“Why do you have so many pictures of food on your Facebook?” a coworker recently asked me, more bemused than concerned.

“What do you love?”, I asked him. “My family,” he instantly replied. His albums are full of photos of them so I presume this to be true. I don’t know him well enough to understand why he wouldn’t make that connection but there it was. Having photos of your family publicly demonstrates your love and fidelity but having photos of the steak you cooked last week seems a bit proud, a little snobby and maybe even gluttonous.

Gluttony’s a really dirty word, the n-word for people who enjoy eating and it can sting a bit when tossed at someone considered guilty of it. While it has its roots in the Latin word gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow and is generally assigned to the overconsumption of food, Catholics went one better and really broke it down. St. Thomas Aquinas thought there were five components:

Laute – Eating food that is too luxurious, exotic or costly.

Nimis – eating food that is excessive in quantity.

Studiose – eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared.

Praepropere – eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time.

Ardenter – eating too eagerly.

Clearly not the kind of man who enjoys himself at the dinner table.

Many people, let alone gourmets, have been guilty of all of the above at one point in their lives. It doesn’t make them gluttons (well, maybe not all of them). While we’re a far cry from fifteenth century Europe, where the class you were born into determined what you were allowed to eat, when you could eat it and how much of it you could ingest, there still live among us those frown at taking too much pleasure in a meal.

B.R. Myers is one of those fellows. Last month he wrote a screed in The Atlantic aimed squarely at gourmets. Appropriately called a “crusade” and taking up the cause of Aquinas, he went on to lay a veritable host of sins at their feet, backed up by cherry-picked quotes from fellow writers and chefs such as Anthony Bourdain, Michael Pollan, Jeffrey Steingarten and Gabrielle Hamilton.

If one were to take his article at face value, one might think we were facing the reemergence of Legion, with the epicenter of demonic activity being New York City. According to Myers, foodies are obsessive carnivores taking pleasure in the suffering of animals being butchered and enforcing elitist ideals when it comes to agriculture whilst flying around the world to blithely appropriate whatever local food customs and culture suit their agenda. They get off on the weird dishes they eat and view religious traditions, such as keeping kosher, as outmoded restrictions ripe for sabotage.

Does this sound like anyone you know?

Sometimes, you can go so far to the left that you come right around and end up on the right. If Myers eventually goes too far for The Atlantic’s taste, he could probably get a job at Fox News.

The man worked himself up into such a flecked-with-spit fervor that he took the asetic/glutton debate to an even greater extreme; an if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-with-them level of hypocrisy that accuses gourmets of elitism whilst practicing in the very spirit of that which it rails against.

Myers’ argument that much of the food being consumed by gourmets is out of reach of the mainstream has merit but his assertion that they consume this kind of food precisely for that reason is overly simplistic, ignoring a preference for ethics and sustainability when it comes to which products are purchased, not to mention their flavor.

I’m not in the habit of buying organic out of a sense of schadenfreude for those less fortunate. They don’t even enter into it. Mostly, I feel good about doing what I think is the right thing and I look forward to the meal that will come later.

Myers rails against the gourmet’s inability to appreciate the higher arts or abstract discussion. Either he’s being willfully ignorant or playing at being a lightning-rod for debate. I could refute him by bringing up examples, both personal and historical, of well-rounded people who were interested in all three but why bother? It’s self-evident.

Many people also don’t care much for the arts or eating well and while I don’t feel that I have much in common with them in that regard, I’m not even close to approaching the same level of vehemence that Myers seems to reserve for his opposition.

By tarring and feathering anyone who loves food as a blood-thirsty hedonist, he is placing them together in a grouping that has never existed. Foodism has just as many vegetarians as carnivores and I know of no food-lovin’ bible positing the two as mutually-exclusive. Look at the Woodlot, the restaurant on Palmerston Avenue, that offers two menus; one for vegetarians and the other for omnivores.

And what of those for whom cooking largely revolves around the use of a microwave? I have a hunch Myers doesn’t think much of them either which puts him way off in left field, in the company of other sanctimonious vegans. Maybe they could team up the dumpster divers and have a pity party?

YouTube Preview Image

The vast majority of people just want to eat good food. They want to have a decent lunch and maybe go out occasionally for a nice dinner. They’re probably happy with the food they’re already eating. Myers isn’t speaking for them. If anything, they probably like what Bourdain has to say more. Hell, I’d bet that even Pollan’s most memorable quote, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” from The Omnivore’s Dilemma has to potential to appeal a broader range of folks.

For every person who can only eat plain foods or wishes there was a pill to take care of their dietary needs, there are many more who genuinely want to educate themselves and appreciate those who have taken the time to do so. Nobody likes an elitist who tells everyone what to do.

When I started this blog, I did so because I loved food and drink. Partly, I wanted to share my enthusiasm with like-minded folks and information with those who wanted to learn more. I’ve never seen the point in converting the unwilling. It seems a whole lot of work and I’m not much of an activist.

On the other hand, living one’s life, practicing values that are important to one’s self and those around you, seems like an oustanding way to set an example that others can adopt if they wish. Is that snobbery? Maybe. If it’s not verbalized, does that many it any better? I think so.

The fact remains that human beings can be quite vain and we do generally care what others think. Perhaps the trick is to channel these impulses into healthy choices? It’s a whole lot easier than trying to be infallible. Instead of denying that I want to have a good time, I’d rather try to be smart about it.

It’s one reason why I dig Charles H. Barker Jr. so much:

…all really interesting people–sportsman, explorers, musicians, scientists, vagabonds and writers–were vitally interested in good things to eat and drink; cared for exotic and intriguing ways of composing them. We soon discovered further that this keen interest was not solely through gluttony, the spur of hunger or merely to sustain life, but in a spirit of high adventure. (The Gentleman’s Companion)

Maybe it’s overly romantic but doesn’t it sound like more fun? Certainly more fun than griping about things you can’t change.

« »