Foodie Can't Fail
How was dinner eating-wise? I'm not a foodie, finding comparison eating a grossly materialistic and presumptuous exercise (why should I care what went down your gullet that halcyon night in Provence?--nor am I interested in knowing from which sun-kissed vineyard derived your wine in all its Tintoretto splendor), but for the record I ordered rabbit as an entree, and it was fab.
Part of me wants to point out "comparison eating" gets summarily dismissed in a piece that is largely about his dinner companions that include birthday celebrant Elvis Mitchell, Roberto Benabib, one of the executive producers of Weeds, cinematographer Harris Savides, Lola Ogunnaike from CNN, and a novelist some of you may have heard of, Toni Morrison. So, sure, namedrop your Nobel Prize-winning companions, but god forbid you mention the AOC of your wine.
But there's more to it than that. First, perhaps in the rarefied, Vanity Fair air foodie can only equal snob. That leaves out one of the greatest of foodie joys, the cheap find. A true foodie delights in diners and dives as much as what's haute. A foodie wants nothing more than surprise, and to stumble upon that perfect sopes, say, ranks as a greater thrill than finding out Alain Ducasse is as talented as everyone says (or that one of his numerous sub-chefs is, but that's a different issue, perhaps--a true foodie is intrigued by the chef celebrity game yet realizes there's often a mighty marketing department behind the great Oz's kitchen).
Second, dismissing rapturous food writing is like dismissing an edgy evening in a punk club watching the roar that is the Ramones or an evening at Lincoln Center when the ballerina nails it so she seems heaven-glimpsed, to pick two events Wolcott has exalted in his own writing past. One of the great glories of food and wine, and the desire to write about those glories, is they're so flash and gone. The mulberry bursts the essence of redness, and unless you have your mouth open and now that white shirt won't launder, all you're left with is the magical memory. Unless you write about it. Which is never the same, and therefore poignant and a different pleasure. But that's memory for you.
Third, many of us read food writing for the same reason we read any criticism--to delight in aboutness. What a wonderful thing, thought. Criticism of food follows such a lovely through line, from description to argument, having to build from particulars, getting to revel in all the senses in a way denied most other criticism. Pauline Kael couldn't discuss how the film smelled (ignore Odorama for a second); Lester Bangs, thank god, never tasted Lou Reed (surely we would have heard about it). Turn to a Jonathan Gold or a L.E. Leone, to name just two fine food writers, and we could be worded into anywhere land.
Or everywhere. For that's what Wolcott seems to want to deny. Food isn't just fuel. It's taste, of course, but culture and kindness. It's kin and country. It can be come-on or apology, lavishment or last lusciousness before a lethal injection.
What it can't be is dismissed so easily. Heck, I bet even Toni Morrison would tell you that.
Labels: more words about words and food