Someone has poisoned your food. Please, order
Someone has poisoned your food. Your food is no longer a primal delight but a venomous route to refinement. This, of course, was formerly the province of the arts. A subscription to the ballet, a collection of Man Booker works or a broad familiarity with sculpture all functioned as marks of distinction. Now, if you want to seem posh, it’s far better to talk of raw milk cheese than James Joyce. Or better yet, do both at once.
If gastronomic culture has a Ulysses, it is in the town of Roses, Catalonia. It is here that cynosure chef Ferran Adria takes innocent vegetables and turns them into foams, films and, most troublingly, soils. The restaurant El Bulli, whose pending closure has provoked a foodie frenzy, was reviewed in 2008 by Guardian art critic Adrian Searle. Of the degustation dishes, he wrote: “Like some of Joyce’s words, they run together in a stream of consciousness.”
Searle also describes an Adria soup as a “haiku” and considers the possibility that food was the medium for “the first sculpture”. He eats 40 courses and, lest you think him a glutton like Leopold Bloom, he is not. “We are here to do more than indulge ourselves.”
I am not a greedy brute but an aesthete in a gallery. This is the sort of nonsense claim foodies have long made, even as they swab the duck fat from their blouses. Now, art critics have joined in the elevation of food to art and the makeover of out-and-out swinishness into sophistication.
You can, apparently, put lipstick on a pig. And, you can tell everyone that the poor pig was raised in the mountains on a diet of chestnuts and slaughtered to the sounds of Stravinsky. When bacon becomes art, you can charge whatever you like by the pound.
My local Food & Wine Festival, which ended this week, has grown stout on the fat of this cultural relativism. Its calendar was full with references to art.
The program offered opera in a food market, “foodie film” and “cerebral” installations made out of green groceries because “food and art make such lovely bedfellows”.
Well, so do a book and a nice mug of tea. However, I’m not expecting Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from my English Breakfast any time soon.
Gastronomes, though, strain every morsel of their precious food through a “cerebral” filter before shoving it in their deluded gobs. These days, it’s perfectly permissible to call a food item “ironic” or “postmodern”; both terms, incidentally, I overheard when attending a single Food & Wine Festival event last week.
Bompas and Parr are two young and unjustly handsome Eton graduates who make jellies. Their cunning has led them to a commission by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and, last Thursday, to charge $130 a ticket to watch them pour expensive goop into moulds at a pub. In an address to a room full of foodies, the art-food duo presented a show called “architextural” and claimed to be experimenting with “synaesthesia”. The taste of food, they said, was largely contingent on context.
This claim is not without merit. It probably explains why sandwiches taste better at a picnic. It certainly explains why my food has begun to taste of poison. The “context” of foodie faux-aesthetics has drained our meals of flavor.
I never thought I would miss hearing people boast about the operas they have seen or the books they have read. I never thought I would feel nostalgic for a time when we pressed art into the currency of cultural capital. Now that I’ve eaten a dessert with a title by Derrida, all I crave is old-fashioned arts elitism.
This article was written for The Age newspaper.