06 April 2015

Guest Post: A Response to McDowell

The phrase “going viral” is like “paradigm” and “pro-active” - a buzz phrase that dumb (or simply out of touch) people use to sound important.  But in the case of Adam McDowell's National Post piece “Death to the Chicken Finger” that was all over my Facebook news feed last week, “viral” was an apt metaphor.  Reading it made me queasy, then violently ill, and finally angry that I'd just wasted my time enduring it.

The subtitle (if it's a subtitle but it's been placed by the typesetter above the main title, is it still a subtitle, or is it a supertitle?) of McDowell's piece really tells you everything you need to know about what's to follow:  “How we created an entire generation of unsophisticated, picky eaters – and why we must stop the tasteless cycle”.  I'm loathe to make generalizations about entire generations of people, but there is one I'm willing to make about mine:  We've decided we're experts in everything.  It ought to be difficult to be a snob about fine dining and while simultaneously maintaining a starving artist self-image, but somehow, many of my peers manage to do it.  “Foodie” snobbery has hit the mainstream, and McDowell's Post piece is condescension distilled.

There's a lot wrong with McDowell's piece, and I won't go through it point by point.  Broadly, he argues that kids menus offer children unchallenging, “unsophisticated” food, that children raised on these kids' menus never develop a “refined” pallet, and that they will be unhealthy from eating a limited selection of foods.


The Author, reading the National Post.

The language McDowell uses throughout “Death to the Chicken Finger” simply oozes moral superiority.  It's clear that McDowell thinks you're a better person if you eat gourmet food – that you're more refined, more sophisticated, smarter.  Of course, that's the allure of the whole ___-phile movement – audiophile, oenophile, craft beer enthusiast, “foodie” - the opportunity to prove to yourself you're cleverer than your peers, because you see something they don't, hear something they don't, or taste something they don't.  Never mind that, nine times out of ten, the subtle details people think they're experiencing aren't even there.  It doesn't matter that studies show the difference between that $30 bottle of Shiraz and that $50 bottle of Shiraz are entirely psychosomatic.  The important thing is that you feel superior.

McDowell clearly feels superior.  Of course, there's nothing morally superior about eating pretentious food.  In fact, if you really want to split hairs, gourmet cooking often comes loaded with more moral quandaries than simple eating does.  I'm okay with eating meat, but I'm not really keen on force-feeding geese until their livers rupture, or fishing rare sturgeon to extinction.  I'll stick with my chicken fingers, thank you.

But what of McDowell's health argument?  Kids will be unhealthy if they never learn to eat “difficult” food at restaurants?


How often does McDowell think kids eat out, anyway?  I think I had a fairly typical childhood in this regard, and my family ate dinner at a restaurant maybe once a month, and breakfast or lunch once a week.  That's five or six meals a month at a restaurant, versus 85 meals at home.   I learned to eat a range of different foods and lots of fruits and veg from eating at home, not from being forced, at the age of seven, to choose something random off the adult menu at Ricky's.

Who the hell does Adam McDowell think he is, anyway, telling me I'm “unsophisticated” for liking chicken tenders.  I love chicken tenders.  Adam McDowell can stuff his face with fetid shark and abused goose liver all he wants, but I'll stick to my chicken.

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