image description August 26, 2011

Wellness in America

Bourdain, Deen, Bruni, Redzepi & Why it Matters

Paula Deen and those that cook with commoditized unhealthy ingredients are to be faulted most not for telling us to eat canned, processed and commoditized ingredients– but because they never tell you not to! The food-health-wellness issue in America is indeed a class issue. It costs money and requires time to eat well. Food deserts exist in this country that shouldn’t, and the schism between those that are part of our food revolution, both the kind that Jaime Oliver champions and the kind that spawned and promotes the great David Chang, keeps widening. The solution isn’t to pipe down, it’s to get noisier. Let’s talk about the issues that matter, like the fact that in 20 years it’s predicted that 40 percent of Americans will be obese, or that artificial limb companies are bullish stocks to buy because of all the diabetic amputees that will require new appendages in the coming 10 years.

Bruni, Deen, Bourdain, myself and all the others with large platforms have a social responsibility to simply tell the truth. Bravo to Bourdain for calling them like he sees them and using his wit and humor to engage so many whom otherwise might not care. Shame on Paula Deen for posing as an ‘everyday gal’, and worse for not using her exalted position as one of the POPULIST CULINARY HEROES to better the lives of Americans by avoiding the very issues that are hurting Americans and, most importantly, our children who need all the help making food choices that they can. If you want to see what Bruni wrote in the New York Times click here, it is wrong in many ways, but right in many others.

And if you want to know why food forward modernist cuisine is valuable, more valuable by a factor of a thousand, more impactful on our culture than 100 different ways to season with Miracle Whip, I URGE YOU TO CLICK HERE AND READ THIS AMAZING OP-ED BY RENE REDZEPI.

Last point. Bruni needs to realize that the biggest difference between Paula and Sandra Lee and their brand of cooking that champions some unhealthy food choices and David Chang’s ability to make the pork belly as popular as it has become is simple. It’s the difference between eating a piece of candy once a week, or for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The idea that unhealthy food is a personal choice akin to allowing my 7-year-old to smoke cigarettes. As a parent who is capable of doing more for my family than most, I am blessed to be able to make some choices others can’t, which is why the burden to change the system falls on the shoulders on those who can attract attention to the problem.

Tony Bourdain is not an elitist, far from it, and as I wrote last month, and as Eric Schlosser wrote in theWashington Post the month before, people taking shots at those of us standing up for the health of Americans are not elitists. The people  who don’t are. This is what I read over at The Voice, thanks to @forkintheroad for saying what any reasonable person would/could/should think:

“Over at the New York Times, Frank Bruni has fixed his righteous gaze on the dustup last week between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen. And the former restaurant critic is not happy with Bourdain, who in an interview with TV Guide called Deen, ‘the worst, most dangerous person in America’ and accused her of ‘telling an already obese nation that it’s OK to eat food that is killing us.’ Bruni assails Bourdain — who has made a career out of verbally eviscerating the likes of Alice Waters, Sandra Lee, and vegans — for his ‘ill-timed elitism,’ and writes that putting aside Deen’s disingenuous ‘one-with-the-masses pose … she’s otherwise 100 percent justified in assailing the culinary aristocracy, to which even a self-styled bad boy like Bourdain belongs, for an often selective, judgmental and unforgiving worldview.’ If the two were political candidates, Bruni continues, Bourdain would be a ‘blue-state paternalist’ and Deen a ‘red-state populist’ fighting over ‘correct living versus liberty in all its artery-clogging, self-destructive glory.”

But while we certainly agree with Bruni’s observation of the hypocrisy of self-appointed culinary sophisticates who blanch whenever Deen fries a chicken but salivate when David Chang does the same thing, his characterization of these two TV personalities — at this point, no one in their right mind would call either a chef — strikes us as both superficial and inaccurate.

Although Bourdain pals around with elite chefs and certainly isn’t shy about describing the privileges he enjoys in their restaurants, the places he visits in No Reservations typically vary from the modest to the dirt-cheap, and he seems happiest when he’s eating street meat or the home cooking of some local family.

Deen, for all of her folksy, I’m-just-cooking-for-all-of-y’all-who-can’t-afford-microgreens charm, has made many millions thanks to her partnership with Smithfield Foods, the pork producer and processor that’s made headlines for abusing unionsanimalssmall farmers and the environment. (It’s also given plenty of campaign contributionsto the GOP, that bastion of fairness to the working class.) Deen is no less a member of the culinary aristocracy than Bourdain — they just belong to country clubs with different rules.

Bruni argues that ‘getting Deen to unplug the waffle iron doesn’t strike to the core’ of our country’s obesity problem; rather, it’s the dearth of fresh, healthy food that’s to blame, and changing that requires a level of public intervention that’s unlikely ‘in such pinched times.’ But that’s a half-truth: while many people certainly lack access to the healthy food that should be a given in any community, they’re instead eating the processed foods that people like Deen and Sandra Lee champion. And those products, as has been pointed out over and over again, are just as responsible, if not more so, for building a nation of fatties.”

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