Foodies: Amoral, Sanctimonious Jerks Who Can’t Write

Hey, don’t “humanely” slaughter me and eat my entrails. I’m just relaying the message. And that message comes from the delightfully bitchy “Fed Up” by B.R. Myers in the March issue of The Atlantic. (Online it’s called “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” which gets more to the point, but isn’t nearly as much fun as my headline.)

Before I continue, let me say this much. In the past, I’ve found B.R. Myers to range from sanctimonious in his own right to flat out wrong. I’m sure if he ever bothered to read my book, he’d vomit on its pages and then set the thing on fire. But I’d still get a kick out of it. If you asked me to describe his style, I’d tell you to imagine taking my “Get Off My Lawn” persona, raising it in a cage in a room with no natural light, depriving it of love and human kindness, then feeding it a mix of steroids and estrogen. The result can be over the top, but it sure as hell is entertaining. (I say all this even with the sneaking suspicion he’s a vegetarian.)

And, of course, I’m only sharing this piece with you because I agree with it and love it as much as I love a three-piece from Popeyes. It’s a long article but worth savoring every delicious word. Myers not only takes issue with the general pomposity of foodies ranging from Michael Pollan to Alice Waters to Anthony Bourdain (hitting the latter for his general thuggishness), he takes issue with their laughable morality, their shitty writing and their celebration of gluttony.

“There appears to be no greater point of pride in this set,” he writes, “than to eat with the indiscriminate omnivouresness of a rat in a zoo dumpster,” referring later to their glorification of eating feats in turgid prose as: “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.”

He returns repeatedly to the perversion of language and the moral knots these people twist themselves into to justify their religion. And that’s basically what they’ve turned “foodie-ism” into–an elite religion that the common schmuck can’t understand or, more importantly, afford. Jaunts around the world. The eating of rare and endangered species. Hey, I get it. We all need to feel spiritually superior in some kind of way. Some folks do it with standard religion. Myers does it with literature. Hitchens does it with his atheistic intellectualism.

And these people do it with eating. Somehow, slaughtering an animal while looking into its eyes is superior to letting a factory farm put it out of its misery. They eat the whole thing. The factory farm uses the whole animal. But one is better than the other. A religious person refusing to eat some sort of food is to be mocked, someone who says no to a street (food) vendor scorned. As Myers writes, “Is there any civilized value that foodies cannot turn on its head?” (Answer: no.)

As far as their environmental composting, the arguments for “sustainability” (see also: indulgences)? Myers refers to the menu cited glowingly by one writer as “environmentally sustainable only because so few people can afford it.” Exactly.

He even goes after what passes for journalism in this sector. “Is any other subculture reported on so exclusively by its own members? Or with the frequency and an extensiveness that bear so little relation to its size?”

Actually, yes. Media reporting. But at least there the writing tends to be lively. My own observation: Foodie journalism takes the narcissism of media reporting and cross-breeds it with the shitty, repetitive, cluelessness of fashion writing. To be honest, I’d rather read the pedagogical clap-trap I was forced to read back in grad school. At least in those cases, people were writing poorly in an attempt to teach illiterate kids how to write better (see also: irony). In this case, it’s .0002% of the population engaging in mutual masturbation in an attempt to glorify–well, the mutual masturbation of .0002% of the population.

As Myers writes: “Seven pages on sardines. Eight pages on marshmallow fluff? The lack of drama and affect only makes the gloating obsessiveness even more striking.” And that, mind you, is in reference to an anthology of “Best Food Writing.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like to eat. A lot. Food will even sneak into my books. But on a day-to-day level? Shut up and eat, already. Hell, feel free to brag about it. But don’t strike some writerly pose and please don’t pretend you’re doing something spiritual.

Myers makes many good points about morality and gluttony and self-delusion. But among his lines toward the end, this was my favorite. “After a month among the bat eaters and milk-toast priests, I opened Nikki Sixx’s ‘Heroin Diaries’ and encountered a refreshingly sane-seeming young man, self-critical and with a dazzlingly wide range of interests.”

As the kids say, “ZING!”

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