The Death of the Dinner Party: Too Many Diets

On the first day of class, when we were told to keep a blog, I knew immediately what I wanted my first post to be. There was a New York Times Complaint Box article a few years ago about the rise of new food activism and what that means for the modern dinner party. The author’s complaint was that with so many people trying a new restrictive diet, discovering some sort of new intolerance to some inconveniently common ingredient, and limiting the variety of foods they will eat, it is becoming very difficult to plan a dinner party.  Keep in mind this is a complaint box article meaning that it is meant to be received in a light-hearted manner.

Here is a link to the article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/complaint-box-picky-eaters/

The frenzy of comments after is even more interesting than the article itself. Days later, there was a follow-up post stating that that complaint box article received a record number of comments. I read through the first 350 (they were incredibly amusing) to put together this picture of what people were saying.

Image

 

Image from http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/complaint-box-picky-eaters/

In typical, self-important online commenter style, many users detailed their own dietary limits: vegetarian with exceptions, vegan, raw foods vegan, etc. These commenters were generally agreeable stating that they usually give the host plenty of notice, or offer to be uninvited, or even offer to provide a side dish or two. Others went into great depth about various medical conditions dictating their limitations and the complications (I’ll spare you the details). These commenters were generally very hostile and scolded the author for her discriminatory behavior.

Some of the readers were quite passionate. They used inflamed language, threatened each other, and were often downright outrageous. Here are a few examples:

“MEAT IS MURDER/DAIRY IS DYSFUNCTIONAL/HONEY IS SLAVERY”

“Kill the vegans!”

“To those who say kill the vegans (I am not vegan): I would rather kill the greedy carnivores who rape the oceans and lands just to tickle their delicate taste buds.”

Others felt very strongly that the author should not deal with all these requests. Several readers commented things like: “avoid these people” and “whatever you do, stop being a slave to these people”. Notice the incredibly isolating language of “these people”. The commenters do not want to be associated with “these people” they are creating an otherness, a minority.

Some comments were just downright snarky:

“I have a medically validated condition that forbids me from having meals not cooked personally by Daniel Boulud and having wine less than 100 years old. My religion also forbids me from paying for such meals. And of course my ethnic background dictates that YOU ALL have to bend over backwards for me.
God Bless America!”

Yikes!

In our class, we have acknowledged how food is emblematic of so many things making it very interesting to study. It reflects a person’s upbringing, values, culture, family, political views, morals, discipline, and just about any other quality. Some readers proved to be acutely aware of just how important food is to a person. One commenter described the picky eating habits of children as “defin[ing] their individuality”.  Another commenter said, “Food is supposed to be an adventure. It opens the mind and stimulates the senses. The tastes themselves help stimulate different parts of the brain and make for greater enlightenment.” Some of these people are really recognizing that the food you eat is very telling of who you are and the mentality you have.

I found this quote to be particularly interesting: “[vegans] need to get off their high horses once in a while and indulge us weaker eating out of your comfort zone is a temporary event; being rudely self-important and self-consumed will taint and haunt your ability to be a loving human for your entire life.”

This user is admitting they feel less moral for being a meat eater. They feel pressure to be “holier” and more mindful of what they eat. These feelings of guilt are coming out as anger and blame. This reader is referring to personal diet and lifestyle choices as rude and describing the people electing these diets as self-consumed and unable to be a loving person. It is obvious that this is just passionate language and logically diet choices have nothing to do with the capacity to love, but that is a quite audacious claim to make. Proof that people not only have strong feelings about what they eat personally, but also about what other people are eating.

This discussion caused commenters to even evoke their own, invented vocabulary terms to describe their feelings and experiences. One reader invented the term “orthorexia” to describe a sister-in-law who refuses to eat anything that not organic, local, fair-trade, green, etc. Another reader used the term “culinary bullying” to refer to other commenters who were suggesting it is okay not to accommodate everyone’s preferences when you are the host. She said it was “culinary bullying” to deliberately cook something you know someone in your party will not eat and expect them to try it.

Other readers make sweeping declarations based on the article and comments. One reader said, “stupid, pointless trivialities like this are ruining this country”. Another said, “How can people possibly create a peaceful world if they can’t even eat a meal together.” I happen to agree with that last one. We all need to be able to share a meal, share stories, share memories. It doesn’t matter to me what that meal consists of.

Finally one sage commenter noted with concise brilliance, “risotto”. Think about it: it really would address most of those concerns.  Risotto for the win!

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Introduction

Hi! Welcome to my blog! My name is Emma and I started this blog for my New Food Activism class this semester. Right now, I think the theme for my posts will be exploring why people eat what they eat. Is it necessity? Is it choice? What does society, the environment, or politics have to do with the food on your plate? How does what you eat reflect your values (if at all)? What does it say about you? Also addressing how people talk about what they eat: the preaching, the lies, the bragging, the judgment, and more.

My inspiration for this particular theme is my own family. We have all had a complicated relationship with food: from eating disorders to picky eaters to allergies to dietary limitations, we’ve seen it all. We have everything from vegetarians and vegans to carnivores and carbivores and celiacs to selectively gluten free. This often brings conflict and stress to family mealtime that ultimately leads to a lot of discussion around this theme of choice.

I would like to explore this idea of people’s relationship with their food in a scholarly way. I will draw on articles, discussions, advertisements, and more and analyze them through the anthropological lens.

 

organic

Just a coincidence that today, during my procrastination, I stumbled upon this image on postsecret. This is a perfect example of one aspect of new food activism- the organic trend- permeating someone’s life. This person obviously feels societal/ familial pressure to keep up with the trend. The priority here is keeping up appearances rather than actual health or environmental benefits.

 

In later posts, I will hopefully explore the idea of this pressure more. Where does this pressure come from (who exerts it)? Who is it directed towards? What does it mean? But, for today, I’m just putting up this image to spark some thought.