Saturday, April 05, 2008

Final thoughts on food and wine snobbery. By 'final' I mean that have lost much of the indignation that led me to write the letter (which may actually be published, I discovered yesterday). However, I am still a little worried that the letter I wrote doesn't encapsulate my precise thoughts on the topic. I realise I'm verbose by nature, but 100 words really wasn't enough for me to get to the meat of it.

People have commented that it is redundant of me even to criticise this story, because Good Weekend is written by snobs for snobs and even reading it is to admit to a certain snobbery in oneself. People also dismissed my alternative suggestion (of cherishing the simpler pleasures afforded by food and drink) as an absurdly naive ignorance of Good Weekend readers' priorities and interests.

I think my real problem is that Durack wants to have it both ways. He wants to set down a list of food shibboleths: experiences by which the food snobs define themselves in opposition to the banal eating habits of their peers. I would be fine with the article if it were couched as a "foodie's Holy Grail" or "the best 20 food experiences of my life" - because that acknowledges that not everyone necessarily aspires to these things. And in that context, it does indeed look pretty ridiculous to posit Vegemite toast and cleanskin red as foodie touchstones.

However, Durack is not just interpellating foodies. The structure of these listicles necessarily interpellates EVERYONE by explicitly saying that you haven't lived unless you have done this stuff. That is a deeply objectionable statement because it asks people to find their life wanting on the basis of criteria that aren't of their choosing. And the entire purpose of this genre is to make you buy into it.

So in that context, I was not making the reactionary suggestion that we instead valorise dreary, banal food experiences. Damn him, but I think Glen has a pretty spot-on summary of what I was arguing:
She argues that what the magazine article misses are the simple pleasures in life, or rather the meaning produced within situations that does not come from how exotic the ‘thing’ is. This is a kind of bottom-up valorisation of events that in turn relies on valorising a certain social machinery of valorisation. It needs a mobile disposition for selecting worthy moments from the everyday and an ethics of cultivating the way such moments accelerate and carry you along, so the everyday folds into itself and crosses some sort of threshold felt in the body and remembered in its emphemerality.
At least Glen is kind enough not to claim this mobile disposition and ethics as another form of snobbery. But he is correct that I personally don't valorise exoticism in my food experiences, whereas I do valorise a sort of remembered ephemerality. Ultimately - and this is the part I wish I'd nailed in my letter to the magazine - the food and drink experiences that enrich your life according to your own definitions of happiness (regardless of what these might be) are the ones we ought to be cherishing, rather than one rich old foodie's idea.

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