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I Cannot Stomach Food Snobbery

THERE she was at my pantry. Just as bold and bolshie as a runaway train. As a runaway train fuelled by High Principles and biodiesel. There she was in my pantry with no trace of shame.

“Can I help you?” I spat with malice. “No, case I’m fine,” she answered equably. “I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

In one hand she held my cheddar and fresh pea salad. Partially dismantled. With the other she held apple cider vinegar.

“It’s not certified organic,” she said. “But it’ll have to do.”

As she doused my dirty peas with sanitiser, she explained that she ate only organic produce. Or, preferably, biodynamic. And local. And GM-free. Years of ethical eating, she said, had made her VERY sensitive to the foul taste of agribusiness. “There are contaminants in your salad,” she said.

There’s no book of etiquette to prepare the hostess for food snob first-aid. Beyond curbing the urge to stab my guest with a Global knife, I’d no idea how to respond. Should I drench her peas in trans fats? Or should I simply lie about the provenance of my potatoes? Yes, these heirloom kipflers were drawn in burlap sacks by rustic, cruelty-free donkeys from behind my shed.

Gastronomic snobbery is nothing particularly novel. The princess and her pea are but the latest in a long historical line of snotty food wowsers. There have always been those who consider your pantry an index of refinement.

They snigger if you pronounce “l’ancienne” or “conch” improperly. They consider your pantry the register of your moral condition, too. You know the sort. They’re gluten intolerant and are the descendents of hippies who brought their own nut-meat and to lunch.

Nonetheless, there is something about the new hybrid snobbery that makes me pick up my paring knife. It’s as if the most abhorrent ’70s health nut met the most abhorrent ’70s food tosser and, after DNA programming by the mavens of Slow Food, they had children who settled in Melbourne.

Let it be said: I’m a part-time ethicurean. I’ve read Michael Pollan, dammit. I am keenly aware that petrochemical companies own everything including my soul and that we’re all headed for hell via burger drive-thru.

It’s true. I am occasionally funnelled into the supermarket by a desperate hunger and poverty of time. But I (a) NEVER buy processed foodstuffs and (b) always pull my hoodie up for fear that I will be recognised by a maker of artisanal cheese.

I do shop at untainted markets. I wear the dirt from Collingwood’s Children’s Farm as a badge of credit one Saturday a month. But I’m never going to ethically cleanse my entire kitchen. I don’t have the time and, honestly, I don’t have the cash.

Try this excuse on a gastronome of the type who cooks in biodynamic tallow and they’ll look at you with a blend of evangelical pity and disgust. It’s a look that says, “The planet is dying” ,

I’ve great respect for locavores and I’m even prepared to concede that Steiner was on to something when he first crammed animal shit into a cow horn. It’s not the ethical impulse to which I object. It’s the horrible way it plays out.

“I’m assuming this is not a farmstead cheddar,” my guest asked.

Shame heaped onto me by staunch foodies will not help me change my ways or the ways of the world. The road to sustainability will not be paved with piety.

The networks we need to outrun agribusiness are hardly helped by high-born cheese elitists. Don’t tell me how to behave, lady. I’ve little inclination to behave when it is just snobbery that decrees that I must.

The temptation to pop my Christmas lights up during Earth Hour was something I felt very keenly. And I’ve fantasised about sucking cheese from an aerosol can in front of the Belted Galloway stall at the market. Because I don’t need your puffed-up disapproval. I need logic and education. And fellow travellers who don’t mind irreverence.

And guests who’ll leave the sermon. At least until dessert.

This was published in The Age newspaper

10 Responses to “I Cannot Stomach Food Snobbery”

  1. Sami says:

    I’m totally on your side here, except for one thing:

    It always makes me sad when people include “gluten intolerant” as one of the hallmarks of preciousness and food snobbery. Because *being* gluten intolerant is distinctly not fun. There’s a vast range of delicious food that you can’t even consider eating, the food you *can* eat is a) harder to find, b) more expensive, and c) never available at a drive-through no matter how hungry and rushed you are.

    And it’s getting so people seem to think that a diagnosis of coeliac disease is accompanied by training leaflets for being a complete wanker about food in general.

    If I eat gluten, my stomach hurts, I feel really quite sick for hours, and because of the damage done to my intestinal tract by my gluten-triggered auto-immune disorder I will feel crap for weeks and my vital medications don’t actually get absorbed until the damage heals.

