Will Self on the BBC calls for an end to foodie obsessions and the return of the vomitorium
On close inspection Self's thesis -- that enthusiasm for gastronomy has crowded out "higher" interests among the middle class -- is as skillfully and artfully presented as it is devoid of substance. You could call it a plateful of culinary foam for the mind.
I was mired in his ironic magniloquence by about the third paragraph, but I think that the essential point is correct: the US/UK/Australia/Canada/NZ (etc) have become conspicuously obsessed with food, to an extent that suggests that it is the product of an absence of preoccupations (relatively large and wealthy middle classes, no great wars or major calamities, etc) combined combined with decadence and intellectual sloth (without preoccupations, our stomachs are the most noble occupation we find to pass the time).
No great wars or calamities?
I appreciate the point that WW2 was impossible to ignore, but it does take concerted effort to remove from normal awareness the long unresolved wars of today, including domestic gun violence, and global warming
However annoyingly written, Self's point is essentially correct in my view:
"As for the traditional middle classes, they jettisoned the troublesome business of acquiring culture by any other means than orally."
Food knowledge really has become a substitute for other forms of cultural aspiration. People really do spend more time on honing their food "literacy" than they do any other kind. There has been an elevation of food gurus over any other kind of cultural critic.
It is so much easier to be conversant about food than it is about any great art form, or philosophy or study history -- and it's more socially rewarding too. It is very hard to find people these days with whom you can share ideas about books or architecture. But people are eager to share all the detailed knowledge they have about food, little of which is about ideas at all, and it really is crowding out more important thinking.
That is not to say that it would be better to go back opening up cans of Campbell's soup. There is a real reason why people began paying attention to what they were putting into their bodies and how they've been polluting the environment.
But Self is right to take an axe to what is faddishly being elevated today in consumer culture. (I don't believe in preaching to the choir, obviously!)
> Food knowledge really has become a substitute for other forms of cultural aspiration.
> People really do spend more time on honing their food "literacy" than they do any other kind.
You think so? How's that?
> There has been an elevation of food gurus over any other kind of cultural critic.
"Over any other kind of cultural critic"? And how did you arrive at that conclusion?
> it really is crowding out more important thinking
Okay, so how did you arrive at *that* conclusion?
As with Mr. Self there's no substantive argument here. Just a juxtaposition of X and Y: enthusiasm for gastronomy and ignorance, self-centeredness, purported middle-class buffoonery, etc. etc. There is conspicuously no argument actually connecting the two. Just say-so, insinuation, juxtaposition.
The most intellectual of my friends and family are unsurprisingly (to me) also the biggest food enthusiasts. To them and to me Mr. Self and barberinibee attempt a conceited slap in the face, backed with not one reference, not a single logical step, absolutely nothing in justification and support.
Twenty years ago, British food was pretty awful -- grey, boiled-to-death-and-beyond, and pretty much devoid of colour, flavour, or texture.
The British food industry -- from farmers to chefs -- have worked their collective asses off, elevating British food to some pretty amazing stuff. From country pubs to the lights of London, British food is *good*.
And he wants to chuck all of this out the window and return to grey mush?
Ain't gonna happen...and ridiculously pompous of him to negate the hard work and dedication of the British food industry...especially when it's the obsession with food that pays his salary.
He then goes on to point out the "deflating burp since 2008" and the rise of food banks as supporting evidence to his pompous theory....apparently not registering that economic hard times and unemployment *might* be an unrelated, but unavoidable factor.
(and I'm guessing the sidebar about the myth of the vomitorium was an editorial comment as much as education...a very quiet "I don't think that means what you think it means")
> And he wants to chuck all of this out the window and return to grey mush?
By my reading, yes.
In the past "only a dull sufficiency would be remarkable enough". Indeed, "In the old days we had have-nots, now we merely have eat-nots". What a shame that with prosperity choice.
Meanwhile, if it wasn't clear, he seems to feel his philosophical and political agenda is being jeopardized every single time you enjoy a meal. Where's your sense of sacrifice and servitude?