Eating for Fuel vs Eating for Fun

I used to have a friend back in New Orleans whose father lived somewhere in the Upper Midwest. I remember him complaining once that his father was coming down for a visit and that, while my friend liked to enjoy his meals while taking advantage of the incredible dining options in New Orleans, his father did not take pleasure in eating. He told me something to the effect of: “My dad’s never eaten a meal for fun. He says food is for fuel.”

My friend’s utilitarian father is not wrong. Nor is my friend, the slightly-more-hedonistic son. Food (and the eating thereof) occupies a unique space in human existence, wherein it is a simple biological need at its most basic, while also being understood across cultures as a source of pleasure and tradition*.

I. Food as Fun

I’ve always loved eating. When I was a kid (and into my early teens) I could eat forever. I could eat six burgers in a sitting. In elementary school I infamously ate large jar of apple sauce at our church minister’s house — one small bowl at a time — which my parents were embarrassed to learn when they picked up my sister and I. After soccer practice my mom and I would sometimes go to Taco Bell and I would order ALL of the tacos. (Always soft tacos, of course.) I could eat an entire tray of lasagna, and I loved every bite of it.

Continue reading “Eating for Fuel vs Eating for Fun”

Whatever, I’ll Eat What I Want

Lately I’ve been trying to live a little more healthily. I like to have a drink or two or three or four, and I like to eat pizza in excess, and burritos upon burritos upon burritos, and basically just whatever else I can get my hands on. I’m a pretty fit dude, but lately it’s seemed like I could be a little kinder to myself. My body, mind and soul could all benefit.

But sometimes, that’s no fun. Especially when the lady is out of town — as she does sometimes, staying at her parents’ house because they’re closer to her work. Basically I just eat pizza and gummy bears and drink beer when she’s gone.

Today, out of curiosity I tallied all the calories I take in on a normal day. Today, a very typical day, I ate a very normal amount of food. I’ve recently started training for my next race, but I’m still in the early stages where I’m going on short, relatively slow runs. But still, today’s four miler, at a 7:20 pace, is close to 600 calories burned.

Tallying this today started with idle curiosity, but it led to a very active, happy thought: I’m going to eat a bag of gummy bears, and they’re going to be great.

On Sexism and Cookbooks and the Aspirationality of Food Media

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and today is the 50th anniversary of the US’s spectacularly ugly version of Bloody Sunday. Civil rights and equality are very much on the mind at the moment. Yesterday, Helen Rosner at Eater (the website that used to write my paychex) posted an enormously thoughtful essay on sexism in cookbooks — more specifically, sexism in cookbook criticism.

The impetus for the essay was a minor brouhaha (sorry Raphael) in the food writing world, the long-and-the-short of which is this: a food website asked a very good writer to compare two very good cookbooks. The writer liked one more than the other because the other felt phony. The author of the phony-feeling one felt the criticism was slightly-veiled sexism. The author of the criticism disagreed.

In Eater, Rosner argues that they’re both wrong. Her full discussion is worth the 10 minutes (maximum) it would take to read it, but to sum: The author of the cookbook is wrong, because she thinks the critic was being sexist for judging the book on its pictures and aesthetic (what Rosner calls the “everything-else”), rather than just its recipes. The blogger is wrong because his criticisms are indeed rooted in subtly sexist values, which run much deeper than his own thinking and, indeed, are inescapable in the food world.

Everything Rosner says feels right to me. And it got me to thinking about related problems in the food world, which got me to thinking about why I left that world.*

The thing is, the Foodie Industrial Complex (otherwise known as the food media) is based on a sort of artifice, this idea that you, too, can be like the pros. This differentiates it from any other segment of the entertainment industry. A music album isn’t designed to convince you that you, too, can make beautiful music. It’s designed to make you Shake It Off. You don’t watch a movie to learn how to make movies; you watch a movie to be entertained.

With food, though, it’s all based on an aspirational ideal. You, too, can throw a glamorous dinner party in the Hamptons with all your best gay friends. You, too, can make authentic Italian food while pretentiously pronouncing “cilantro” with a rolled “R.” You, too, can live a glamorous life in Paris surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful food, or you, too, can be like the most bad-ass of bad-ass Southern chefs. That’s what the whole field is about.

(And this is just talking cookbooks and food TV. The whole idea behind websites like Eater and Grub Street is letting normal people have the sort of insider-y  knowledge of restaurants usually reserved for, you know, restaurant employees.)

As Rosner points out, the whole damn thing is pretentious, but it’s the lady-oriented stuff from Martha Stewart of Gwyneth Paltrow or, in this case, Mimi Thorisson — stuff that gets shoved into the catch-all term of “lifestyle” writing — that’s more easily written off as such. Shows and blogs that let you live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain or John Currence or Sean Brock or Chris “Put Me On Every TV Show Plz” Cosentino are more legit and more respectable and, of course, more inherently masculine. But the basic aspirationality of this side of the food world is less easy to mock or dismiss**.

And that leads me to why I left the food world anyway. For me, food has always been less about Doing It Like the Pros or aspiring to a very specific, monied way of life full of travel and fine food and wine, and much more about understanding my own culture and others through the lens of food. For the overwhelming majority of people interested in food, though, it’s the opposite. Many of the consumers of food media are the lawyers and financiers who have the money to have all the coolest grilling and cooking equipment and can try to Do It Like the Pros. But they’re only Doing It Like the Pros when they’re not out four nights a week spending so much money in restaurants that they can claim to be friends with the chef, when in reality they’re usually just privileged white men really good regulars. Besides, I’ve spent the last ten years trying to get out of restaurants, thank you very much. Put simply, I never identified with the aspirational aspect of it, and after moving to New York City to try to make it, I ran out of money before I could figure out how to achieve the anthropological aspect of it. (Not to mention I ran out of patience with the anonymous commenters, the most vile of all the rich white guys who could afford to go to the restaurants I couldn’t and really, really wanted that sort of Do It Like the Pros insider knowledge that, as I’ve mentioned, was secondary for me.)

