Foodism and anti-foodism

There have been at least three shark-jumping moments recently in my attitude to what I call foodism. What do I mean by that word?

Because, so far, the traditional dictionaries don’t appear to have registered it, I went online and got this: ‘an exaggerated interest in the preparation, presentation and consumption of food.’

Fair enough, but I prefer mine: ‘an attitude to food and cooking dictated by fashion and the media.’

It is amazing, is it not, how we’ve gone from total disinterest to total obsession without even seeming to stop halfway at deepening interest?

I mean, I can talk, I’ve spent the last twenty odd years of my life writing about what I’ve eaten, when I’ve eaten it, were I’ve eaten it, and, of late, who has grown it. But I still reckon the time has come to call  a halt. Those shark jumping moments?

One. In the UTS course that I taught for several years, Writing about Food, we had often discussed the students’ reaction to and attitudes toward the television show  Masterchef .

During one of these discussions, I was arguing that it is

not so much about food but competition, and that its contribution to ‘food culture’ will not be profound. One student argued back that since watching the show her husband, who, prior to watching the show had exhibited no interest in food at all, had developed an interest since watching the show. I asked how this interest manifested itself. “He’s fascinated by plating” she replied. Plating, in that sense, is restaurant jargon for the way food is presented on the plate prior to leaving the kitchen.

Two. Recently passed through my email in basket – and I use the phrase ‘passed through’ advisedly –  a breathless announcement extolling the most expensive coffee on the planet. Why is it so expensive? Because the beans had passed through the intestinal tract of an elephant, and some  poor sod had sifted through the beast’s turds to extract them so we could pay, I think it was  $1000 a kilo, to drink it. The last such coffee I recall had passed through a civet. I tasted it. It tasted, rather appropriately, like shit. I will not be fronting up for a cup of elephant turd coffee.

Three. in the Sydney Morning Herald, now called Good Food, previously Good Living, in an article entitled The 10 Essential Kitchen Tools  – essential mind – it’s author, included: The oat miller  – for fresh rolled oats: Mexican tortilla press because ‘Mexican food is hot, hot, hot’ and we’re not talking chillis; and  the Smoking Gun because ‘With one of these in your holster, you’ll be able to drop lines such as, ”I did that with my Smoking Gun,” and, ”Have you seen my Smoking Gun?” over dinner’.

So I figured I was more than ready for Steven Poole’s You Aren’t What You Eat: fed up with Gastroculture billed on the back cover as ‘the first full-length broadside at food fetishism to be published in Australia.

So without drinking a cup of elephant turd coffee or passing my oats through  an oat miller, I sat down to see what Mr. Poole had done.

It opens well with a very amusing and wince-provoking visit to a Food Rave in north London. Poole sneers his way through the pretensions of Korean burgers and Mauritian street food and the various misspellings and misuses of foreign language he finds. So far so  good.,

But as I ploughed on I became less and less enthusiastic. What Poole has done, rather than taking a long overdue swipe at ‘foodie  pretensions’ is to assemble a list of all the food topics currently in the ether and smash them to pieces with a very large heavy hammer – like looking for coffee beans in an elephant turd with a bulldozer.

His chapter ‘Back  to Nature’, for example, full of errors and longeurs, attempts to turn organic farming into  foodie bullshit. After favourably quoting Norman Borlaug whose Green Revolution got us in the shit we’re in now, and lauding the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation for sinking $100 million dollars into the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa  to as he quotes ‘fund the research and production of drought –tolerant crops’ shorthand of course for genetically modified crops, he quotes, with approval, Anthony Bourdain’s fatuous comment on organic farming ‘who will work these (organic) fields’

Well, I’d suggest to both Poole and the  Gates Foundation they take a look at the reports from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a report that was agreed to by 59 of the 61 countries participating in Johannesburg in April 2008 which

direct us to a very different means of solving the agricultural problems of the developing countries. And ask them to ponder on the fact that after some 26 years of GM, just about all it does is allow farmers to use as much of a very dangerous herbicide – glyphosate – as they want. Glyphosate dangerous? Sure, read this:

As for Bourdain’s fatuous comment, I could answer that army of useless pricks who sit behind computers shuffling money around the planet and adding zip to the economy or life but stuffing their own pockets as well as the planet, but  that’s not going to happen. I will point  out to him that working as farmers is, slowly, and largely because of the organic and biodynamic movements, again becoming more attractive to intelligent young people.

And I could tell Poole, who takes the usual heavy handed swipe at biodynamic farming of the increasing number of scientists taking up the practice, but what’s the point.

So what could have been a thoughtful and well-argumented attack at the excesses of rampant foodism turns out to be just another grumpy tabloid hatchet job. Pity.

If you really must read it, it’s published by Scribe (not their fault).


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