Sunday, March 17, 2013

The moral dilemma of being a food snob

“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others.”
                                                                                    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

I am the omnivore that Michael Pollan warned you about. 

I rarely eat locally produced foods.  I do not always eat organically grown foods.  I am passionate about non-GMO foods, but have found it is impossible to eat strictly non-GMO.  I occasionally eat junk food but will avoid farm-raised salmon because wild salmon just plain tastes better.  I will never be a vegan, nor a vegetarian (damn you, pigs!).  I tend to favor costly and rare ingredients that have been, at times, on the list of 10 most-wanted politcally incorrect foods. 

Do I need to be concerned about eating more locally and organically grown foods?  I'm sure it would benefit me and my local farmers.  Should I worry about genetically modified foods?  If I read and take the research seriously, then probably the answer is yes.  Should I feel guilty about eating junk food? Not being a vegan or a vegetarian?  Maybe.

And this is the lie I tell myself: I eat and drink what I do because I want to.  More importantly, I eat and drink what I do because I can.  I spend a great deal of my disposable income on food and wine and I feel very privileged that this kind of lifestyle is possible for me.  I can exercise a considerable amount of personal liberty where food choices are concerned.  I can select breakfast cereal, if I wish, from an aisle in the grocery store that is brimming with over 50 choices.  I can afford to eat in a totally decadent manner when I go on vacation.  And yes, I can proudly state that I am a food snob.  My vision is that I lead a bon vivant lifestyle, teetering romantically on the verge of financial hardship or world collapse, the moth flirting with the flame.  I am a near-catastrophe visionary, never saving for a rainy day and always pulling out all the stops.  I believe I live well because I eat well.

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

But my food choices can cause me a great deal of internal struggle at times because I wonder if I am being irresponsible with food.  I am unabashedly fond of politically incorrect foods, of foods that involve large carbon footprints, of foods that are directly connected to the use and abuse of animals, and of foods that are far beyond the scope of what the mainstream is satisfied with.  And with all the polarizing rhetoric about what food will currently redeem my soul, I often feel confused about where my moral compass should point.

Photo from
Foie it.  Veal...osso bucco, piccata, saltimbocca, Oscar: it's all good.  Black truffles, white truffles, chocolate truffles...can't live without them.  Caviar of all types...a necessity.  Blood oranges, citron, kumquats, Rangpur limes...whenever I can get them.  Cheese of all kinds, from around the world: YES!  Duck prosciutto flown in from Washington State?  If I want it, yes.  Venuzelan chocolate--to die for.  Orange blossom water from Morocco--of course.  Doesn't everybody have orange blossom water in their pantries?  And anything that can be called pork: definitely.  Who wouldn't want to live without a regular dose of jamon Iberrico, along with wines from Spain, France, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, South Africa and the far-flung regions of the continental United States?  Not to mention single malt scotches from remote distilleries in the Hybrides, as well as Barbados rum, Jamaican allspice dram, British creme de violette, and other obscure liquors.

Unfortunately, my predilections also cause me some geographical anguish and time constraints because most of these items--except the most mainstream of pork products--are unavailable where I live.  So I drive to Austin in my older model gas-guzzling (and oversized) vehicle to reward myself, or I do a lot of mail order food shopping in order to quell my insatiability and the cosmopolitan appetites my beloved maternal grandfather inspired.

So what do my preferences tell you about my moral character?  What do they say about my consciousness as we watch food choices become more and more polarized?

You say "meat eater" like it's a bad thing. 

Presently, I live in an area that is woefully bereft of not only healthful, but even decently competent restaurants and eating establishments.  In a small town of less than 6000 in Central Texas (and as still technically part of the Austin SMSA), my town is graced with over a dozen Mexican restaurants, non of them remarkable, several BBQ joints (at least one or two are reportedly of lengendary fame), and couple of very disappointing places that attempt to provide "home cooking" or a "steakhouse atmosphere" or worse, Asian cuisine. We also have two major-chain pizza restaurants, and your standard fast food assortment.

But I didn't move here for the food.  I spend little time eating at restaurants in my town.  It is hard to eat out in my town for meals other than breakfast, since my palate demands excitement and my own cooking skills and reperatoire outshine that of the establishments in town.  And you can't call it braggin' if it ain't true.

But I'm also not a locavore, except for an occasional visit to my local farmer's market and dealings with my Egg Lady and the farmer that offers exceptional grass-fed beef.  And that is because it is a difficult task for me to eat locally, either by way of patronizing my local dining establishments, or, as Michael Pollan suggested, eating foods that have only been sourced locally.  But Mr. Pollan has had his critics

I have mine.  They have been among the family, friends and relationships that have objected to my food choices, remarked about my food snobbery, have been held hostage by my refusal to eat at certain restaurants, and have even kept quiet about my obvious contradictions.  And yet, I continue to do what I do: I eat and drink what I want, openly and honestly.  And I lie to myself that one day, I will be a better person if I could just eliminate foie gras from my list of favorite foods.

But that lie has also made it possible for gratitude to co-exist: I am so glad I don't live in California.

1 comment:

  1. I raise my non-organic, non-biodynamically grown, large carbon foot print glass of Grenache to you! Sing it, sister!

    (And I laughed out loud because I first read it as "doesn't everyone have orange blossom water in their panties" !)