In The Populist Kitchen
Culture war is really just another form of class conflict. My latest piece for TAC has to do with the intense class resentment around food.:
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.
Similarly, when New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a war on super-sized soda, conservatives made fun of the puritanical pol but had no response to the real and very expensive public-health problem he’s trying, however badly, to address.
When it comes to the kitchen, somehow the populist right has managed to transform the vices of sloth and gluttony into conservative virtues. Read the whole thing. At one point in the piece, I talk to a cousin who teaches culinary arts in the local high school, and who has no patience for the learned helplessness of her students in the face of basic food prep:
“It’s just excuses. There are plenty of quick and easy things you can do with carrots and lettuce. People just don’t want to do it, and a lot of them don’t even want to learn how to do it,” she said.