appetite for destruction (paperdolldress) wrote in ed_ucate,
appetite for destruction
paperdolldress
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adbusters article - Comida: Gorging on Words

in the latest issue of the Adbusters magazine, there's an interesting article on food and the role it plays in our society. i thought i'd share it with you, and i'm interested in hearing what you think about it.

exerpt:
In our teens and twenties, all we thought about was sex. Everything in the culture carried a sexual connotation and we confronted all of it lustily. From The Pill to MTV, we yammered on about sex through a media that promised to make us sexier, to give us more sex. And now that one appetite has become less urgent, we fixate on food. Where once we worried about unwanted pregnancy and the clap, we now worry about cholesterol and carbs. Where once we worshipped mutual orgasm, we now fall to our knees for truffles. Never before have we had such an appetite for appetizing words.

link to full article

Comida: Gorging on Words by Paul B. Hertneky

Impatient with me as I sat dawdling behind a mountain of rubbery peas, my father banished me to the basement stairs. I sat in the dim light, picking at the peas and swallowing them whole, pestered by the smell of a nearby trashcan, hearing the joyful clanging of spoons against bowls of ice cream upstairs.

We were encouraged to talk at the dinner table, but I had stalled long enough, and worse, complained. Loaded questions or insinuations about my mother’s cooking stood well out of bounds.

“Gee, Mom, what kind of potatoes are these?

“What do you care? Eat.

“What might happen if the meat were…?

“Shut up. Just eat.

She hushed us out of exasperation and the belief that discussing the particulars of dinner, while sitting at the table, showed sloppy manners. To her, thank you and a word of praise were just about right. Ingredients and processes were to stay in the kitchen I could see why, years later, when I found myself at the table of a budding caterer who wouldn’t let her guests eat until she described every dish. I was hungry. The food looked good and I wanted to yank the bowl of scalloped potatoes – demi-peeled and braised in fresh whole milk and creamery butter, finished with dill, chives, and Hungarian paprika – right out of her hands while she pantomimed the injections she had administered to the pork loin.

A table groaning with delicious food makes our senses bloom and can send us into a rapture of imagination, intellect, emotion and wonderment. But talking about the food itself, at that moment, is like discussing lip tissue while kissing. Focusing on the catalyst makes it conspicuous and self-conscious. That’s why nothing makes a cook happier than the hush – that exquisite stretch of silence that comes when everyone tucks in.

altBut, today, we are goaded into elaboration. Our media heralds every aspect of food. The programs, advertisers, researchers and advocates have made an industry out of informing and scaring and enticing us. We are urged to define ourselves by our choices, and to talk about them, often with our mouths full. We can subscribe to at least forty established food magazines and ogle more than 200 cookbooks published every year. Food channels have introduced saucy celebrities with expanding empires of licensed goods. They’re bought, sold, traded, auctioned and rated by hundreds of nerdy websites and countless weblogs detailing what’s for dinner. An internet search of “culinary” yields 51 million responses. And “tapas” brings 18 million.

All this talk about food runs to what will kill me and harm me, worry me and cure me, shock me and delight me, impress me, remind me, transport me, seduce me and impel me to write and tell others all about it. Other writers often say they can’t resist – tasting, indulging, overeating, and bringing every known adjective to bear on the cellular structure of, say, poblano chilies.

Without extravagance, there would be no audience. Lavishly endowed foodies strive for cavernous kitchens and countertops that will withstand cruise missiles. As virtue, they support organic farmers, cottage industries, and lychee growers in hardscrabble provinces, sharing their wealth with every corner of the world. They entertain. And show off. And gather to compare and compete.

These enthusiasts devour cultural output. They gorge on images and words, rapturous words, stern words, clever words, words in the mouths of stars, experts, chefs and doctors, words off the fingertips of those like me, who obsess about food, unleash our imaginations on food, craving and coveting it, loving it and fondling it, very much fearing it, and essentially having it replace sex in our middle age.

In our teens and twenties, all we thought about was sex. Everything in the culture carried a sexual connotation and we confronted all of it lustily. From The Pill to MTV, we yammered on about sex through a media that promised to make us sexier, to give us more sex. And now that one appetite has become less urgent, we fixate on food. Where once we worried about unwanted pregnancy and the clap, we now worry about cholesterol and carbs. Where once we worshipped mutual orgasm, we now fall to our knees for truffles. Never before have we had such an appetite for appetizing words.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Filmmakers, fruit writers, celebrity chefs, everybody’s in on the act. And why not? Because we’re becoming a cult of fetishists and fussbudgets. And we’ve bred children within earshot of our fussing over wines and breads and artisanal cheeses. (Funny, how the word artisanal has “anal” in it). Now they too lift the top slice to peer what’s underneath and announce it. All of our fears and preferences culminate in awful table manners and wrinkling brows. To be fair, appreciation comes through, too, bringing adventure to the palate. Unfortunately, deconstruction often follows, which can turn food into a pile of parts and processes. The Vietnamese pepper, the key limes, the bruised lemongrass, the texture, and the marvel at all a dish posseses only give rise to my mother’s four short words: “Shut up and eat.”

And yet, absent from my family’s table, I can hear the precious nature of my comments, bolstered as they are by privilege. I pore over catalogs and recipes that read like pornography. I am never hungry unless I pursue it for sport, fasting or exercising to chase away the effects of excess, and to justify another feast. I sweat through a workout while watching a Napa Valley chef press herbs into a rack of prime rib. Others may be enslaved by wealth or art or addiction, but I drag the chains of gastronomy, more wearily every day. Minutes after seeing me at a family gathering, an aunt and cousin I hadn’t seen in years were flipping through Bon Appetit, saying “get a load of this.” I began drinking a double tequila – a blue agave, tequila lapiz, on spring water crystals – too quickly and my embarrassment sank into shame.

“Pleasure is a rather unambitious quality . . . We should take the whip to a young man who spent his time discriminating between the taste of wines and sauces,” Michel de Montaigne wrote in 1586, “At present I am learning it. I am much ashamed of it, but what should I do?”

Pleasure is rather unambitious, and maybe I seek this pleasure because I am otherwise ambitious. Yes, of course, that should be justification. I can take a break from striving to enjoy the pleasure of food and drink. If only that were the case. Instead of admitting my own indulgence, the pure pleasure of all that I eat, I serve up copy for driven, anxious consumers and health nuts. I address those who aspire to higher levels, to precious metals in saucepans, to 5000-BTU cooktops capable of caramelizing an elk. I assure those committed to curing themselves with blueberries and completely outwitting enemy toxins. Forget about shame, foodies are eerily proud of the mania I have chosen to exacerbate.

History shows that a day will come when a new generation will deride their parents’ fashionable behavior. They will giggle over mother’s insistence on sel du mer and Talamanca peppercorns the way we scorned Velveeta and Tang. They will tease fathers about their limo-length grills, showing no urge to lay out a bed of mesquite chips or massage a spice rub into a boston butt. They will mock us openly, hosting their friends for weenie roasts (too near the rosemary bush!), yellow mustard, and bleached rolls. Imagine the health benefits they will derive from eating without fear, having seen the adults of the 1950s, apart from the drunks and smokers, living well past 80. Imbued with good sense, they will eat less, shop less, crave less, weigh less. And they can go back to talking about sex.

Paul B. Hertneky writes about culture, food, industry and the environment.
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