It has always been crucial to the gourmet's pleasure that he eat in ways the mainstream cannot afford. For hundreds of years this meant consuming enormous quantities of meat. That of animals that had been whipped to death was more highly valued for centuries, in the belief that pain and trauma enhanced taste. "A true gastronome," according to a British dining manual of the time, "is as insensible to suffering as is a conqueror." But for the past several decades, factory farms have made meat ever cheaper and-as the excellent book The CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] Reader makes clear-the pain and trauma are thrown in for free. The contemporary gourmet reacts by voicing an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms. He even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better, though his heart isn't really in it. Steingarten tells of watching four people hold down a struggling, groaning pig for a full 20 minutes as it bled to death for his dinner. He calls the animal "a filthy beast deserving its fate."
Even if gourmets' rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as "gods," to restaurants as "temples," to biting into "heaven," etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face. The mood at a dinner table depends on the quality of food served; if culinary perfection is achieved, the meal becomes downright holy-as we learned from Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), in which a pork dinner is described as feeling "like a ceremony ... a secular seder."
The moral logic in Pollan's hugely successful book now informs all food writing: the refined palate rejects the taste of factory-farmed meat, of the corn-syrupy junk food that sickens the poor, of frozen fruits and vegetables transported wastefully across oceans-from which it follows that to serve one's palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows, Earth itself. This affectation of piety does not keep foodies from vaunting their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals-but only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction.
See where this is going? Those jerks are trying to make YOU, Real America, feel guilty for eating factory farmed meat! And the article goes on like this for some five pages.
I almost feel like this article doesn't deserve a response. But I think a distinction needs to be made - one that, no doubt, you've already figured out. There's a big difference between the gourmets mentioned here who dine on elite food in only the most expensive restaurants, etc, etc, and the food movement that calls for sustainable, local, fair, humane, ethical food. The two are not one and the same.
There are an awful lot of so-called foodies who work for sustainable, etc, food but would never dream of flying to Paris just to shop for cheese. To visit the Louvre and Notre Dame and, while there, eat cheese, yes. And hopefully wine and crepes too. But for the sole purpose of buying cheese, no. Sustainable food can be simple. It can be as humble as picking vegetables from one's garden and eating them raw. And if growing and eating food is elitist, then several millennia of humans from the neolithic revolution to the 20th century are all elitist.
There are also gourmets out there who would fly to Paris just to buy cheese. And you can hate them if you want to. I don't see the point. It's wasted energy. Ignore them, if you don't like them.
But please, don't conflate the two, even though there ARE some people who fall in both categories (Alice Waters comes to mind). Because the sustainable, fair, ethical, etc, food movement is not about finding some sort of elite food that only its members can obtain. It's about making healthful, sustainable, delicious, and humane food available to everyone while simultaneously providing for farmers and ending the exploitation of farmworkers. And what's wrong with that?