Friday, May 18

I Think You've Got Mice

Jacob Sullum, "True to His Tongue: A sociologist who loves to eat debunks culinary correctness." Reason

James Lileks goes to Disney World

SOME time last week I was reading some run-of-the-mill wingnut comment somewhere--something or other was about to "show the latte-drinkin' secularists" something or other--when I suddenly asked myself "Don't these people have any friends?" It was not the standard Cheetos-eatin'-in-Mom's-basement question, which has been answered resoundingly many times, and it wasn't like I hadn't ever thought of it before. It was more like the feeling of having repeated a word until it fell into a meaninglessness so profound you imagine you have temporary aphasia, then resting until it meant what it meant again. Don't you have any friends? You don't know anyone who, say, drinks latte because they like it? Who has a home cappuccino machine? Do they get crossed off the Christmas card list for admitting it? Do you glower at every Starbucks parking lot you pass? Isn't there that one irascible uncle at every family reunion who thinks all religion is bunkum?

Okay, we know that "latte-drinkin'" is just the non-alcoholic version of "Chardonnay-sippin'", and our real question is "If this is still amusing after all this time, why have Pet Rock sales plummeted so drastically?" Then we ran into Sullum's piece, which managed to combine both questions neatly in the single phrase "culinary correctness".

"Culinary correctness." in this case does not refer to passing the Port counterclockwise, or matching pan-fried trout with Riesling, but to the dietary recommendations of professional nutritionists. Cadaverous nutritionists, at that. Calling this "culinary correctness" is apparently a brave blow against "Semantic correctness." Take that, Lexinazis! (In case you're taking notes, "debunk" now means "to dispute something the writer also does not agree with".)

Sullum has found himself an ally in Barry Glassner, the Culture of Fear author whose new book is The Gospel of Food:
To some extent [he]...errs in the opposite direction. Glassner, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, is no fatty, but his frequent references to memorable gustatory treats —including “sautéed Moulard duck foie gras with pickled white nectarines, onions, and arugula” at the French Laundry, “tasting menus” prepared by star chefs Daniel Boulard and Thomas Keller, and a “deeply chocolate fondant with a vanilla and toasted almond ice cream” served at an organic food fair—started to get on my nerves after a while. Still, his acute attack on culinary correctness demonstrates that his heart is in the right place: smack dab in the middle of his taste buds.

Gee, a Quiche Eater who doesn't like all them Food Nazis! Now, I don't know about you, but the worst sort of food snobs I know all happen to be rock-ribbed Republicans, and not from the Snoot Division. They're chronic consumers of popularity--whatever movie Will Farrell made last, whatever thriller is on the Best Seller list, whatever dish is in Gourmet this month. They feel no compunction to grasp the fundamentals of literature, film comedy, or good food (generally, everyone is on his sixth margarita by the time the meal arrives, so there's little point), still, they believe tastes acquired by asking someone else what to do put one on the top rung attainable by someone who can't spend like Trump. This is the definition of snobbery. Connoisseurship is something else. I don't know which category Glassner falls into; my own suspicions are aroused any time someone has to list every ingredient in a dish or use adjectives in its title, but such is the modern idiom.

I just don't understand where this sort of division comes from, or rather, how one sustains it while walking through the real world. It's one thing to use "latte-drinkin'" as a catchphrase; it's another to completely miss the existence of aesthetic principles altogether. There are reasons why Beethoven is considered superior to Tchaikovsky, or Paul Klee a greater painter than Norman Rockwell, or why a bottle of Romanée-Conti costs more than a truckload of White Zinfandel in a box. You're welcome to prefer the lesser of these. You're welcome to argue their true superiority, if you wish. What you can't do is declare it on the grounds that something about the process of gathering the required knowledge pisses you off.

What really struck me in all this, though, was the irresistible urge to Defend the Clown:
Glassner’s refusal to blame McDonald’s for making us fat is of a piece with his general willingness to critically examine common complaints about food manufacturers and restaurant chains, such as the charge that they foist unhealthy products on malleable consumers, tricking us into eating what’s bad for us. Glassner —who, judging from his references to economic inequality, labor relations, and environmentalism, is a pretty conventional left-liberal—was initially sympathetic to this critique. He was surprised to discover that food companies “seek out consumers’ views about every aspect of their products” and “really do believe in providing people with more rather than fewer options.”

