Yes, Foodies Are Ridiculous. But Then So Is B.R. Myers!

Categories: My Rant, Sietsema

B.R. Myers
In the March issue of The Atlantic, vegan, curmudgeon, North Korea expert, and animal-rights activist B.R. Myers goes after foodies in an article entitled "The Moral Crusade Against Foodies." I've got to admit, we've given him a very broad target.

He begins by extracting damning quotes from recent books by Anthony Bourdain, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Kim Severson, making them out to be, not only obsessed with food, but just plain addled by it. He writes, "To put these books aside after a few chapters is to feel a sense of liberation."

Next, he heaps abuse on Jeffrey Steingarten for dreaming about foie gras, and Michael Pollan for a 36-hour dinner party in which he and his crew of chefs and hangers-on roasted a whole goat in a Napa Valley backyard. Myers fails to note that it was a drop-in sort of party, in which guests came and left at will. He makes the whole shebang out to be a marathon Satanic mass.

Myers then glances at food writing and epicureanism. He characterizes the former as "guilty smirkiness," while the latter is reviled for requiring that one "eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford." He makes a fairly solid argument that contemporary Foodism is a class phenomenon (though that is changing, as fast-food establishments fiddle with their menus, public schools revamp their lunchrooms, and formerly unfamiliar ingredients infiltrate the grocery store), but then distractedly abandons that argument in favor of a much weaker one: People who eat animals are morally corrupt.

As his real target, the non-vegan, heaves into view, we breathe a collective sigh of relief, since foodies are now apparently in a more defensible position. Don't we celebrate the humane treatment of animals on small local farms? Aren't we concerned about the cruelty and health hazards represented by feedlots? Isn't sustainability of the food supply one of our primary goals?

To him it's all just window dressing, insisting the high moral ground we claim for ourselves is really the Slough of Despond. To Myers, Alice Waters's philosophy "is environmentally sustainable only because so few people can afford it." He continues his indictment of Waters by quoting Bourdain, "[Waters has] made lust, greed, hunger, self-gratification and fetishism look good."

The attacks retain their vitriol, but become increasingly redundant as the long piece progresses. He again savages all food writers because they specialize in "the barefaced inversion of common sense, common language. Restaurant reviews are notorious for touting $100 lunches as great value for the money." And here he revels in half-truths, neglecting the consumer-oriented bent of many food writers. Drop by Yelp, Chowhound, or Fork in the Road some day, and you'll find foodies bitching about overpriced lunches. In fact, the typical foodie often does more complaining than praising.

In turn, Myers hates those who love bacon, nibble on headcheese, secretly try ortolan with hoods on, accept bowls of pho in Vietnam out of politeness just because it's offered them, and the hapless but anonymous fellow who writes, "it's kind of weird and cool to say I've had goat testicles in rice wine." Maybe his real beef is with extreme eaters, since they provide the best fuel for his tirade. Naturally, their activities are intended mainly for personal titillation, but don't they usually acknowledge that themselves?

Myers, of course, is sitting up very high on his horse. Well, he can't actually sit on the horse, because that would be cruel, wouldn't it? As the embattled vegan in a meat-eating world, he tars anyone who allows meat past lips. At various points, he grabs arguments from evolution, animal husbandry, human history, zoology, ancient philosophy, and contemporary gastronomy, proving himself well-educated, but many brain cells short of wise.

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