Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Thought About Food

2, 4, 6, 8,
Tuck in, don't wait.

For a liberated people, Australians are pretty bloody puritanical about food. If we're not worrying about eating too much, we're concerned about eating too little. We apply any number of standards to our food according to the chemicals they contain: 'high in cholesterol', 'low in sugar'. Dubious distinctions between 'organic' and 'artificial' chemicals are regularly invoked in the name of our health or the environment. There are bizarre distinctions between cult-like subbgroups of eaters: vegetarians, vegans, and even anti-vegetarians. Politicians, in the name of various pressure groups, require that our foods be listed and labelled according to a number of changing standards. (In the supermarket yesterday, I bought a box labelled 'cage eggs', which I suspect is evidence of legislation passed through either our state or federal parliament.)
If that weren't enough, advertisers and publicists are perpetually labelling food with any number of moral descriptions, prescriptions, and imprimatur: 'Guilt Free', 'Sinfully Rich', 'Addictive' - the list of terms so-used would probably fill a chapter in a book.

We've come a long way since the days of saying grace before meals.

Being an ethical eater is one thing. It's good and worthwhile to consider what you're eating, how you're eating it, and why. But why obsess over it? Passing through Camberwell today - a bizarre suburb, where all the cafes are uber-expensive and meat is shoved out of sight to avoid offending the vegetarians - I saw a sign advertising 'Italian Hot Chocolate'. 'Sinfully rich', the sign said. It made me wonder about the unlikely chain of association that led to this odd description: the association of food with desire, the association of desire with morality, and the association of morality with sin. It's this chain of vague associations which the advertiser evidently had in mind, but the result was a sign so muddled and contradictory as to lack almost any meaning at all. It was a weird description, all right.

Just eat your food and enjoy it, I reckon. I'll leave you with that Sunday afternoon thought about food.


Caz said...

"Hot Rich Italian Chocolate" - see how easy it is? That may have even enticed you in off the street, and you could have asked for a viewing of the spicy sausages hidden in the back room.

Brings to mind one of my pet hates Timmy: "guilty pleasure".

What the fuck is that, and why do people have them?

TimT said...

'Guilty pleasure' is probably a petty modern version of the Nietzsche Superman, rising above 'mundane' morality. Usually guilty pleasure is public pleasure - people telling you about something bad they did, and then expecting you to congratulate them for it.

Woody Allen did a very funny send up along these lines in a recent New Yorker. He wrote an article called 'Thus Ate Zarathustra' on the 'lost diet books of Friedrich Nietzsche'. He included some fragments from the Superman's eating diary.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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