September 19, 2007


Macho Man Randy SavageJoin me as I weep for the bruised masculine soul of food writer Paul Levy, will you?

Seems that Paulie is horrified - aghast, even - at how testosterone-choked the world of food writing has become.

He attempted to tag what he says is an unnecessary level of extreme food writing that wasn't around when he started in the business.

Levy writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal Europe, co-chairs the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, and edited The Penguin Book of Food and Drink. And, if you can believe his Wikipedia entry, he coined the term "foodie" along with writers Gael Greene and Ann Barr. For that word alone he should be prosecuted at whatever the culinary version of the Nuremberg Trials is. Seriously. After all, a wine enthusiast isn't called a "beveragie." Foodie sounds like something you massage your feet with at the fairgrounds.

But I digress.

Anyway, Levy remembers on Slate today the misty, water-colored days when he got to run roughshod over the tender "ladies pages" back in the day:

Roughly 30 years ago, when I began writing a weekly column about food for a British national newspaper, the Observer, I was competing in a marketplace that was monopolized by women (and a few token gay men) who wrote recipes. My brief was to write essays about food—not recipes—for the women's pages that were written from the point of view of the eater as much as the cook. Put another way, I was to present a masculine perspective, and—guess what?—the paper's surveys showed that I garnered a male audience, in addition to the usual female readership. Clearly men took an interest in eating, if not in cooking.

At the annual round of food writing awards the next year, the column cleaned up, much to the dismay of the ladies at one prize-giving lunch, whom I recall actually hissed when I won the restaurant-writing category, as well as the food-writing award. But perhaps the women were right to protest: I was only one of the first fellows invading what had been their territory. Surveying the lay of the land now, the scenery has altered again.

Food writer in Britain, huh? Was this a one-page section? After you do your annual bangers and mash double-truck, what's left?

Levy goes on to tilt at the familiar food windmills; namely Anthony Bourdain, Bill Buford and Adam Gopnik.

In his mind, food writing has descended into some "Lord of the Flies" tribal vowel movement:

The food writing that's in vogue today consists chiefly of a bellow of bravado. It's a guy thing, sure, but (with a few honorably hungry exceptions) these scribblers mostly ignore what's on the plate. They view themselves as boy hunters and despise sissy gatherers, thrive on the undertow of violence they detect in the professional kitchen, and like to linger on the unappetizing aspects of food preparation. The gross-out factor trumps tasting good as well as good taste.

When I think about how I'd have to rewrite some of my earlier pieces for today's market, I feel queasy.

His specific case against Bourdain:

The rawest chronicler of foodie lowlife, Anthony Bourdain, not only tells tales of bad-boy kitchen behavior, such as the consuming of softer drugs, but also assumes this prosy pose in his writing: "You've made meat loaf, right? You've eaten cold meat loaf, yes? Then you're halfway to being an ass-kicking, name-taking charcutier."

So, to recap: A little masculinity is okay in small doses as long as you can use it to clean up against inferior female competition, but it quickly becomes uncouth when unleashed in all its hairy chested, Maileresque fury.

Whatever, dude.

If you're going to throw the high fastball at Bourdain and his ilk, you better aim for the temple with more than weaksauce Nerf insults like "prosy pose" and "chronicler of foodie lowlife."

Times change, Paolo. Food writing is a living, breathing animal that morphs as the subject it documents morphs. If only Julia Child was here to pull an Ike Turner on your onion-skin literary sensibilities.

Go snap into a Slim Jim or something, will you?

* Cross-posted over at The Stew.


Concerned with your nutrition? Working on a new diet to help you with some weight loss? One good resource on nutrition information is the Internet, where you can read up on not just fast food but home recipes as well.

Posted by Jeff at September 19, 2007 09:00 PM | TrackBack
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