In a fascinating article called “The Moral Crusade against Foodies,” B.R. Myers lambasts the backwards ethics of contemporary foodie-ism, a movement that, as he notes, has adopted the vocabulary and moral stance of a religion:
“Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as ‘gods,’ to restaurants as ‘temples,’ to biting into ‘heaven,’ etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face. The mood at a dinner table depends on the quality of food served; if culinary perfection is achieved, the meal becomes downright holy—as we learned from Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), in which a pork dinner is described as feeling ‘like a ceremony … a secular seder.’”
Myers continues to recount chilling examples of foodies mocking and otherwise disparaging those with actual religious or ethical taboos against eating certain foods. Then he ponders the tendency of foodies to elevate “foodways” and “tradition” to a pedestal—as long as tradition isn’t asking you to abstain from anything.
“Most of us consider it a virtue to maintain our principles in the face of social pressure, but in the involuted world of gourmet morals, constancy is rudeness. One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the French in regarding ‘any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.’ (The American foodie is forever projecting his own barbarism onto France.) Bourdain writes, ‘Taking your belief system on the road—or to other people’s houses—makes me angry.’ The sight of vegetarian tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor fills him with ‘spluttering indignation.’
That’s right: guests have a greater obligation to please their host—and passersby to please a vendor—than vice versa. Is there any civilized value that foodies cannot turn on its head?”
Foodies, according to Myers, have also turned the vice of gluttony wrong way round. Gluttony, for the foodie, involves bingeing on processed foods, especially those containing the dreaded HFCS. As Myers points out, though,
“In fact the Catholic Church’s criticism has always been directed against an inordinate preoccupation with food—against foodie-ism, in other words—which we encounter as often among thin people as among fat ones.”
Food, like any good gift from God, can become an idol in a variety of ways. The greatest danger lies in pointing out our neighbor’s form of food-idolatry without recognizing our own.