Foodies Under Attack!

May 13, 2011
Tom Ryan

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.

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
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."

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."

Discussion Questions: Is there a brewing backlash against foodies? Could charges of elitism hamper growth of the sustainable food movement?

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12 Comments on "Foodies Under Attack!"

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John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
9 years 11 months ago
Very interesting topic today. As a foodie I was not fully aware of the revolt against us, but thankfully I am now. Like any major change you need a small group that spends time educating a larger audience. If the change was truly worthy the larger group joins the movement and it becomes the norm. Most foodies today are not discussing the best pate they ate, but more about sustainable farming, organic foods, support of local farmers and obesity in America. These are all worthy causes that most people could and will benefit from. The age of “supersize” is gone. It is far less expensive to eat smaller healthier portions of locally grown food than eat inexpensive fast food when you include the cost of medical services then needed due to poor eating habits. Foodies like any other group will help bring important topics like sustainable farming and organic foods to the stage for everyone to see. Whether others want to join will be up to them. I am pleased with the direction we are… Read more »
Ben Ball
9 years 11 months ago
“The food movement”? Sounds like gastrointestinal functionality. Perhaps some are beginning to equate the two. Those who are engaged in the day-to-day grind of either finding a way to feed their families sufficient calories–or in the business of producing commercial quantities of those calories–may be starting to take some umbrage at the attacks of those who believe the world should be fed with organically grown kale and endive. Perhaps justifiably so. There is always room to progress our methodologies to improve the outcomes. But there are also realities in scale and economics. This discussion also brings to mind a recent experience where I shadowed food service reps for a major cereal company on calls to school dieticians and food service operators. In several of those districts the dieticians were distraught over the pending instigation of nutritional guidelines that would eliminate most of the RTE cereals in their morning breakfast programs. Their concern? The disadvantaged kids they were trying to get some calories into simply would not eat the “healthier choices” left to them by their… Read more »
Jesse Rooney
Jesse Rooney
9 years 11 months ago
I’m a foodie, and I agree with the accusations placed against foodies in the above article, but I don’t think it is a big deal. Food and talking about food is popular right now. It is hip; it is a trend. It probably will not be as cool in ten years. People who really enjoy food and make it a key feature of their lifestyles will probably keep on doing so once it fades in popularity, and everyone else will move onto the next trend. It just a social change. To put it another way, ten years ago redoing your bathroom was a great way to add value to your house, but now people redo their kitchens for the same reason. Ten years from now, people will place a premium on remodeling some other room. The foodie movement is a trend just the same, a trend. As for charges that organic/sustainable/locally sourced foods are unable to feed the teeming masses, well, that’s probably accurate, but that’s not really a big deal. Even in developed nations,… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
9 years 11 months ago

There are really two different issues going on here. The first is food as celebrity. That is a fashion that has come and will eventually go.

The second issue is that of sustainability of healthy nutritional food. That is a war between the food producers and those who believe in healthy nutritional food. That argument has taken a political turn and in parallel with other political issues of the day, is being called “elitist” to generate rejection by a naive, anti-progressive core of the electorate.

Rick Moss
9 years 11 months ago

I find it laughable that the sustainable food movement could be considered “elitist” when the cause is being largely supported by hard-working small farmers, many of whom are struggling to save family businesses that have been around for generations. Critics may have some good points regarding sustainability, but the “elitist” argument is twisted logic.

Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 11 months ago

Any “movement” is always lead by people who care deeply about that particular issue. So it’s no wonder that the food movement be led by…foodies. I think the article is really struggling to create the appearance of a problem, where there is none. But it’s Friday so if we are trying to find other movements worth discussing (or rebelling against), may I suggest: “Citizens Against Winter Movement,” “Enough With Wet Water, We’ve Had Enough, Movement” and the “Down With Movements, Movement.”

Bernice Hurst
9 years 11 months ago
Foodies have always been considered, by many of those who live to eat rather than vice versa, to be food snobs so no change there. Also by many of those involved in methods of mass production. In many cases, the description is fair although it doesn’t necessarily deserve the accompanying sneer. The perception, and the sneer, have been spread I believe by ubiquitous celebrity chefs, television, the internet and, in many ways worst of all, social media. People photographing and twittering about their food before, during and after a meal are amongst the current height of uncool although they almost certainly see themselves in the opposite way. Blogs–including the dreadful Julie of Julie and Julia fame–have encouraged a conviction of self-importance and belief that the world is awaiting their opinions. Those people are NOT like the ones who are shopping in farmers’ markets (see today’s other question) and looking for local producers i.e. REAL people. I can only hope that the message gets through sooner or later and those who believe that we all can… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
9 years 11 months ago

This article seems to be mixing together–a “stew” if you will–different issues that really have little to do with each other (other than that they have something to do with food): celebrity chefs, overpriced/overbuilt kitchens, agricultural policies, etc. Some of these are fads that will pass on like any other, some are trends that are the inevitable outcome of growing wealth, and some are, indeed, misguided nonsense. The only thing of which I am certain is that once one group invokes a phrase like “sustainable” or “(social) justice” the response from another will be to brand the first group “elitist.”

James Tenser
9 years 11 months ago

Maybe we need to distinguish between the gourmands, the ideologues and the technocrats when we analyze the “foodie problem.” Feeding one’s ego is not the same pursuit as feeding the world. I for one would like to see the Food Network and NatGeo devote a little more imagination to the challenges of sustaining a hungry planet–at the macro and micro levels. Managing ocean fisheries comes to mind; or over-dependence on monoculture and highly-refined ingredients.

Local agriculture successes should make feel-good stories. Instead we are treated to dueling cooks vying to impress self-important restauranteurs; food-venturers gagging down toasted vermin; and skinny chef-ettes mmm-ing and ahh-ing about caloric recipes over a porn soundtrack. Sure that stuff is fun and it seems to sell ads, but it does provide grounds for ridicule and self-righteous attack. As for the locavore and organic purists–they need to acknowledge the elephant garlic in the room–there is indeed a strain of elitism in their sub-culture.

Rick Moss
9 years 11 months ago

I’m with you Jamie. If we ate a regular diet based on most of what the Food Network chefs recommend, we’d all die unnaturally young. For an example of a series–currently running–that spotlights the grassroots efforts behind the locavore movement, check out Ovation’s “In Search of Food.”

Bernice Hurst
9 years 11 months ago

Go, Jamie, you said it.

Tony Orlando
9 years 11 months ago
Here we go again, with foodies on one side, and nut jobs on the other. The pie is big enough for everyone to enjoy what they want, and more importantly what they can afford. I love gourmet food, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, because someone thinks it should. The old Italians in my family kept a few staple ingredients in their pantry (garlic, olive oil, onions, and flour) with which they could create almost anything, plus a good aged balsamic vinegar. I was also told by my dad that you can never please everybody, so don’t even try, just do the right thing, and opinions will always follow. We need as a country to continue to feed the masses, yet there is also plenty of room for organic and small niche farms, with both being able to succeed. Let the market dictate the success of both, and remember to keep in mind the blue collar folks, who just want safe, good food at a good price to feed their families.

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