With the preening of celebrity chefs mixing with sermons around recreating the world's food supply system, foodies are getting some flack lately. Beyond being ridiculed like yuppies for extravagant behavior, the concern is that any backlash may hinder sustainability, organic and other food movements.
A 3,741-word screed in the March issue of The Atlantic entitled The Moral Crusade Against Foodies took aim at the smugness of foodie culture. The author B.R. Myers' targets include globe-trotting gourmets, sanctimonious food writers, gonzo adventure eaters and elitist sustainable-farming advocates. Wrote Mr. Myers in part, "The Roman historian Livy famously regarded the glorification of chefs as the sign of a culture in decline."
Another editorial in the Los Angeles Times, It's Time to End the Food Fantasy, likewise decried the worshiping of chefs and food shows, as well as the sharing the "perfect photo" of meals on Facebook, Twittering food truck sightings, and creating opulent kitchens where little cooking gets done. The author Alexandra Le Tellier concluded that given rising food costs and the obesity epidemic, "we need to redevelop a realistic relationship with food."
Some foodies are also reacting to a wave of politicians and agriculture-industry representatives calling the sustainable-food movement "elitist." Those charges seem to have cropped up again after John Parker, writing in the March issue of The Economist, said modern farming techniques will be required to feed the projected nine billion worldwide population by 2050. Wrote Mr. Parker, "Traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. It cannot feed the world."
In an editorial in The Washington Post in early May, Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, said calling the sustainable-food movement "elitist" is "an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies." He highlighted efforts by Walmart, Whole Foods, Kellogg and others in support of causes ranging from organic, sustainable production; fair labor practices; humane treatment of animals; and healthier food in schools.
"Calling these efforts elitist renders the word meaningless," said Mr. Schlosser. "The wealthy will always eat well. It is the poor and working people who need a new, sustainable food system more than anyone else."
Asked to explain the War on the Food Movement by The Globe and Mail, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, said part of the problem is conflicting aims inside the food movement. For instance, some want to "replace Big Ag with Small Ag" while others want to reform "Big Ag." Complexities also come from people "mixing up aesthetics and ethics in a very new way" in the current food movement. But he sees no problem with the elite charge, noting that abolition, women's suffrage and the eco-movement were all started by elites.
"If the food movement is still dominated by the elite in 20 years, I think that will be damning," said Mr. Pollan. "It would need to be more democratized. The reason that good food is more expensive than cheap food is part of the issue we're trying to confront. And has to do with subsidies, and the way we organize our society and our economy. Those are big systemic problems."
Could charges of elitism hamper growth of the sustainable food movement?