27 September 2012

The Function of Food at the Present Time: You Are Not What You Eat

The Atlanta burger that started my love
affair with burgers. I will never be able
fully express my devotion to and
admiration for burgers.

Eating is necessary to sustain life, but eating is not the spice of life. There is a pervasive idea in our food-obsessed culture that what we eat has some bearing on our fundamental identity: that what we put inside of our body has some correlation to what is inside of ourselves, that is to say, our interiority; that the complexity of our diet somehow speaks to our complexity as a person; that a refined palate is equal to refinement, period.

I do not challenge the social role of food in our lives. Beyond merely sustaining life, the act of eating is an important social practice. We spend time together when we share meals, we use food and eating as a medium through which to celebrate and mourn certain events, etc. But with the exception of specific religious rituals (wafers at communion; unleavened bread at Passover), it is not what we eat during these occasions, but when and with whom we eat. There is nothing inherently Thanksgiving-y about a turkey, and that we often celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey does not mean that we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving equally well with a plate of mashed potatoes and a bowl of frozen pees instead. 

I have no objection to people enjoying what they eat or having a diverse diet. But do not pretend that collecting ingredients and cooking is akin to art, or that enjoying that food is akin to appreciating a work of art. Here’s a helpful tip to differentiate the two: art doesn’t turn into poo once you’ve admired it. Food has been raised up to the realm of aesthetics by a group of people who are so devoid of any appreciation of art that this is their only access point to the arts. There is a sense that by indulging in it or talking about it or studying it or by buying all of those fancy cookbooks that now occupy valuable shelf space in any given bookstore--and if this goes unchecked, soon we will have some asshole’s musings on mussels creep up right along side Ovid’s musings on love, on the same shelf!--we can improve ourselves and become better people and cultivate a greater understanding of the world around us.

And please. Do not get me started on the supposed merits of eating ethnic food. Eating ethnic food is not to engage with that ethnic culture in any meaningful way. You do not gain a deep appreciation of any given culture just because you have eaten the same food that that culture typically eats or is associated with.

There is something fundamentally wrong about trying to create connections between what we eat and our identity, or what we eat and our appreciation of beauty and art, or what we eat and our ability to engage with other cultures. These things are not simply ingested; they must be cultivated (and not in some garden way that is actually about food). While it’s true that I am boring and have no interest in my own identity; that I have a limited appreciation for art and almost no appreciation for beauty; and that I don’t care much for engaging with other cultures, it is not true that I am all of these things because of my exceptionally bland diet. I’m just an uninteresting person that doesn’t care about others and who doesn’t believe that beauty still exists in our cold, cruel world--who just so happens to also have an exceptionally bland diet.

If you think a bland diet is comparable to hell
You've obviously never seen the pasta that is shaped like a shell


  1. I'm worried someone has already beat you to the point:


    1. I have long maintained that Steven Poole is my nemesis.