Many conversations and media narratives about food and health assume that one has to be wealthy to eat well, to be healthy. These narratives aren’t just wrong, they’re dangerous. They give those who feel or identify as poor another reason to quit life, to become envious, needy, and fearful of the uncertainties of life. These narratives will unravel a nation, tear its people apart from themselves and one another, and make social and economic mobility more difficult than it already is. I see the impact of these narratives on today’s youth, who, more than any generation, want so much and want to do something special. Yet something in them holds them back — “but I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, because I don’t have this or that” is what I often hear when they’re faced with an opportunity. The ones who become envious will become dangerous adults because envy –unlike jealousy, which merely triggers imitation — aims to destroy that which one covets. Envy is acid on the face and I see some of these darlings, confused and seething, figuring out how to destroy that which one believes one’s entitled to but cannot have. They are willing to destroy a nation to feed their narcissism and to legitimize their inflated sense of self.
It’s not access to certain ingredients and equipment that makes one a good cook, it’s one’s ability to make the most out of circumstance. Eating well isn’t a function of income, it’s the result of desire, grit, and innovation, regardless of circumstance. Consider why we eat so little of what’s edible, like a fraction of one percent of what can fuel us. Dandelions and snails are pests (except at farmer’s markets and French bistros), liver and pig ears are pet food (except at French bistros and Chinese butcheries), and fruit from trees are left rotting throughout the city. Food is everywhere, most of it ignored or discarded because eating them doesn’t match our sense of self or what we think we’re told about proper living.
Not saying that we should all grow and hunt for our food, start frying snails and worms. In many cases, that’s inefficient use of post-industrial labor. I purchase produce to make your meals because I’m not efficient at growing and hunting for them. You purchase meals from me because I can make them better (I hope) and more efficiently than you can. What I’m saying is that we should always — slowly is fine — expand our palates to include unfamiliar food, especially peasant food. Peasant food is the food of grit, desire, and innovation, while aristocratic meals are representations of excess, waste, and gluttony.
But so many want to be aristocrats. The lure of power, riches, romance, kinky sex, power, glamour, power, power, whatever it is that we imagine aristocrats desire and get. But we don’t live in a feudalistic society and marxists unable to recognize the distinction between feudal work and capitalist work will not be able to understand the social topography and cultural logic of capitalism. In feudalism, social mobility is limited by birth. In capitalism, social movement becomes possible, encouraged even, and thus social life is much more fluid, with imitation of another social group becoming the driving force of consumption. Whereas serfs worked to survive and to consume as serfs protected by the aristocrat. Capitalism didn’t destroy the aristocracy because the new masters needed them. Capitalism simply made them look like douchebags, but still desired by the working masses, with the bourgeoisie exploiting this desire, this image, for social and economic gain. Pick up a copy of People magazine and you’ll understand.
If you understand the cultural logic of (late) Capitalism, you’ll understand why Anthony Bourdain can’t find ghetto food in the ghetto. It’s found in high end restaurants. Where the fuck are the pigs feet and chitterlings? High end restaurants frequented by the bourgeoisie. Why is that? In capitalist societies, where social mobility is possible, those seeking upward mobility imitate their *perception* of those above them. The poor long for continental cuisine, surf and turf, Starbucks, the food and drink the middle-class takes for granted. Middle-class get fancy with kobe sliders, California rolls, and cosmofuckingpolitans, whatever else that’s served in downtown Edmonds and Bellevue. The upper class, (or more accurately, the highbrows?) finds middlebrow sensibilities too fake, too ludicrous (kobe fucking burgers!), so they search for inspiration from the poor. Like old school, moonshine swilling, possum hunting and munching poor. Not wrong side of Mountlake Terrace Juicy Couture wearing British royal family following poor, more like wrong side of the mountain poor where there’s no Starbucks, no Walmart, no Taco Bell, no Gamestop or even a copy of People magazine for miles. Poor like this:
Highbrows are inspired by moonshine possum eating poor because these motherfuckers are 1)definitely not poor in spirit; 2)authentic, childlike, don’t give a shit what others think of them so they can live exist outside the dialectical relationship between material base and capitalist culture; 3) they make sense, which means they make rough versions of some great culture, especially food.
No really, they make a lot of sense, a lot more sense than does your typical middle-class person with a bullshit degree from a bullshit college make. Enough sense that food network and travel shows will sometimes focus on what these people eat – from scorpion brains to duck tongue to ram penis. Where do you find the best beef bone marrow and stinky tofu? Street vendors or Micheline star restaurants. Check out what Michael Hebb serves at one of his underground dinners. Beef tongue stew, pig’s face melted down to a rillet, fried shrimp head. Check out who attends these theatrical culinary events. Russian lit degree from Oberlin, English lit from Sarah Lawrence, Cultural Anthropology from Columbia. Everyone wears glasses. It’s heaven for overeducated dumbass hipsters willing to pay obscene sums to accumulate more cultural capital to make up for their uselessness.
The point is, the best food is peasant food. It’s simple, authentic, and emphasizes conviviality rather than formality. You could pay a lot of money for it, as some do, or you can make it yourself and eat like an aristocrat on a peasant’s budget. The other option is to think like an aristocrat and pay a lot of money to eat like a douchebag. Choice is yours.