I’m working on a couple bigger posts, but in the meantime, an hors d’oeuvre, if you please: Frank Bruni’s recent op-ed in the NYT, “Unsavory Culinary Elitism.” Bruni takes on a pretty volatile interface, that between food and class, as he points to a recent clash between two food world titans that “exposes class tensions in the food world that sadly mirror those in society at large. You can almost imagine Bourdain and Deen as political candidates, a blue-state paternalist squaring off against a red-state populist over correct living versus liberty in all its artery-clogging, self-destructive glory.”
Bruni puts Anthony Bourdain on the chopping block for his characteristically blunt and unflattering remarks about Paula Deen, and rightly so, even if Bourdain did have a point, as he usually does. Paula Deen does not help matters by skirting Tony’s apparent concern for her audience’s health, as she seems more intent on landing a low blow of her own. Perhaps she skirts it because there isn’t really a good reason why “regular families” need to add ridiculous quantities of butter to the food they cook at home…though maybe it’s because only then would home-cooked food be preferable to the fast food burgers these families would otherwise be gorging on? I don’t know. But instead, as Bruni points out, with her rhetoric Deen turns the argument into a class issue by targeting the very comfortable perch from which Bourdain speaks. Not that her own perch isn’t just as peachy.
This spat between Bourdain and Paula Deen is exactly that, but the differences in their worldviews when it comes to food does well illustrate the sort of class divisions that Bruni is getting at. The antagonistic and hostile quality of their remarks is reminiscent of the “ill will and polarization” of our politics at large. As we all know, these sorts of petty remarks (“her food sucks”) don’t help the greater public health issue that is at stake and at the heart of this discussion. Neither person seems particularly wed to the cause, but because they are such influential figures in their respective circles, what they say and how they act will reverberate. As people in power, both would do well to spend more time embracing the responsibility to act and speak thoughtfully and less time abusing the privilege of having an open mic.