Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Other People's Food Baggage

Two contrasting articles on family dinner recently appeared in New York Times Magazine: The Food Issue. One was by Mark Bittman, and it was pretty much exactly what you'd expect. To paraphrase: "My grown daughters eat essentially everything, have an excellent relationship with food, and cook well. I didn't mean to raise such awesomeness, but there it is. Let's blame food policy for everyone else's children's pickiness." The other one, written by Virginia Heffernan and appearing under a tendentious "Down with Dinner!" headline in the print version of the magazine, is essentially a fiery rant about the nightly horror that Heffernan (and me and you and everyone we know except Mark Bittman) calls "figuring out dinner". She loads up the issue of feeding one's family with a bunch of feminist lip service and ultimately settles on the following rhetorical question as her thesis statement: "Cooking! Aren't we past that?" The article is framed - awkwardly and unfairly - as a critique of what Heffernan labels "the latest avalanche of family cookbooks", many of which were authored by home chef bloggers. The food blogosphere's response to Heffernan's piece has been - fittingly and fairly - critical.

Here's the thing.

I love me some Mark Bittman. This more recent piece by him - it eloquently delineates all the things I ineloquently obsess about all day long. I mean seriously. The man makes me want to change the world, one organic apple at a time.

But the topic of feeding one's family is harder for most people than it seems to be for Mr. Bittman - and it's on my mind a lot. Further, at least according to the internets and the "food baggage" component of my classes - during which everyone talks about what gets them in the kitchen and keeps them out and why they eat the way they do now versus five years ago, et cetera - it's on the minds of a lot of people. Whether we love cooking or find cooking a troublesome chore or both, whether we use food to express our identity as coming from somewhere or going somewhere - on that topic, check out this brilliant article from The New Yorker - feeding others is hard. Maybe a rewarding hard (at work, or at home when I'm making pancakes), maybe a thankless, demoralizing hard (at home when I'm not making pancakes), probably depends on who you're feeding. But hard. Full stop.

Heffernan's article is unpopular because she took the low-blow route a few too many times and went pithy-sassy-extremist in her effort to be publishably humorous. (Publishably's not a word but it should be.) Ultimately though, I found her points highly relatable. Her clever joke about the soy vs. cow's milk dilemma? SPOT. ON. We've all been overwhelmed by the complicated, contradictory information we get about what to eat and why. Beyond eating more vegetables (other than nightshades, and only after massaging them), it's all rather confusing.

So go read those articles and cut Heffernan a break. You know you know what she's on about. And there's no shame in that. These are good problems to have. And we can't all be Mark Bittman.

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