Food and ideology

Sometimes an event comes along which crystallizes a mindset, and stands as self—parody, its serious—minded participants unaware of the irony their ideology embodies.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle could not resist noticing the incongruity:

Several hundred people gathered at long tables next to a pristine Sonoma County vineyard on a recent Sunday to sample artisanal goat cheeses and local Sauvignon Blanc, and lunch on Mendocino—raised grass—fed beef burgers, homemade ketchup and native Gravenstein apple galettes, all for $90 a head.

It was a benefit for Slow Food, the international movement dedicated to saving the world from fast food, and the scene was a perfect depiction of what many people expect of Slow Food.

But Slow Food in a San Francisco homeless shelter?

Slow Food is an organization about which I am deeply ambivalent. Its stated goals are to preserve traditional foods, plants and animal species, and techniques. Having just bought and enjoyed a few expensive and fragile heirloom tomatoes the other day, I am in the camp that delights at savoring the diverse pleasures that traditional foods provide. I am the sort of guy who goes out of his way to sample local foods when traveling, and have tried yak butter tea in the mountains of Nepal, deep fried fresh—picked olives in Ascoli—Piceno, Italy, and fried chicken at Stroud's in Kansas City. I celebrate diversity — of food, and I have the waistline to prove it.

But there is a hard edge of anger, resentment, and ideology lurking beneath the pleasant prose of many Slow Fooders, who proclaim their love of traditional foods. For them, diversity does not extend to the supply of inexpensive and easy—to—prepare (or purchase ready—made) food that modern society offers.

They write and speak of 'defending human dignity' and tend to take a scolding tone towards those who lack their elevated consciousness. They don't seem to think that capitalism is a very good idea. The extra time, effort, and money necessary to duplicate methods, ingredients, and practices from an era in which most people led impoverished lives and had few other preoccupations than getting enough to eat, are simply not a huge priority for modern people with many other ways to spend their limited funds.

Because these traditions are usually very costly to maintain, members of the movement are anxious to demonstrate that they have the interests of the less fortunate uppermost in their hearts. They are, after all, at heart, protesting against modern capitalism — at least the aspect of modern capitalism that relies on mass production and price—driven competition. It does not seem to occur to them that artisanal production of traditional foods and beverages as luxury items is also part of capitalism.

So they proclaim that

"Overcoming the perception of elitism in people's minds around things like organic foods and farmers' markets" is one of the biggest challenges Slow Food faces in its effort to bring the world's breakfast, lunch and dinner back to basics, [Slow Food founder Carlo] Petrini said, through a translator, during an interview over mahi mahi tacos at Mijita, Traci Des Jardins' slow—food Mexican place at San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Hence the plan to start indoctrinating homeless people in the arts of slow food. San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom is on board:

As Newsom tells it, ideas collided over spit—roasted organic lamb. A broad discussion of how to bring Slow Food's image more in line with its populist goals segued into Newsom's account of all the complaints he gets about food at San Francisco's second—largest homeless shelter, Next Door, on Polk Street near City Hall.

"It occurred to me that this was a great opportunity for Slow Food to substantively and symbolically make the case that this is not an elitist endeavor and to fill a need," Newsom said.

It is quite true that one does not need a lot of money to eat good food. In the course of my graduate education I lived for several years below the poverty line, and quickly realized that one could make bean dishes, casseroles, and other inexpensive dishes if you plan in advance and take care in shopping for bargain ingredients, such as the tougher, bonier cuts of meat that become delicious if braised or simmered all day in a Crock Pot.

The problem is that most people who are poor today are poor because they don't plan in advance and don't take care to examine their options and choose wisely. Trying to convince them to choose organic produce and follow time—consuming and demanding traditional methods of preparation is like asking a weakling to exercise by bench—pressing 200 lb barbells. Even Petrini, the founder, seems to recognize this reality:

...he makes the case that anyone, even the poorest people, can afford to eat better food if they make it a priority.

"It's a life choice," he says. "In Italy, many poor people spend a lot of money just to go to a soccer match." Or on cell phones.

Just so. The hard truth is that people have their own priorities. And some people's priorities lead them to unhealthy outcomes, just as others choose activities that enable them to indulge in delicious foods from all over the world. We can thank capitalism for the fact that some of us can afford to enjoy hams from Parma, purple miniature potatoes from Peru, and cheeses from Sonoma County (not to mention the hand—made wine I try to sell). Let's not kid ourselves. The very diversity of food that Slow Fooders celebrate is a product of the fact that throughout history most people had to make do with whatever was at hand locally. And the time—consuming methods they invented for preparing it came out of the fact that they had too little food most of the year, and had to make what they had at hand last as long as possible.

Slow Food epicures today rely on expensive jet airplanes to bring them the diversity of food they celebrate, and to bring them to the international conferences and elegant dinners at which they decry capitalism and its cheap and available food.

Today, we have the fattest poor people in history in America. The solution to their problems is not a return to a past way of life that had most people impoverished, it is to integrate them into to modern economy and teach them how to postpone gratification, plan ahead, and make choices based on thought, not impulse. Once they have mastered the basics, then they can go ahead and begin to develop an appreciation of the finer things in life.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.

