I was forwarded a link to an article from GOOD today on Twitter. The article is part of the Food for Thinkers series on the site, and in its own words sounds like the most tired brand of navel-gazing.
Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?
But I like words, and I enjoy good writing, and y'all know I really like food. So despite my trepidations based on the piece's title, I read on. The post is titled "The Rise of White People Food," and those last three words are conspicuously capitalized. The author, Morgan Clendaniel, goes on to describe the emergence of a type of culinary expression limited to people of ample quantities of both liquid assets and smugness.
White People Food has nothing to do with the relative melanin level of the person eating it. ... White People Food does, however, have a lot to do with money. Are you wealthy enough to afford cuts of [insert farm name] [insert special breed of pig] slow poached in [insert another farm name’s] [insert special type of milk] served with greens from [insert urban rooftop garden]? Then you are eating like a White Person. Do you feel really good about yourself while you’re doing it? Then you are a White Person.
Clendaniel goes on to assail a number of foods and techniques that are "White People"-centric. Making jam is White. Referring to tapas by the size of the plate on which its served is White. Sharing a table with strangers is White. Kale is White.
Grandmas make jam and pickle things (another target of Clendaniel's wrath); are they smug White People? Because the balloon Clendaniel hopes to puncture is this apparent smugness, this sense of superiority that he attributes to people who value things like the Eat Local movement, or heirloom vegetables, or who God forbid enjoy a meal in Brooklyn now and then.
After "What's this guy's problem, and is he serious?", there are a couple questions that came to me as I read the post:
- Why stigmatize a way of eating for its perceived class-based inaccessibility--thus making it easy to discount as ridiculous trendmongering--when what you would presumably prefer is for all classes to have access to that way of eating in equal measure?
- Why introduce race into the discussion, when you acknowledge in the next breath that actual ethnicity has nothing to do with it?
Yes, there is an argument to be made that popularity kills innocence. And I'm fully in the Bourdain camp that believes Alice Waters, with her frequent obliviousness to scale or tact, is a terrible spokeswoman for the locavore crowd. But those positions are different from the thesis that the entirety of the locavore school of thought is fraught with masturbatory tone-deafness.
From the very first beat, this article hints at the phenomenally popular website, Stuff White People Like. With that in mind, a thought (I would never presume to issue a Cardinal Rule) on snide humor. The first person to make a snarky, disparaging, or self-deprecating joke--if it's done well--can be credited for the wit. The second feels cheap, a thin laugh. The third, or fourth, or fifth reveals the meanspiritedness and bitterness at its core. Not only that, but it revels in it.
Plus, there's a delicious irony in Clendaniel bemoaning the tendencies of writers in major metropolitan areas focusing on this so-called "White People Food," when there's an expanse between the coasts that appears to go unnoticed in this whiny critique. ("I would challenge the reviewers... Push the envelope a little. We'll follow," he simpers.)
And with the choice of .is as the domain for GOOD's website (making every URL begin with the declaration "GOOD is..."), one wonders whether Clendaniel notices he's writing for a would-be tastemaker.
Race, ridicule, anti-urbanism, and a complete lack of self-awareness. For writing online, these are essential amino acids for buliding what the professional wrestling world calls "cheap pop." You shout the name of the city you're in just to get the crowd cheering, or insult its most famous feature to get them angry. This article smacks of the latter, and for accusing the majority of the food world of smugness, Morgan Clendaniel sure seems certain he's right about all of us.
What's the word for that, again?