In Defense of Lowbrow Chow

Excuse me, would you mind passing the cranberry jelly?  Yes please, that one which is shaped like a can.

Gasp!!!  What?  You would never let such an abomination pass your lips?

Well, that's a shame.

Let me break this to you gently.  You are a food snob.

And don't go and pat yourself on the back for it in a smug moment of self-righteousness.

Have no doubt about it, your sneering attitude is bad food karma.  It makes this world a bit less fun, and is contributing to the tailspin of our collective relationship to food.

You know me well enough by now to know that I live largely upon wild foods.  My day to day meals consist of wild meats, vegetables, and fruits, supplemented by store-bought starches and good dairy.  Sometimes I combine these things into fancy dishes, but most of the time they are simple and rustic.  I am a huge champion of wholesome home-cooked meals, and sustainable ways of eating.

So how is it, you ask, that I am defending lowly canned cranberry jelly?

First off, let me say that tinned cranberry sauce is delightful.  It adds a unifying texture and delightful tang to every part of a Thanksgiving meal.  Delicious stuff.

Ok, you honestly don't agree with me.  That's fine.  There is plenty of room for a range of opinions and tastes when it comes to food. And in a way, that's precisely my point.  Eating is a highly subjective experience which is colored by so much more than just nutrition and our five senses.  Nostalgia, heritage, comfort, and communion are also a part of the experience of eating.  Think back to your best food memories.  Are they soley about the food, or do you also remember the setting, the people you were with, the climate and the mood of the moment?

So, what if I were to tell you that my fondest food memory is of canned cranberry jelly, of sitting at my Grandmother's knee at the Thanksgiving table - fullness, family, food, warmth permeating my every cell?  If that were true, how do you think I would feel when you turned up your nose at that cranberry sauce, and made disparaging comments?  Well of course I'd take it personally, because it would chip away at the shine of those memories.

This is why a huge segment of the population bristles when foodies and food police start in on one of their rants.  What you are eating is horrible, it isn't nutritious enough, your children will be deformed, it's going to give you heart disease and cancer, and you will be pumped full of medication and die sick and alone!  It is personal, and there is a stinging undercurrent of judgment and elitism.  It makes people feel reactionary and defensive.  They dig their heels in, sing la-la-la, and vow to go on eating frozen meals, margarine, and fast food.

When it comes down to it, the fear factor isn't going to get people, as a whole, to eat better.  Instead, it's going to be a shared enthusiasm about greatness in food.  Honesty about what tastes good, and respect for all palates, are what will open up a dialog and make it possible for a greater segment of the population to feed themselves well.

We've forgotten how to indulge, how to celebrate, how to share the pure love of the experience of eating.

A few years back, a bunch of big studies came out about how dark chocolate is good for you.  And now, how often to you hear people declare that every day, they let themselves have one square of dark chocolate?  It's ok to say it out loud, even to be proud.

Oh see, it's still deep inside of us, that yearning to let go and just revel in food, but the shoulds keep pulling us back.  And so people let themselves have their square of chocolate, not because it's what they truly want (and I'm not saying that there aren't people who genuinely like chocolate), but because someone has given them permission, and they wear their badge with pride.

This constant push and pull, the cycle of punishment and reward is insidious.  I've gotta say that I'd far prefer to see you tilt back your head and pound a few squirts of Cheez Whiz with absolute relish than I would see you post a status update about your sanctified square of dark chocolate.

An attitude of fear surrounding diet, even if it is dressed up in the guise of nutritional-correctness, is far more toxic to a body than a happy bite of lowbrow chow.

Mark my words, it ain't the political activists that are gonna save the food scene, it's the hedonistic food geeks.  It's the people who strip eating of rules and that sour-tasting Puritanical ethic.  It's the people who will take a bite of roasted pastured chicken and simple farm-fresh vegetables, roll their eyes back in their head, let out a scream of ecstasy, and offer a bite to anyone who is nearby.  Those are the people who are gonna take wholesome real foods back to the masses, back to the people who are stuck between the hard rocks of economics and nutritionalism.

So on this holiday of gratitude, respect all tastes.  Don't be a turkey, let your enthusiasm for delicious food be infectious.  And while you're at it, could you pass me some of that yummy canned cranberry jelly?!

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