“Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony.”

– B. R. Myers

This was the tagline from a recent article I read in The Atlantic entitled The Moral Crusade Against Foodies. If you just clicked the link to that article and promptly came right back here, your suspicion is confirmed.

It’s a long one.

Allow me to wow you then with the wonderful pictures taken by Joe from Eating Milwaukee during the most recent #MKEFoodies gathering at Distil (722 N Milwaukee St) on February 22.

Popcorn in duck fat with Parmesan

Pork fritter with citrus

Duck confit roulade on crostini with home-brewed pickle

Scallop chorizo with polenta

I can already read your mind. “Popcorn popped with duck fat? Isn’t that a bit decadent?” Depends on how you define “decadent” I suppose. If you aren’t vegan, it’s not decadent in the traditional sense of the word (moral decay), but rather a more modern, self-indulgent incarnation. Wait, how do we define “self-indulgent?” And, come to think of it, “incarnation” as well?

You can see where this is going.

The #MKEFoodies group itself is defined as:

“A food-centric social network aiming to bring the Milwaukee area “foodie” community together through experiential, affordable events geared around food, drink and education.”

If, as Myers posits, foodie-ism is indeed justified gluttony, and gluttony is indeed a deadly sin, then it appears I should have ordered a healthy serving of repentance for dessert.

“Elitism” is another way in which foodie-ism is commonly portrayed (e.g. Myers: “It has always been crucial to the gourmet’s pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford” and “Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism”). You see, this is a convenient construct on the surface. Those who can easily access real food are often wealthier than those who can’t. But in reality, those in favor of real food are, well, pretty much everyone.

To borrow a quote from Sharon Astyk, “The local food system is elitist in large part because it is forced to be.” Forced by the mega-industrialized and heavily-subsidized food system, an enigma born of federal government food policy enacted in the seventies. It portrays the average consumer buying wholesome, local food as elitist and has a mother in Food, Inc. observing, “sometimes you look at a vegetable and say, well, OK, we can get two hamburgers for the same price.”

As someone who (mostly) eschews fast food and factory farms, I could never imagine calling myself an elitist. I undoubtedly spend more than the American average 9.5% of my income on food, but I also do so willingly and have no problem acknowledging it. On one hand, do I fret that my restaurant tab could feed a small village in a third-world country or do I pat myself on the back with the other hand for helping stimulate a depressed economy? Bottom line, I enjoy eating food grown by people I know and prepared by chefs I’ve met in the company of family, friends, and foodie peers.

Now I’ll concede that the “upper-class” of foodies under attack by Myers in his well-written article can be excessive. Jetting to exotic locations for a meal of raw seal or live octopus is hard to fathom, but other than the wastefulness is there anything wrong with this? Regardless, such a tiny percentage of the foodie community falls into this class that it’s harmful to project a moral dilemma onto the whole. A generalization such as this is meant to be both incendiary and polemic, and it works.

In the end, then, how does one define “foodie?” I propose someone who enjoys wholesome, from-scratch dishes based on local ingredients. Someone who utilizes animals “nose to tail” or preserves prime, seasonal produce with economy in mind. Someone who spends time making or enjoying food in the company of family and friends. Obviously we all eat because we have to, but don’t you think most of us would rather eat tasty than eat quick?

Huh. You know who this foodie definition sounds like? Members of the last generation when organic was still conventional: my grandparents.

They might not ever have eaten popcorn popped in duck fat, but my grandparents also wouldn’t have said no if it was sitting in front of them.

[Editor’s note: I was reluctant to include Distil in this post, because I didn’t want to have the reader associate them with gluttony. Their food was really damn good. Decadence–maybe–but not gluttony.]


Additional Recommended Reading:

* Distil plate photos courtesy of Eating Milwaukee (check out their post on the Distil Gathering) and Bourdain photo courtesy of paloma.cl via Creative Commons license

** Be sure to note the spelling mistake in the graphic title