Alex Beam

He’s had his fill

A dissenter looks for signs that the Foodies’ influence has begun to grow stale

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / March 15, 2011

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Are they done yet? Is this the Twilight of the Foodies? Foodie Thermidor? Foodie-Dämmerung? [That’s enough, Alex.] Please God, we should be so lucky. Praise the Lord and pass the grass-fed, free-range, East Friesian sheep’s milk, hand-crafted, Vermont artisanal brebis cheese.

Their tyrannical regime has lasted too long. Foodie agitprop — e.g. “Julie & Julia,’’ “Food, Inc.’’ — is choking the nation’s movieplexes. You can’t turn on a television without some John Belushi look-alike samurai-ing his or her way through a saddle of New Zealand lamb. You’re drummed out of polite society for drinking the “wrong’’ coffee. Is that Guatemalan terroir java shade-grown? Fair trade? My neighbor spotted me in a Dunkin’ Donuts last week and hasn’t spoken to me since.

Christopher Kimball should come see my test kitchen. It’s littered with takeout boxes from Panda Express. Better than Master Wok, I conclude after years of meticulous research. Am I the only person in America who broke out laughing at New York Times food writer Mark Bittman’s ridiculously pretentious “Food Manifesto for the Future’’? “Break up the US Department of Agriculture. . . . Outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations. . . . Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.)’’

I can’t wait.

Because I do whatever public radio tells me to do (except donate; I gave at the 1040), I looked at Community Supported Agriculture options for my neighborhood. For a modest fee, I could pick up a carton of disgusting root vegetables every two weeks in December at a farm somewhere near Shrewsbury. For next to nothing, I could drive down the street and buy Chilean pears from Stop & Shop. You’ll never guess which option I chose.

I know what you are thinking: This rant couldn’t be more poorly timed. There is a Foodie in the White House, for heaven’s sake. Michelle Obama’s predecessor served corn pudding and sweet potatoes at state dinners. Mme. O is offering caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut-aged basmati. Exotic! And don’t forget the postage-stamp-size First Garden, which provides enough locally grown vegetables to fill one, perhaps two Subway Veggie Delites. OK, I am exaggerating, a little.

At last year’s First Planting, a Christian Science Monitor reporter saw the first lady leading a group of schoolchildren in a “growing dance’’ around a wooden planter filled with rhubarb. “Grow rhubarb, grow’’ the children chanted, throwing their hands in the air. Maybe Bittman is right. To heck with the Department of Agriculture and its silly extension programs! Forget fertilizer; we’ve got food magic.

Evidence that I may be right and FoodThink is melting at the edges: The Food Network lost a lot of viewers in the last quarter of 2010. Evidence that I may be wrong and Foodieness reigns supreme: The get-a-life lemmings who watch televised cooking shows probably migrated to other food shows on Bravo, TLC, and the Travel and Cooking channels. The Food Network’s parent company owns the latter two channels. Talk about cannibalism! Yum.

Speaking of which, a faceless conglomerate called Yum! Foods — it owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and other criminal conspiracies against the gastrointestinal tract — has seen its stock march neatly upward during the past year.

Is that evidence that I am right? Well, here is more evidence that I am wrong: Restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, “Blood, Bones & Butter,’’ has rocketed onto The New York Times bestseller list within just a few days of publication. If you do buy the book, check out the marijuana-abetted Berkshires lobster massacre on Page 89. David Foster Wallace would not have approved.

It (almost) goes without saying that Ms. Hamilton operates a hip eatery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that serves handmade lemon vodka, steel cut Irish oats, and so on. By some cruel oversight, she doesn’t yet have her own television show. But the century is still young.

A recent pair of essays in the Atlantic magazine, one a delightful hatchet job by disturber of the spheres B.R. Myers, the other a commentary by Texas State University professor James McWilliams, reinforced my anti-Foodie proclivities. “Most omnivores don’t have a dilemma,’’ McWilliams wrote, alluding to Michael Pollan’s best-selling paean to Foodie rectitude, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.’’ “Most eaters just want a decent lunch. In failing to appreciate this broader context of indifference, ‘foodies’ come off as a rarified club out of touch with the true world of food while working under the impression that they’re revolutionizing it for us from within.’’

Are they done yet? Hope springs eternal, like the season’s first heirloom tomatoes.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is