Sometimes an event comes along which crystallizes a mindset, and stands as self—parody, its serious—minded participants unaware of the irony their ideology embodies.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle could not resist noticing the incongruity:

Several hundred people gathered at long tables next to a pristine Sonoma County vineyard on a recent Sunday to sample artisanal goat cheeses and local Sauvignon Blanc, and lunch on Mendocino—raised grass—fed beef burgers, homemade ketchup and native Gravenstein apple galettes, all for $90 a head.

It was a benefit for Slow Food, the international movement dedicated to saving the world from fast food, and the scene was a perfect depiction of what many people expect of Slow Food.

But Slow Food in a San Francisco homeless shelter?

Slow Food is an organization about which I am deeply ambivalent. Its stated goals are to preserve traditional foods, plants and animal species, and techniques. Having just bought and enjoyed a few expensive and fragile heirloom tomatoes the other day, I am in the camp that delights at savoring the diverse pleasures that traditional foods provide. I am the sort of guy who goes out of his way to sample local foods when traveling, and have tried yak butter tea in the mountains of Nepal, deep fried fresh—picked olives in Ascoli—Piceno, Italy, and fried chicken at Stroud's in Kansas City. I celebrate diversity — of food, and I have the waistline to prove it.

But there is a hard edge of anger, resentment, and ideology lurking beneath the pleasant prose of many Slow Fooders, who proclaim their love of traditional foods. For them, diversity does not extend to the supply of inexpensive and easy—to—prepare (or purchase ready—made) food that modern society offers.

They write and speak of 'defending human dignity' and tend to take a scolding tone towards those who lack their elevated consciousness. They don't seem to think that capitalism is a very good idea. The extra time, effort, and money necessary to duplicate methods, ingredients, and practices from an era in which most people led impoverished lives and had few other preoccupations than getting enough to eat, are simply not a huge priority for modern people with many other ways to spend their limited funds.

Because these traditions are usually very costly to maintain, members of the movement are anxious to demonstrate that they have the interests of the less fortunate uppermost in their hearts. They are, after all, at heart, protesting against modern capitalism — at least the aspect of modern capitalism that relies on mass production and price—driven competition. It does not seem to occur to them that artisanal production of traditional foods and beverages as luxury items is also part of capitalism.

So they proclaim that

"Overcoming the perception of elitism in people's minds around things like organic foods and farmers' markets" is one of the biggest challenges Slow Food faces in its effort to bring the world's breakfast, lunch and dinner back to basics, [Slow Food founder Carlo] Petrini said, through a translator, during an interview over mahi mahi tacos at Mijita, Traci Des Jardins' slow—food Mexican place at San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Hence the plan to start indoctrinating homeless people in the arts of slow food. San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom is on board:

As Newsom tells it, ideas collided over spit—roasted organic lamb. A broad discussion of how to bring Slow Food's image more in line with its populist goals segued into Newsom's account of all the complaints he gets about food at San Francisco's second—largest homeless shelter, Next Door, on Polk Street near City Hall.

"It occurred to me that this was a great opportunity for Slow Food to substantively and symbolically make the case that this is not an elitist endeavor and to fill a need," Newsom said.

It is quite true that one does not need a lot of money to eat good food. In the course of my graduate education I lived for several years below the poverty line, and quickly realized that one could make bean dishes, casseroles, and other inexpensive dishes if you plan in advance and take care in shopping for bargain ingredients, such as the tougher, bonier cuts of meat that become delicious if braised or simmered all day in a Crock Pot.

The problem is that most people who are poor today are poor because they don't plan in advance and don't take care to examine their options and choose wisely. Trying to convince them to choose organic produce and follow time—consuming and demanding traditional methods of preparation is like asking a weakling to exercise by bench—pressing 200 lb barbells. Even Petrini, the founder, seems to recognize this reality:

...he makes the case that anyone, even the poorest people, can afford to eat better food if they make it a priority.

"It's a life choice," he says. "In Italy, many poor people spend a lot of money just to go to a soccer match." Or on cell phones.

Just so. The hard truth is that people have their own priorities. And some people's priorities lead them to unhealthy outcomes, just as others choose activities that enable them to indulge in delicious foods from all over the world. We can thank capitalism for the fact that some of us can afford to enjoy hams from Parma, purple miniature potatoes from Peru, and cheeses from Sonoma County (not to mention the hand—made wine I try to sell). Let's not kid ourselves. The very diversity of food that Slow Fooders celebrate is a product of the fact that throughout history most people had to make do with whatever was at hand locally. And the time—consuming methods they invented for preparing it came out of the fact that they had too little food most of the year, and had to make what they had at hand last as long as possible.

Slow Food epicures today rely on expensive jet airplanes to bring them the diversity of food they celebrate, and to bring them to the international conferences and elegant dinners at which they decry capitalism and its cheap and available food.

Today, we have the fattest poor people in history in America. The solution to their problems is not a return to a past way of life that had most people impoverished, it is to integrate them into to modern economy and teach them how to postpone gratification, plan ahead, and make choices based on thought, not impulse. Once they have mastered the basics, then they can go ahead and begin to develop an appreciation of the finer things in life.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.