Well, OK then. Why are we perpetually reduced to choosing up sides? How is it that the Undead Nutritionist from the Center for Science in the Public Interest holds an unquestioned sway over the public, but a mere restaurant chain with at least one location in every square mile of the continent has to bend like a sapling to every passing breeze? McDonald's sugars its French fries, fer chrissakes, or at least used to. Is sugar harmless, too? Is it so good for preschoolers that they ought to get a dose even when they're eating (ostensible) vegetables? How do we wind up skeptical about everything the Center for Science in the Public Interest has to say, but blithely willing to let International Multi-Mega Food-Like Substance Corp. determine what children will eat with no regard for outside comment or past history?

Which brings us briefly to Lileks, who, you may know, is recapping his adventures at Disney World, yet another Corporate Monolith unfairly maligned by the Left. (The curious point there being--and I'm not recommending reading him just so you can see--that Lileks himself is free to observe Disney's inherent creepiness and the giant corporate millstone working 24/7 on the production of Soylent Green, but that's okay because he's willing to enthuse about it anyway.)
I didn’t think it meant I had Disneyphobia, which makes its sufferers treat Mickey as a sin visited upon the world, a demon equalled only by that Dark God of Body-Rot, Ronald McDonald. I’ve always enjoyed Disney Products™ - I’ve just never had awestruck melty adoration of all things Mouse-related. At best, total love of this or that. At worst, shuddery dislike of some of its manifestations. For the most part, temperate admiration.

Choose sides! The, okay, slightly rapacious, lawsuit-giddy, emperor of the Reedy Creek Improvement District who nevertheless brings you the Happy Cartoon Rodents and Lovely Princesses which delight the Child in All of Us (clothes and accessories sold separately) vs. the Jealous Contraceptive-Usin' Liberals who say it's all Pure Evil.

Full disclosure: I hated Disney as a child, from my first memories of the Mickey Mouse Club populated by what seemed to be small adults pretending to be unremittingly cheerful children (I was unfamiliar as yet with the concept of "child actor"). I hated every Disney movie my parents dragged me to, which would comprise most of the "classics". The only Disney paraphernalia I ever owned was the Mickey Mouse guitar some relative gave me one Christmas, and which I still blame for subconsciously sabotaging my ability to play a real guitar halfway passably, now in its fortieth year. I was a white suburban child, but our house was across the street from a dairy farm, and I think that taught me at an early age that real things were supposed to smell like something. Something other than deodorant. Gimme a Warner Brothers cartoon any day.

I think parents who Disneyfy their children do them a disservice, and they seem almost uniformly to raise children with no respect for material goods beyond incontinent acquisition. I'm not sure how that got to be a "conservative" value. I get a kick out of Disney snark. It doesn't occur to me or anyone I know to give them a thought beyond that. Poor Ol' Frozen Walt's gettin' a raw deal from Secular Materialist Science, or Zombie Ray Kroc isn't on a fuckin' stamp? What difference can that possibly make to a sane adult? Or James Lileks, for that matter?


Julia said...

of course, the folks boycotting Disney are christian evangelicals, but that's because Disney values their gay employees and visitors enough to choose to keep them happy if it keeps the money rolling in.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could convince them that pet rocks really, really offend liberals for some reason. Environmental or something. Then they could spend all their time and energy buying, selling, and creating new pet rocks, and we wouldn't have to deal with them in government.

Pretty sure someone would ruin the whole thing by giving one a Confederate Flag, though.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was a kidon the way home from school, I use to cut through the yard of a guy who, when he causght me, would scream about me being in his yard. the guy scared me (who gets so upset over a lawn?) but I never stopped taking that shortcut. Jacob and James are the corporate version of that guy. If they want to eat shit, and pretend it's filet mignon I think we owe it to ourselves to laugh at them.

a said...


Nobody's boycotting Disney. Certain Southern Baptist leaders call for it every so often, but it never takes off.