like minor gods. I don't mind some personal glorification from time to time, but cooking is an art that can be mastered by mere mortals. For me, being a foodie is not elitist. For food to be nourishing it does not have to be expensive. Good food can be available to everyone. Cooking is part of pop culture, and it needs to be a popular art. As Mark Bittman wrote recently in the New York Times,
The solution to the current junk-food crisis in America is not to get fast food chains to serve better food. The solution is to get more people to see cooking as "a joy rather than a burden."
Cooking is something we do to create a richer, more abundant life without needing to spend a lot of money, impress anyone, or do violence to animals. Does that sound elitist to you?
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