Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A Judgement of Foodies

"Let's start the foodie backlash" by Steven Poole, a very long and ranting article in The Guardian, condemns many things about the modern interest in food, in food TV, in exotic and excessively innovative cooking experiments, and in a wide variety of what he sees as a new version of gluttony.

Straight out of primitive Christianity: medieval gluttony, he says, "wasn't necessarily a matter of eating too much; it was the problem of being excessively interested in food, whatever one's actual intake of it." He cites definitions by various authors:
  • Francine Prose -- gluttony is the "inordinate desire" for food, which makes us "depart from the path of reason."
  • Spenser's The Faerie Queene -- "loathsome Gluttony ... Whose mind in meat and drinke was drowned so." 
  •  Thomas Aquinas and Pope Gregory -- "gluttony can be committed in five different ways, among which are seeking more 'sumptuous foods' or wanting foods that are 'prepared more meticulously.'"

Poole criticizes those who claim their love of food is spiritual; he condemns those who title their cookbooks Bibles; he sneers at those who say that their fine cooking is an art form. He delves into the  history of words like "foodie" and "foodist," finding nothing to like I would say.

He summarizes his indictment:
Western industrial civilisation is eating itself stupid. We are living in the Age of Food. Cookery programmes bloat the television schedules, cookbooks strain the bookshop tables, celebrity chefs hawk their own brands of weird mince pies (Heston Blumenthal) or bronze-moulded pasta (Jamie Oliver) in the supermarkets, and cooks in super-expensive restaurants from Chicago to Copenhagen are the subject of hagiographic profiles in serious magazines and newspapers.
Normal people would normally hate the foods they are made to love, he says. They are being psyched out by hype and fancy menu descriptions:
In an experiment, two psychologists gave different groups of people Heston Blumenthal's "Crab Ice-Cream" while describing it differently: one group was told it was about to eat a "savoury mousse", the other was expecting "ice-cream". The people given savoury mousse liked it, but the people thinking they were eating ice-cream found it "digusting" and even "the most unpleasant food they had ever tasted". The psychologists add that most food tastes "blander" without the "expectation of flavour caused by the visual appearance or verbal description of what is going to be eaten".
I have my suspicions of the foodie trends that reach my little town Ann Arbor in attenuated and rather absurd (and unappetizing) ways, but I'm overawed by the vigor of the charges in this screed! 

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