So bringing this back to the question of sexism, I guess my point is this: it’s only going to change as women continue to gain positions of power in restaurants (especially in the back of house) and in the sorts of food media that are now dominated by men. It’s going to take more people like Helen Rosner and Amanda Kludt at Eater, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, and all the other Truly Badass Women who are doing awesome things, to show that the awesome things that we more often see men doing are not inherently masculine, and that women don’t have to strive for the Martha Stewart Ideal of Domestic Goddess.

*I’ve only left the food world inasmuch as I stopped food writing. After working the 2013 wine harvest and in restaurants over the last two years, I hesitate to say I truly (or ever will) have “left that world.”

**This goes way back, too. There have always been two dominant streaks in food media: the Do It Like the Pros world of James Beard and company, and the domestic goddess-ery of Martha Stewart et al. The two strands are related, occasionally opposed, but always co-existent.

More on Women in Restaurants

Just minutes after I posted this ditty on the male dominated restaurant industry, and how it’s reflected in Food & Wine‘s recent nominations for the People’s Best New Chef award (to recap: Less than 7% of the nominees are women), my local alt daily posted this. It’s a quote from one of the co-founders of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United on the same issue.

Because the Gambit doesn’t include hyperlinks in the online versions of its stories (though it does in the blog versions that sometimes appear a week before the published print article), I don’t have the original article whence this quote comes. And I’m too lazy to Google it. But basically, only one in five chefs in America are women, making F&W‘s 6.67% even more noticeable. But far scarier is this: “nearly 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from the restaurant industry.”

I should note, too, that I’m not calling out F&W for being, like, totally sexist. (Though even if I was, not like anyone reads this humble little Tumblr.) I think their nominations just reflect a grim reality of the restaurant industry. Mostly, I would just like to know more: Why do so few women work in professional kitchens, even in the 21st Century?

Don’t Ever Try to Claim Workforces Aren’t Gendered

I used to work in education. During that period of my life, nearly every one of my co-workers was female; the majority of my friends were female. Now, my assortment of friends is starting to balance out a bit. This is because I now work in an incredibly male field. Cooking is so male-dominated, as is the group of hangers-on of which I am a part. (That is, the people who live vicariously through cooks and chefs via television, the internet and/or print.)

Look at this list. By my count, there are 7 women out of 105 nominees. That’s 6.67%. That’s just not okay. And these are the best new chefs, meaning this is (admittedly a very limited) look at the future of the profession.

This is not okay. I don’t know what to do about it, but it’s not okay.

I have only a few goals in my life

I’m sure there are more than this, but here’s a selection of my goals, that I apply to most situations:

  • To not suck. At whatever I do, I try not to suck.
  • Have fantastic thoughts. I think things, and I want the things I think to be fantastic, in every sense of the word.
  • To crush it, full stop. Whatever I do, whatever I eat, wherever I go, I’m going to try to crush it—however I believe that term means in that particular instance. Full stop.

Tonight, this lemony risotto I made with some baked flounder? Yeah, I crushed it. Full stop.

How to Improve Your Life

Everything is better with a fried egg. Toast is great, toast with a fried egg is better. A croque monsieur is great, but a croque madame is even better. Pizza and pasta, both of these are great as well. But they’re both taken to unspeakable heights of wonder and deliciousness when you put a fried egg on top. Burgers, too, are delicious, but with fried eggs they are so very much better.

Bad hangover? Have a fried egg. So broke you can barely afford any food? Don’t buy ramen, buy eggs, and fry them. Going through a bad break up? Have a fried egg. Boss screams at you for no reason. Have a fried egg—and offer to make her one as well.

In case you didn’t get my thesis here—everything in life is better with a fried egg. A fried egg makes the lows a little less low, and makes the highs infinitely better. The gross becomes tasty, the tasty becomes heavenly, with only the addition of a single, simple, fried egg.

Here’s a Thing About Foodie Culture

I kinda-sorta spaced out last night at a food-based fundraiser. I’m still new to the whole New Media thing, so I’m not exactly comfortable attending events like that. Until some other New Media friends got there, I was on my own. And since I’m no good at mingling, I just wandered, ate and drank a little.

And yeah, I spaced out and ended up watching a noteworthy local chef cook for about 10-15 minutes, just staring. I’m sure it creeped him out. I found myself on the wrong side of his table, on the cooking side, not the serving side. On the serving side, the dishes are pretty and the foodies are oohing and ahhing*. On the cooking side, shit gets real.

I had this thought: Cooking, as a profession, is a shitty and gritty endeavor. The whole celebrity chef-driven, fancy-pants obsession with food (of which I am a key player, I admit) is, in the end, quite superficial. On Chopped or whatever, the cooking competitions are exciting, sexy, intense, but ultimately (and purely) they’re just entertainment. That’s not what it’s really like. The reality of the thing, when you’re sweating your ass off over an open flame, working with hot-fucking-oil, trying to feed 1500 do-gooders who showed up to the fundraiser to hob-nob with celebrity chefs support the kids, is that it’s really quite unglamorous. But maybe that’s where the glamor comes from.

Take all this with a grain of salt, though. I haven’t actually cooked in a kitchen in years, and even then I was no good at it. I also recognize that many, if not most, of foodie types have worked in the service industry, and that’s a good thing.

*Spell check recognizes “oohing” but not “ahhing.” Really, spell check?