    However, my parents were never hippies and were never vegetarians and so long as my food is gluten-free I’m really not that picky.

    Whine over, seriously, going into someone’s pantry to get snotty about the food is quite startlingly bad manners.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Oh, goodness. I’m sorry. I actually wrote this at a time when every one had me-tooism about Coeliac; which I know is a very serious and life-threatening gastro-intestinal disorder.
      Further, my GP has advised me not to eat wheat; oh the ignominy. May I recommend making your own tortillas from Masa? They are one tasty carb.

  2. Sami says:

    Forgiven! I know it is something that a Certain Sort Of Person does, it’s just, well, as above.

    I haven’t tried tortillas, but it does sound delicious. You can also do some amazing things with rice flour, although it generally needs to be lightened a bit because it can turn out *crazy* dense.

    Depending on your other dietary limitations, I can also recommend that if you’re inclined to an occasional sweet treat that can be made in the absence of wheat, there’s an absolutely fantastic brownie recipe combining rice flour, almond flour, raw dark sugar, and chocolate that is a strong contender for the tastiest dessert in the world.

    • Helen Razer says:

      I feel terrible now. There’s far too much wheat in the AU diet and, I suspect, the grain that is broadly available is of an inferior quality. I know when I eliminate it, as I have done for periods of up to six months, I’m slimmer, less grouchy and less zitty.
      However, I can’t say I’ve ever been nauseated by the smell of a bagel. MMM.
      Re cooking, I try not to substitute but lean toward foods that do not remind me what I’m missing. Mexican food, for e.g., is immensely comforting, nutritious and easy to prepare.
      Pressing your own corn tortillas is quite simple; n which town do you live? I’ll send you instructions and shopping hints.
      Oh. Dosa. Lentil flour. YUMMERS.

  3. Sami says:

    Oh, and to add: beware of further ignominy. You may, like many of us, find that once you’ve eliminated wheat from your diet for a while it starts to smell terrible to you and you will, in fact, develop the ability to sense the contamination of wheat in things offered to you by the hint of toxic wrongness it gives off.

    Remember to hold your breath if you go past a bakery. The smell of freshly-baked bread is positively nauseating and the cognitive dissonance it inspires is just about as bad.

  4. Greg says:

    Yes, there is far too much wheat in the Australian diet. Even if balanced amounts were good for you, its ubiquity always seems to me to guarantee the effects associated with excess in anything dietary. Go into any deli/cafe/food hall and count the number of meals available which use wheat – e.g. pasta salads, battered anything, noodles, pastry/crusts, frittata…

    What did people do with their food before they had bread or wraps to hold the non-wheat ‘fillings’ in? As if the outer layer is the real food and those fillings are just the bait to lure children into eating their wheat…

    I can empathise with people with any medical condition which stops them from eating wheat or its byproducts – how can you avoid it? Buy soup – they give you a roll. go to a cafe or restaurant – have a roll or some freshly-baked ciabatta…sounds lovely, smells great, but it’s just wheat with additives. Eat it to fill your stomach so you’ll come away feeling full while not consuming too much of the expensive stuff.

  5. YB says:

    Sami, I have had those gluten free brownies – you are correct about how awesome they taste. Helen – right there with you. Those lucky enough to eliminate price from their personal food selection matrix have no right to preach about the choices made by those who do not.

  6. Sami says:

    Hmm, delayed replying…

    I live in Perth! And I love Mexican food and agree with its awesome potential as a gluten-free cuisine, but I don’t have it that often because my housemate, with whom I share many meals and gluten-free necessity, abhors all things even a tiny bit spicy. She likes “plain food”.

    I like making things from scratch, but for when time does not allow, I can also recommend Jensen’s Organic Salsa. It’s gluten-free, and also very, very good.

    I also dislike being reminded of the things I’ve lost, but at my local Farmer Jack’s we recently discovered a new “European range” of gluten-free foods that includes baguettes that actually come out as the fluffy, crusty breadrolls I’ve missed most desperately. It’s awesome.

  7. Sami says:

    … so the trouble is, there’s no comment notifications here. *cough* I’m assuming you get them though.

    The brand of European-style bread products we get is Schar. (There’s an umlaut on the A, but they don’t use in the regular text for their own website, so I’m not going to bother either.) This appears to be the US website, at first glance, but that should give you a rough idea, I imagine.

    I can also confirm now that their foccaccia with rosemary isn’t half bad either.

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