We’re still scratching our heads over an essay in Slate today, in which a British journalist, fretting over what he considers the unseemliness of today’s food writing, declares himself out of the game. Is it for real? Something about the piece had the whiff of a put-on, like Ernie Kovacs’s poet character, Percy Dovetonsils, or one of those stuffy authority figures who get hit with a pie in a TV commercial appealing to teenagers. “The food writing that’s in vogue today consists chiefly of a bellow of bravado,” writes Paul Levy, formerly of the British newspaper The Observer. Today’s food writers, he says, “thrive on the undertow of violence they detect in the professional kitchen, and like to linger on the unappetizing aspects of food preparation. The gross-out factor trumps tasting good as well as good taste.” Is he kidding?
This is a golden age of food writing we’re living in! The writers Levy considers the worst offenders, like Anthony Bourdain and Bill Buford, have taken food writing out of its stiff, upholstered armchair and given it all the force and vitality of an old thing made young. The quotes Levy gives from his own writing are so pallid as to verge on parody: “the meat had dark skin attached to it, was quite fatty and looked like pork … chewy, and had a very strong, though not disagreeable flavor.” This to describe a dog the writer ate in Macau! If this is what we’re missing, bring on the barbarians. Food writing is too important to leave to gentlemen.