Kiko’s Food News, 11.9.12

We knew our YES on 37 camp was the underdog, but are inspired by the 4.2 million Californians who sent a clear message about GMO labeling Tuesday; in the end, the world’s leading pesticide and junk food companies outspent us by more than 5 to 1: (New York Times)

A weed-laced meal at Roberta’s in Brooklyn convinced one author that following Colorado and Washington in legalizing pot would, in addition to engendering medical miracles and rendering moot a large sector of illegal-drug-related crimes, allow quantum leaps in the world of cooking: (GQ)

A study found that that if a penny-per-ounce tax was applied to soda, cuts in consumption would result in an 8% decline in diabetes cases among blacks and Latinos, who currently face the highest risks of diabetes and heart disease: (KQED)

This provocative opinion piece argues that food has replaced art as high culture, but shouldn’t as “it is not narrative or representational, does not organize and express emotion” (I beg to differ): (New York Times)

The Head of Sustainability at packaged food giant Unilever believes that low food prices leads to food waste (at least in developed countries), since they encourage people to buy too much and end up throwing out so much: (Huffington Post)

Beekeeper and advocate Robert Mackimmie, who tends to our rooftop hives, explains how city beekeeping is becoming an integrated way of life for Bay Area businesses: (Wall Street Journal)

On family-owned coffee farms in Africa, about 70% of maintenance and harvesting work is done by women, but only rarely do women own land or have financial control; the International Women’s Coffee Alliance is trying to change that by giving “sisters of coffee” access to training and networking: (NPR)

One Response to “Kiko’s Food News, 11.9.12”

  1. India says:

    Kirsten- I too was really piqued by the NYT article about food and high art, so much that I felt compelled to stay up til 3am the other night writing about it! Here are my thoughts:
    In 1727, a letter to the editor of the British Gazetteer described a new vice of modern society, so contagious that it had recently grown “to a greater Excess than ever.” The problem was “the present luxurious and fantastical manner of Eating, which many of our People of Quality and Taste are fallen into.” Men in record numbers were wasting their fortunes on sniveling French cooks and lavish dinner parties. Culinary innovation had become so important to one’s social standing that one gentleman, eager to impress, actually retreated to the ditches in his own backyard so that his banquet would reflect the cutting edge of nouvelle cuisine. Luckily for historians, the newspaper printed some of the dishes supposedly served that day, which included “Viper Soup,” “Stew’d Snails” and a “Couple of Roast Hedgehogs.”
    The specter of foodism still haunts us. Last week, an opinion piece in the New York Times lamented that 21st century foodism has replaced art as the essential “badge of membership” in the privileged classes. Food, Mr. Deresiewitz observed, has recently developed “an elaborate cultural apparatus that parallels the one that exists for art, a whole literature of criticism, journalism, appreciation, memoir and theoretical debate.” We once held hope that knowledge and appreciation of food could prime people to appreciate art and literature –– the finer things in life. No longer. The means have become the end.
    But is this phenomenon really so recent? Beginning about three hundred years ago, as cargos of chocolate and pineapples descended upon Great Britain, cultural critics agonized about elevating eating into an art form. As early as 1750, one critic lamented that food appreciation has become so prevalent that “it is now almost become one of the liberal Sciences, and for ought I know, may shortly be endowed with some of the useless Professorships in our Colleges.”
    A position in Food Studies? What a ridiculous proposition.
    In some respects, the anxieties associated with 18th century foodism were very similar to those voiced today. You couldn’t get a decent meal these days, one writer complained in 1738, without hearing “extatick interjections of Excellent! Exquisite! Delicious! pray taste this, you never eat a better Thing in your Life: Is that good! Is it tender? Is it season’d enough? Won’t it not be better so?” And then, just as now, taste and snobbery went hand in hand. “It is not a melancholy Consideration,” another journalist lamented, “that Men of the first Quality should have Nothing to value themselves upon but the Merit of their Cooks? That a notorious Blockhead should be esteemed in the World only for being born with a good Palate?” Although the term “foodie” didn’t enter the English lexicon until 1984, history has always found ways to poke fun at his ilk.
    But I would argue that these 18th century critics –– men for whom hunger was far less of an abstraction than it is in the West today –– saw something far more insidious in foodism. While old-fashioned gluttony was often construed as a “gateway vice” that could lead to sloth and greed, foodism was more akin to a cocktail of deadly sins.
    First, foodism opened up a Pandora’s box of new gastronomic possibilities that threatened to destroy the bonds of a common culture. No longer were men satisfied with the noble roast beef at their feasts; in the sea turtle, for example, nativists saw a “conspiracy of Creolian epicures to banish [roast beef] from the island.” And if sea-turtle so suddenly became the newest culinary rage (as it did in the 1750s) why couldn’t an alligator? How could tradition survive within a relentless quest for novelty?
    Second, foodism altered the cultural meaning of food by separating the act of eating from its innate biological purpose of “filling you up.” For centuries, sharing food had constituted a primordial bond of commensality and fellowship. As a means of self-preservation, eating stressed the interdependence of individual and society. Aestheticizing food, however, rendered eating into a solipsistic form of distinction, an assertion of the “I” who had little need for the community.
    Last, foodism undermined traditional status hierarchies in favor of a new means of classification based on the slippery and ineffable idea of “taste.” “Too volatile to endure the chains of a description,” Edmund Burke said of it, many 18th century thinkers saw taste as an unreliable justification of expertise. After all, how did one obtain it? Who had the requisite authority to judge one dish over another? Even if the palate did have a soul, no one could describe what it looked like.
    The relationship between food and art has had a long and complicated history, but the nature of this relationship is constantly evolving. Today we might worry, as Mr. Deresiewitz argues, about the cultural repercussions of substituting fine food for high art. But for the critics of yesterday, food connoisseurship was intertwined with debates about identity, community and authority. Connoisseurship threatened to compromise many of food’s long-held symbolic functions: as a life-giver, as a mark of common culture. When it came to table talk, far more was at stake than is today.