Emu-Egg Cassoulet With Crème Fraiche

Did anybody read this horrifyingly ignorant drivel about how the alleged conflict between “Foodies vs. Techies” represents “the great clash that now reverberates through American culture?” Holy shit. I thought that Atlantic anti-foodie screed was bad, but this is the single stupidest thing I have ever read in or on the New York Times (which is saying something given the presence of David Brooks on their payroll). Looks like somebody’s angling for a job as Business and Economics editor at the Atlantic once McMegan gets tapped for an endowed chair at Cato or the Heritage Foundation.

As I understand this, Poppy Cannon is to be revered for her innovative and enthusiastic embrace of industrial foodlike substances, while James Beard and his ilk are to be reviled for being–wait for it–elitists! Sound familiar? Real murkins eat food from cans and microwaves, you see, while commie snobs like food that is hard to make and has funny names. Cannon’s laudable talents included the ability to “conjure a serviceable dinner in five minutes.” Brilliant. But “serviceable” would seem to set the bar for culinary achievement rather low, no? Only if you’re a pinko or a foreigner like the President. Evidently regular folks are happy just having their basic metabolic needs met by any means necessary, at least until it makes them sick. “Europhilia and connoisseurship” sound like pedophilia and Satan worship, you see. God forbid you just really like to cook and eat wholesome food from scratch.

Honestly, who gives out these positions on their site? Leaving aside the petulant ignorance of the penultimate line of the piece, which I’ve helpfully excerpted for the title of this post (note the lack of circumflex on the “i”), I direct you to this pithy phrase: “most food tastes the same, which is to say super.” Let’s transpose this scintillating jewel of analysis for a moment, and imagine that a cultural critic with a byline in the Times is attempting to make an argument that country music is far superior to opera on account of the songs are much shorter and have words that she can understand. “Most music sounds the same, which is to say super.” Thanks for asking!

We read all about how foodies think this and say that and do the other, but nary a whiff of support ever follows to back up the claims:

Foodies still seem to spend a lot of time enshrining chefs and one another, while Cannon-style invocations of efficiency and convenience still drive foodies crazy.

Support? Evidence? Example? Not so much; the whole piece is just a bunch of “these things are true because I say so, ramblingly.” Now of course The Opinionator is but “exclusive online commentary from the Times” which means that the people who write for it are clearly not Fit To Print, but in this case it seems Opinionators should be forced to abide by Terminator laws and be enjoined from self-opinionating. Opinions are swell, but gosh darnit, cogent arguments made with actual facts work better! One could almost say that just opening one’s virtual mouth to spout a bunch of unfounded horseshit is like opening, say, a can of genetically modified organisms that were grown using massive amounts of pesticides, processed with various synthetic additives and stabilizers, and shipped a great distance and then microwaving it and eating it in front of the television, while an essay that makes a coherent argument using evidence, citations, and facts is like preparing a meal from scratch using high-quality ingredients and sharing it with people you love.

In addition, that block quote up there is in fact the very exact opposite of the truth. The humble kitchen processes that make the best food in the world are supremely efficient. I use the whey left from cheesemaking to bake bread, make soup, and flavor countless sauces. The brine from my pickles ferments grains and flavors unbelievably good gravy. The components for all these things come from close by, requiring little fuel. It’s almost all organic, so there’s no poison in the food. (Didja know that poison shouldn’t go in food?) Every bone goes into the stock pot, and all the vegetable scraps go into the compost to feed the next year’s crop. My soil gets better every year. My dollars go to as few big Ag corporations as I can possibly manage; they go to support people in my region who practice sustainable agriculture and do not push the real costs of their industry off their balance sheets and onto the healthcare system. And, as an added bonus to all this snobbish, holier-than-thou, luddite heresy, I make really good food which I and my family and friends absolutely LOVE to eat. Yes, I’m lucky, and yes, I’m grateful every day for this fortune and the many pleasures of living, especially food.

