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The Problem with The Kitchn’s 'How to Talk About Food Without Sounding Like a Snob'

Earlier this week, The Kitchn posted an article titled, "How to Talk About Food Without Sounding Like a Snob." The piece collected and shared thoughts and advice from various food writers on how people can talk about food without getting all high and mighty. The post provided a ton of valid tidbits, mostly about taste and ingredients, but it seemed no one recognized the power of conversation—that discussion itself can spark change in the food system.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re constantly reminded of the dichotomy inherent to food. It’s essential to our daily lives and can act as a unifier spanning cultures, demographics, and even societal inequalities. Take Thanksgiving, a holiday when probably a solid majority of Americans have eaten turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie with their families or friends at least once in their lives. But at the same time, food segregates people and points to many pressing issues on which our nation remains divided. Just one glance at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas reveals a shocking number of regions classified as “food deserts” in America.


So, what does all this mean? In short: If we can have meaningful conversations about politics and crime rates—heck, even the weather—then why is there still a stigma attached to discussions on food?


The Kitchn’s Ariel Knutson simplified the matter, explaining:


“Food, after all, is a source of pleasure and fun as well as necessary sustenance. But our excitement about things we love—whether it's healthy cooking, perfecting French macarons, or sourcing just the right ingredients—can come off as snobbery to people who don't share our particular passions.”


And she’s not wrong. I can’t count the number of times a conversation shut down as soon as I mentioned the terms “organic,” “non-GMO,” or “local.” But other times, the conversation turned into an educational moment. Sometimes I’m the teacher; other times I’m the student. Sure, there’s no right answer when it comes to food. But there are problems. That’s something every writer quoted in the post fails to note.


It doesn’t matter what background you come from. No one can claim that our nation’s food system is perfect or ideal. It also doesn’t matter what “side” you’re on—and, yes, there are viciously divided sides in the food fight. When it comes down to it, we all just want solutions. And there’s no better way to find those solutions than by bringing issues of public importance to the forefront through meaningful discussion.


I take the biggest issue with the post’s quote from Peggy Wang, the founding editor of Buzzfeed, although her response isn’t far off from most of her peers:


“Because food is seemingly more visceral than cerebral, that doesn't mean that it isn't loaded with implications about class and where one sits in the social strata. Elitist food comments aren't exempt from having a dark undercurrent of judgment that implies ‘You're uneducated’ or ‘You're uncultured . . .. They're unnecessary because food is a fun, enjoyable thing that no one should have to think too hard about.”


Food is a fun and enjoyable thing. We can probably all agree with that. But people should be thinking long and hard about what they ingest and what food they invest in. Where a vegetable came from, what chemicals were put into the ground to grow it, how many fossil fuels were burned in the process of it reaching my plate, did a family farmer or did someone else get the money I paid for it: These are all incredibly important questions we should ask ourselves on a daily basis. Not everyone has access to fresh, local food. Not everyone can afford an all-organic diet (myself included), but without a conversation around these issues, we’ll never reach the point where everyone can.


There is some positive, valuable input from these influential writers, too. Francis Lam, an editor at Clarkson Potter and a judge on Top Chef Masters, explains:


“To my mind, the difference between being an enthusiast and a snob is where you fall on the scale from being appreciative and interested to judgmental. If you're genuinely curious, you only have to be polite and a normal human being and you probably won't run into any trouble. If you're hiding your judgment, then you should probably change the conversation.”


I couldn’t have said it better myself. No matter where you fall on the food spectrum, a conversation will almost certainly go down a meaningless rabbit hole as soon as it turns from constructive to judgmental.


So, how do we strike up a meaningful conversation about food justice and long-term sustainability without sounding like elitist snobs? That’s still the real question—and one I hope you’ll help me answer. In the meantime, let’s keep asking it.


About me: I’m a part-time Farm Aid staffer and proud HOMEGROWN member. Got a comment to share? Let’s talk about it!

Views: 178

Comment by Tim Foisie on March 29, 2020 at 9:44am

Agree and well summed up: be appreciative and interested and not judgmental.

Everyone's taste varies so being careful in how one treads there... perhaps being descriptive but remembering the point above.

Fact-based and scientific analysis can be useful too, e.g., which foods have causal relationships with disease / bad health and environmental degradation and which food ones don't; food access / availability and growing options, etc.


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