Wednesday, May 23, 2007

not chef apart?

A fumarole of impassioned comments attached to a recent post by Michael Ruhlman where he alleges the arrogance of vegans, got me wondering again about what I think about the nature of the act cooking and eating and their relationship to the world outside of the kitchen and dining room.

It is obvious to me that advocates of veganism, organic food and a bunch of other folks who advocate one form of cooking and eating over another, believe that they can and should promote social change through what they choose to cook. But I'm not sure how much I really care about the impact of my food choices on the rest of the world.

Sure I try to buy local and organically grown foods. And I prefer to buy meat that comes from animals raised under humane conditions. But I think that in the end what I care about most is intrinsic quality. If my butcher has two types of beef: one from an animal that has been feed antibiotics and the other completely drug free, I'm going to buy the one that has the best marbling and color. And if that means buying the meat that contains traces of antibiotic, I buy it.

When I cook I don't worry much about the impact of my actions on anything other than the final intrinsic quality of the dish I am trying to prepare , and whether or not the people who will eat it will like it enough to want to eat it again. Perhaps I'm just old school at heart. After all, I learned a lot of what I know about the nature of cooking and the dining experience from chefs like my grandfather, who for several years worked in a kitchen that was managed by Escoffier. For this generation of chefs cooking was an occupation devoted to the incitement of pleasure, not social change. I suppose I'm way more of a Fernand Point than a Michael Pollan.


Don Luis said...

Yes, but Point (I didn't know this, I had to look it up) died in 1955, long before the issues of organic, local, and corn-fed even existed, right?

I just finished The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I found a lot of it quite disturbing. I now need something a lot less thought provoking, so I'm reading Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion.

tscape said...

It reminds me of the age old question about art - is it supposed to be viewed for pleasure, or for education/edification? I think there is room for both to co-exist, as I don't think there should be only one main purpose to art. Same with food and cooking - there is room for chasing pleasure, and chasing a greater good.

Personally, I don't believe it's necessary for every single person to dedicate their food habits to a greater cause - and conversely, a few of us could stand to think a bit more about how our eating habits affect the world around us. In other words, if we meet each other in the middle, we could probably have more time to just eat. :)

Bob del Grosso said...

Don Luis
Point died a year after I was born. When he heard about my birth (remember news traveled slower in those days) he gave up.
As for the God Delusion, well I was going to read but since I don't suffer from it ( I mean why read about a disease you do not have?) I decided to read "The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweill instead.

I do think about the ethical and political implications of eating a lot. And sometimes I eat to what I believe is morally correct, I just don't make that the focal point of all my cooking and eating decisions. It's too depressing and not what I want the process to be about all the time. Thanks for stopping by!

Robert said...

I agree with Bob that ethical and political resons should not be behind all your cooking and eating decisions. We all have to eat to live, and it shouldn't be much more complicated than that.

Don Luis said...

Point died a year after I was born; don't blame yourself.

After rereading my post, I can see how you might think that my food choices were mostly morally based. Hardly. I've never seen anything labeled organic in my local stores, and I don't worry about it. I do get a lot of organic food, but that comes from my own land. As for meat, my choices are so limited, I buy what I can get.

As to Dawkins, it's not a desease I have either, but I read about lots of deseases I don't have, just in case.

tscape said...

I wouldn't want to make it a focal point either. It may sound bad to some, but I don't usually have the energy to make such weighty decisions all the time. Not to mention that I believe that a lot of the time, whichever item tastes better and seems to be better quality is going to trump any other considerations. For me, when it comes to food, it's enough to care about greater-good issues sometimes, as opposed to all the time.

Sean said...

How can you even pretend to act ethically then in the rare cases where you do buy that organic meat (or eschew meat all together) if you only do so when you feel particularly inclined? As Kant argues, morality emerges in the contest between duty and desire. If you act "ethically" according to your concious only at those times which you desire to do so, you have not made an ethical decision. The position of a vegan or someone who eats only organic, locally produced food is bolstered and justified by the fact that it comes at some personal cost.


georg said...

When I can afford it, I buy organic. I can prove to my own satisfaction that I am healthier without preservatives and other chemicals in my food. But my wallet is too thin to support much of this.

I did try recently some organic cheese, but it wasn't as tasty as the non-organic cheese of the same type that was cheaper, so I won't by that particular brand again. It annoys me that taste can come before my health in the context of cheese, but there aren't a lot of organic options where I shop. Organic should be healthy AND tasty, so ethics and taste can go hand in glove.

Bob del Grosso said...

Your comment spurred me to go back and read my post. Where did I write that I was an ethical eater? I think my point was that if I have to choose between taste and say promoting local agriculture, I usually choose taste. I thought I was being pretty straightforward about this.

Anyway, I have a lot of admiration for people who always and effectively eat to their sense of responsibility for one thing or another. I'm not sure I've ever met one of these but I know for damn sure that I'm not one of them.

tscape said...

It's not realistic for a lot of people to be ethical eaters 100% of the time. Human failties and character flaws aside, it can be beyond some people's budgets to dedicate their entire diets to organic or strictly vegan foods, or whatever is considered morally right on that day. But if we try some of the time, isn't that better than giving up and simply not trying? I'm sure that organic farmer would appreciate your money some of the time rather than, say, never.

Kevin said...

Pollan and Dawkins are both worth reading.

Deborah Dowd said...

I look at veganism and vegetarianism like I do one's choice of religion... great for you if you choose it, but please don't try to convert me or act like you are a better person because of your choices.

Don Luis said...

I also look at veganism and vegetarianism the same as religion. All bad ideas, but personal choice.