As I mentioned in my response to the Atlantic thing, foodie excesses can be a target-rich environment. But to sniff indignantly that Ms. Cannon’s epic The Can Opener Cookbook is unfairly mocked because it made her “the world’s first life-hacker” is hilariously, embarrassingly wrong. Opening a can of cherries and pouring it over a supermarket rotisserie chicken doesn’t mean you’re an innovator, it means you’re an idiot. But, our intrepid guide to what’s hot and now insists, we must embrace every and all technology, see, because they’re convenient. This neatly elides the rather meaningful distinction to be made between things that are useful or fun (communication devices, social media) and the biological necessity of putting calories into our bodies several times a day (if we’re lucky).

There’s a fundamental difference between technology and food. Can you guess what it is? MacGyvering a time machine out of a shop vac, a Prius, and some pop rocks is lifehacking. Using the time machine to travel back to prehistory, where you get trapped because you forgot to bring extra pop rocks for the return trip and then you have to beat the can of soup in your backpack open with a rock (because you also forgot your Swiss Army knife) while hiding from Sleestacks and/or Morlocks is surviving.  Do you think your kids will admire you more because you used your phone to take a picture of your dog and have it printed on your business cards or because you taught them how not to get diabetes?

But no, you see, all the incontrovertible evidence of the gigantic, slow-motion disaster that industrialized, chemical-intensive agriculture has become is irrelevant. Because look at this awesome app! Cargill and Monsanto and Kraft want what’s best for us, so we should celebrate our emancipation from any responsibility for what we put into our bodies and just revel in all that delicious convenience. To discuss the very serious issues about how we choose to feed ourselves personally and via policy decisions at local, state, and federal levels is classist, you see. Mustn’t go there. It’s better to view problems like hunger, pollution, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria as “morally neutral codes to be cracked.”

In essence, the author suffers from the same affliction as that dude at the Atlantic who also felt the need to tee off on “foodies:” they hate to see other people enjoy life more than they do, and choose to blame those people for their anhedonia. So be it. I don’t give a shit if you eat chemicals from a can with a label that says “FOOD” on it like in Repo Man every day while you sit drooling in front of Food TV and raise your kids to be morbidly obese. But don’t you fucking dare tell me that I’m un-American for not owning a microwave and for making my own food as often as possible. Try not watching the Food Network and see if more hours don’t get added to your day as if by magic–hours in which you can cook food! Wow, I totally just added three hours to every day of your life by turning off some technology. Efficient!

But the food angle is spurious to begin with, and that’s why this piece sucks as badly as it does. It’s an awkward fit, and she tosses it aside towards the end to get to her real point: gadget geekery is empowering! And fun! And rent your parking space? The real clash reverberating through our culture is between rich people and poor people. Food is just one of the battlegrounds. A mostly supine media enables much bad food policy to be made and sustained, and allows many people to be convinced to vote against their own best interests. In the interest of saving her precious time–this tacky, lazy, and useless piece of work must have taken way more minutes than she might have spent “standing over a risotto pot” (ooh, do they sell those at Williams-Sonoma?) Ms. Heffernan could have efficiently used cutting-edge technology and social media to achieve the exact same result as all of these awful words by simply picking up her phone and tweeting “I can’t cook.”

20 comments to Emu-Egg Cassoulet With Crème Fraiche

  • There is a reason I keep coming back here ;D

  • I could not agree more. Only I can’t write like you, so I’ll just cheer you on.

  • Dan Someone

    Just. Fucking. Brilliant.

  • Still seething over the Atlantic piece, but now I have to spare some indignations for that Times drivel. Let’s ship her a case of mac ‘n’ cheez and a few bottles of ketchup and tell her to “lifehack” a month’s worth of different diners.

  • I read the original article, thanks for pointing it out (though haven’t read through your analysis as of yet).

    I’m not entirely sure why or how HEFFERNAN is making the connection between techies/life hackers and folks who like food (I don’t like uttering the word, “foodie”); I think Kant, Heidegger, and Rorty are better writers (and that’s not saying much).

    My basic thought is that we all can’t love food and there are different representations of folks who shove food down their throat in order to keep on living; namely:

    1. Folks who love to cook
    2. Folks who glorify food
    3. Folks who glorify food, like to eat food, but do not cook food
    4. Folks who do not love to cook but cook to survive and not have someone else cook their food (this sounds like the individual HEFFERNAN is referencing)
    5. Folks who do not love to cook, but glorify food and pay someone else to cook their food.

