Food for Thought

Is Food a New Religion?

A reading from the psalm of heritage breed pork
A reading from the psalm of heritage breed pork Photo:

Here’s an explanation for irritating foodies we haven’t heard before, courtesy of a thoughtful essay in green-leaning blog Grist: Americans are “embracing food - or food activism - as their new religion” and are showing all of the telltale signs of those swept up in a religious conversion, including “zealotry, passion, conviction, and a touch of self-righteousness in many cases.” Don’t forget the annoying tweets!

Author Eric Burkett - who, as a professional chef, food writer and a Buddhist minister-in-training is more qualified than most to take this angle - cites several examples of people finding their God in their food. There are those in the thralls of a conversion experience thanks to Food, Inc. and The Omnivore’s Dilemma:

With the release of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc., I was astounded at the number of people who announced the film had changed their lives in an almost Pauline-road-to-Damascus kind of way… Food, Inc. and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma have inspired a new religion that might be called born-again carnivorism, as exemplified by a post on Food Inc’s Facebook page from a woman excited by her discovery of a farm that raises organic chickens on actual pasture. And as with all religions, old and new, there are sects that insist on a very different path to salvation. The woman’s post elicited some strident replies from vegans, some as self-righteous as anti-abortion activists. Promoting organic meat is “like saying that its [sic] ok to keep slaves as long as they are feed [sic] well!” wrote one respondent. “How about raising your children to be compassionate, not just ‘organic’?”

There are those looking for miracles in what they consume:

How many among us are chasing after miracle foods, downing gallons of pomegranate juice, or wolfing down goji or açaí berries, convinced they’ll somehow give us health and happiness and, perhaps, make us sexier to boot?

And then there are those who feel the need to sanctimoniously make the world aware of how they are abiding by the commandments of healthy eating every time they eat something good for them:

I remember a smirking Twitter posting I saw months ago: “I’m having goji berries and green tea.” Had the poster been in reach, I might have given him a wedgie…just because.

Paired with Frank Bruni’s recent lament against restaurant snobs - and remember ’foodiots’? - it makes us wonder if there isn’t a bit of a backlash brewing against the food-obsessed. Although the Grist piece focuses more on the adherents of the locavore/organic food movement, the same conversion experiences and “miracles” also happen in the restaurant snob universe. Who hasn’t heard someone tell of a “meal that changed their life,” read about a dish described as “transcendental” or “sublime” by a restaurant critic, or read tweets proclaiming exactly what life-changing dish someone is eating at that moment?

Burkett ends the piece with some sage advice:

When we season our food with dogma and self-righteousness, we give it an unhealthy power over our ability to rationally consider its already vital place in our lives. If what you eat has become your religion, take care to serve up your message peacefully and palatably. Because it’s just food.

Eat Your Own Dogma: Food as America’s Newest Religion [Grist]

Related: Frank Bruni Calls Out Restaurant Snobs [Grub Street NY]
Are ‘Foodiots’ the New Foodies? (And Where Did They Come From, Anyway?
[Grub Street NY]

Is Food a New Religion?