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Food for Thinkers: Ask Not Why I Write About Food; Rather Ask Why You Don't

Jonah Campbell resents any attempt to justify writing about food. And he doesn't like the term "foodie" either.

Jonah Campbell writes Still Crapulent, a blog that he describes as being about, "more than anything, gastronomical trivia, miscellany, and navel-gazing." This, he admits, "happily requires less rigor than i feel would be necessary to write about some of the more important dimensions of food and feeding. “less rigour” being what i have in profusion."

Don't let his self-deprecation and resistance to capitalization fool you, though: Campbell's Food for Thinkers post contains several gems of ideas.

For example, I enjoyed his simultaneously incisive and unimpassioned takedown of that most obnoxious word, "foodie":

i do not much care for the term "foodie," but to claim that my political analysis is greater than my aesthetic distaste for it would be disingenuous; i just think there's something both precious and pernicious about the marketing logic that transforms a love for food and the eating thereof into a conspicuously subcultural marker. i don't mean to startle anyone, but such folk have always been among us, some notorious epicures, gourmets and gourmands; others perhaps recognizable only to those of like mind, the goinfres, goulus, or plain old great eaters—those, in any case, devoted in their own ways to the pleasurable embellishments and stylistic flourishes of the art of self-preservation (especially the pickles, confits and ferments thereof).


However, in the final few hours of a week-long food writing festival, I am particularly interested in Campbell's roundabout objection to the very question: Why write about food?

because to ask “why food?” elides another question, that i find the more troubling. why does food need to be ennobled or justified?

it is a question that can only be posed in ignorance of the reality that it is by a great strength (or weakness) of will that one can really think about food for any period of time without arriving quickly in some other place, at some other time.

one needs only follow the food itself in one or the other direction—you can’t but end up at the farm, the factory, or in the sewer (or, in between, still within the body, whose inner reaches offer up their mysteries at or to our great peril or comic effect) each with their own host of considerations; they neither ennoble nor justify, but are very much of and about food, as are we.


For more, including M.F.K. Fisher's answer to the same question and the applicability of Sturgeon's Law to food writing, visit Still Crapulent and enjoy!

Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than 40 food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD's newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?

Follow the conversation all week here at GOOD, join in the comments, and use the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up to date.

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