Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Moral Crusade Against Truffle World


“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.”
-Oscar Wilde  (Irish Poet, Novelist, Dramatist and Critic, 1854-1900)

I don’t know much, but I do know that I don’t want B.R. Myers dining with me – ever.  In his piece, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies” in this month’s issue of the Atlantic, Myers goes on a moral rampage against foodies, celebrity chefs, restaurant critics, food writers, and even Michael Pollan.  His main beef?  Gluttony and the hypocrisy of the foodie.  His argument is as follows: Foodies are gluttons.  Their gluttony trumps all other values.  Therefore, foodies are bad, bad people (or at the best, seriously misguided souls).
Several other food writers have responded to this essay, calling Myers on his cheap shots at the foodie (Francis Lam’s “Do we need B. R. Myers' moral crusade against foodies?”) or his ridiculous sanctimoniousness (Ethan Khan’s “A response to B.R. Myers”.  As Robert Sietsema points out, “Every hamburger isn't a manifestation of insane cruelty.”[1] 
But for argument’s sake, I’m going to take Myers seriously.  So despite the gross (literally) generalizations and finger wagging, he does have a point:  Food is not just food – it represents a series of moral choices for which we must be accounted for.  This is not an uncommon position.  Slow Food and food justice advocates have been saying this for years.  But Myers pisses in their pot as well.  Sustainability advocates are disingenuous at best, using food as a vehicle to justify and reify their own bourgeois/bohemian elitism.  How we eat becomes the only barometer determining moral worth, and thus those who cannot afford or not willing to eat grass-fed, massaged, organic beef are just willing accomplices in the elitist plot against the masses.
So what should the elitist, gluttonous foodie to do in the Church of B.R. Meyer?   Can’t we all just go to confession, do four Hail Mary’s and go vegan?[2] Why don’t we just all eat a diet of rice and beans?  Lacking a Church of the Foodie Repentant, I decided to do the next best thing: ask my husband, the philosophy professor.
He kind of scratched his head a while and then said: There are two parallel worlds.  A world with truffles and a world without truffles.  Which world would you rather live in?
The simple interpretation of this dilemma would confirm Myers view of the world – clearly, those who prefer truffles are just pigs who spend extravagant amounts on food. At worst, echoing the ethicist Peter Singer’s message in The Life You Can Save, the cost of truffles is a life.  Foodies are the Marie Antoinette’s of the 21st century – greedy, self-indulgent snobs who don’t give a truffle about sans-culottes.
The problem with Singer’s as well Myer’s stance is that the moral standard will never be met, regardless of what the activity is.  Your time and money can always be spent saving a life, instead of some other “wasteful” activity. Like comic books? You’re a comic book glutton.  Like Pakistani rap?  You’re a music junkie.  Like breathing?  You’re obviously an oxygen pig.  Even Mother Theresa couldn’t meet Myers standard – she liked those blue wimples too much.
How about going over to the evil truffle world?  Truffles are really good. Don’t like truffles, how about going to a Knicks game?  Or attending a Yo-Yo Ma or Ozzy Osbourne concert? Reading 15th century Italian poetry?  They may be different for each person, but the world is richer for it.  What Myers fundamentally doesn’t comprehend is that our interests make us human. Yes, I could donate all my money to charitable causes, eat nothing but lentils and rice (sustainably and ethically grown), and spend all my time knitting little caps for albino Sri Lankans, but I would also be a total pill. While I wouldn’t be the first person to go a Star Trek convention, someone else might.  We might not agree on the merits of Klingon versus Ciceronian Latin, but it’s all copasetic.  Difference is a part of human nature and we should celebrate it.
To that end, Francis Lam says it all: “How joyless! How sad and dour he must be. I cook food because I love food. I eat food because I love food. But I write about food because I love people…”[3]
And if you ask me, that is a life worth living.

Recipe: Carrot
Take one carrot. Wash.  Eat.  Now we can all be as morally righteous as B.R. Meyers.



[1] Robert Sietsema, “Yes, Foodies Are Ridiculous. But Then So Is B.R. Myers!” at http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2011/02/yes_foodies_are.php.
[2] B.R. Myers is a known vegan.
[3] Francis Lam. “Do we need B. R. Myers' moral crusade against foodies?” at http://www.salon.com/food/francis_lam/2011/02/11/br_myers_moral_crusade_against_foodies.