Not long ago I read Stephen Poole’s biting little book You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed Up with Gastroculture. In the final chapter I scrawled in the margins ‘I am drenched with sarcasm’. Truly, it drips from every page. Still, despite the lasting damp, Poole’s critique should be heard.
Poole takes aim at the current cultural obsessions with food. In his view, these obsessions are seriously misplaced, verging into the foolish territory of an ‘ersatz spiritualism’. Today’s chefs, he says, have become our priests and food writers our gurus. Those who sit at their feet are enraptured with a masturbatory obsession that distracts from issues of real concern.
For Pool, this obsession ‘represents a kind of perversity or decadence, an inward-turning dissipation of psychic and intellectual resources.’
We are crowded and harangued by people of evident thoughtfulness who are infatuated with food when they could be doing so much else with their time and creative energy, were they not alternately salivating like excited dogs and sluggard-brained with the vicious blood flow of over-challenged digestion.
For Poole, the ubiquitous term ‘foodie’ should be changed to the more accurate ‘foodist’: ‘Like a racist or sexist, a foodist operates under the prejudices of a governing ideology, viewing the whole world through the grease-smeared lense of a militant eater.’ Once more accurately named, Poole says, these cultural obsessions can be identified for the ridiculous things they are.
No doubt, there’s truth to Poole’s words. Certainly, I am often despondent at the narrow focus of much food writing and at the self-indulgent conversations around food that seem more concerned with the provenance of the verjuice that with the larger issues of hunger, justice and social inclusion.
Trouble is, to hear Poole’s arguments, one one has to get past his often mean-spirited dismissal of particular chefs, food writers and proponents of a more reflective eating practice. In many cases he lacks the slightest appreciation of what motivates these people and of the depth of analysis that many do provide within the genre.
Stephen Poole, You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed Up with Gastroculture, Brunswick: Scribe Publications, 2012.