    For those of us who love to cook and, on occasion glorify food (I can’t yet justify paying someone else to cook my food nor spend ridiculous sums of money on “restaurant” food), we need to make room for the aforementioned representations of food eaters. After all, even the most revered food cultures on the planet have folks who would fit into easily into representation #4.

  • Andrew

    Amazingly idiotic piece from an author whose surname (this isn’t her married name) means “cowherd.” Sounds like she couldn’t have strayed further from her agrarian roots. Perhaps she should change her name to “Virginia Twittershmuck.”

    • Andrew

      make that “Twitterschmuck,” excuse the typo, I’m not as facile with keyboards and all this highbrow technology as Ms. Twitterschmuck.

  • I do sometimes use canned things. I do buy local, organic, pastured foods as often as possible, but I do sometimes make exceptions. I do own a microwave (although I have to admit I rarely use it). I do cook almost every day with fresh ingredients to feed My Beloved and my friends. I don’t buy anything from Big Ag and I will not knowingly eat or purchase genetically modified foods. I do enjoy both the shopping at my local farmer’s market and the cooking, as well as the few things I grow in my own garden, but I also make a weekly trip to the supermarket.

    There’s room in the middle – why is everything in America presented as either/or? We are either Democrat or Repug. We are either gay or straight. We are either liberal or conservative. We are either foodies or techies. Why has everything been reduced to this simplistic kind of argument when there is nuance all the way along the continuum? It seems to me that every day we make choices for both good food and convenience. But good food need not be inconvenient – even risotto, which is vilified as one of those elitist foods, takes less than half an hour.

    I guess it makes for more interesting reading/tv watching if there’s drama, so the liberals and the conservatives argue heatedly while the middle ground, where most people live, is ignored. Currently, that’s going on between the two parties in both my State house and the US Congress – they couldn’t compromise if their lives depended upon it. And the country is suffering for that lack of compromise.

    Let’s not do that in the food-o-sphere.

  • El

    Gah, Peter, you still pay for the NYTimes? This then is your punishment.

    (I had to laugh too because I read your link to the article before I read your screed and I thought: Repo Man.)

    Seriously, though: who buys cans of cherries?

  • Peter

    Diana: And I’m glad you do.

    Winnie: I accept your cheers. (And tweets).

    Dan: Thanks.

    David: This was particularly galling in light of the thing you know I’m working on.

    Vince: Absolutely. But the problem is when the untalented and passionless attack those with talent and/or passion using moronic strawmen and meandering, unsupported non-logic.

    Andrew: Isn’t there an app for that?

    Zoomie: Right. Polarization boosts ratings, and everyone loves a spectacle. The result is that our discourse gets stupider and stupider.

    El: I don’t. This, alas, was one of my 20 free clicks this month.

  • Wow! What a stupid article. I guess I must be in a serious psychic rut! Love the lifehacking vs. surviving explanation involving pop rocks and sleestacks. Genius.

  • Amen, brother. You should be writing for the NYT.

  • Peter

    Julia: It’s because you’re so dependent on all those inefficient 20th-century pieties.

    Rebecca: Surprisingly, my phone hasn’t rung yet.

  • Don’t limit yourself to 20 free clicks a month – this totally works! http://euri.ca/2011/03/21/get-around-new-york-times-20-article-limit/

  • Bravo.

    It’s all part of the drumbeat – “It’s okay to lower your standards, it’s okay to be ignorant, it’s ok to be rude and crass and sit on your ass watching the dumbest shit ever created by man. It just means you’re keeping it real. It’s people who give a crap who have something wrong with them.”

  • Peter

    Eve: I put it in my toolbar. They’re worth the traffic I got for this post if nothing else.

    Suebob: There are not a few of us who dance to different (funky) drummers.

  • bravo. really well written. and i could not agree more. canned cherries on chicken makes me throw up in my mouth a little…

  • i just came back to reread. it’s just that good. pardus is reading it too…

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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