Read the rest here.
The interesting thing about this conversation, though, was the intense class resentment my sister had around food. This is surprisingly common. Since I began writing about food some years back, I have had countless conversations with conservative friends, fellow food geeks who have had serious disputes within their families about food. These arguments aren’t really about food itself, but food serves as a proxy for the politics of class and culture.
By opening up a culture-war front on the kitchen counter, we invest discussions about what, how, and why we eat with a degree of emotion that renders rational deliberation all but impossible. It is ironic that conservatives are particularly susceptible to this thinking. Not only does it fly in the face of the “personal responsibility” mantra so common on the right, but the staggering cost of America’s obesity epidemic is increasingly borne by taxpayers, businesses, and insurance ratepayers.
The food snob is a comedy staple (ever seen the BBC’s hilarious “Posh Nosh” send-up of culinary elitists?) and, for many conservatives, an object of political derision. It’s easy to make fun of liberals who glide up to San Francisco farmer’s markets in their (metaphorical) limousines, agonizing over the purity of the squash’s provenance with the anxious attention of a medieval Scholastic to the immaculate qualities of his syllogisms. You get the idea that you could chase some of these people all the way to Canada with a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos tied to the end of a pole.
But far fewer people pay attention to reverse food snobbery—to folks who are proud of eating junk, and lots of it, in part out of the conviction that doing so offends Whole Foods shoppers, who, on this view, “think they’re better than us.” When Michelle Obama announced her program to encourage American children—one in three of whom is overweight or obese—to eat healthier meals, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin attacked the First Lady as a busybody and a fatso.
As I've been saying over at Rod's blog, I think some of the perceived class resentment stuff comes out of the appearance that the foodie stuff can have some arbitrary rules, and that no matter how hard you try, there's always somebody willing to tell you you're poisoning your children (just like there's always someone willing to tell you you've warped them emotionally by not carrying them in a sling until they were old enough to drive). Parenting is time-consuming, cooking is time-consuming, and the occasional shortcut (TV for toddlers, Pop-Tarts (tm) for a breakfast treat) just doesn't seem like it's worth all the hand-wringing.
But then, I have to admit that I spend most of my time among people who are trying to be good parents and to feed their families as best they can. Their choices may not mirror mine, but I'm willing to cut them huge amounts of slack in the hopes that they are cutting me the same amounts (sliced thin, for sandwiches...oh, wait; that was at the deli counter). But it's true that there are some people out there who are truly bad parents who think of the TV as their personal nanny, and there are truly clueless cooks who think that they can make a healthy pasta dinner by heating up canned spaghetti and adding enough cheese to cover the world's largest pizza--or by bringing home food from the drive-thru but serving it with fruit juice instead of soda.
Still, I think where Rod and I part company is in thinking that food issues such as health and obesity come primarily from the clueless cook problem. There are wonderful cooks who prepare healthy, homemade meals for their families--yet they (and their families) still struggle with weight issues, because they eat too much in terms of portion size. It's just too easy to see an overweight person and assume a background of cheeseburgers and Twinkies (tm)--and it's just not always true.
What do you think?