Elitist Foodies vs. Food Bullies

John Schlimm Contributor
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When I first started becoming aware of the whole farm to table movement of buying local, growing your own food, and avoiding industrial farmed products when possible, I was so excited.  I thought, now here is a cause we can ALL finally get behind.  It’s healthier for us.  It’s not controversial.  It supports local farmers, growers, and producers, which helps strengthen communities.  It even allows us to roll up our sleeves and play in the dirt.

Furthermore, in our breakneck, techie-obsessed society I thought this movement would enable us as a united nation to get back to our agricultural roots, embracing a simpler time – Back to before fruits and vegetables had to be shipped halfway around the world to reach us, and before helpless animals were being terrorized and pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, and god knows what else all so we can enjoy cheap feasts anytime we want.

(Cue the squealing breaks)

Boy was I wrong!

Enter the sharp-tongued, finger-pointing Food Bullies, who shoot down those they consider to be Elitist Foodies.  Whether they admit it or not, or even fully understand what they’re doing, these Food Bullies are waging an assault on food and healthy living via an all too easy target.

Who are these Elitist Foodies being targeted by the Food Bullies?

Simply put, they are those who strongly advocate for a return to the healthy basics by buying organic and local, and/or growing your own food.  Most notably, think of Alice Waters, whom these Food Bullies have cast in their rendition of The Devil Wears Garden Gloves; Michelle Obama, who dared to disrupt the White House landscape to plant a garden and (GASP!) inspire millions of others to do so as well in their own backyards; and Michael Pollan, whose Food Rules and other writings have also drawn accusations of elitism.  Or, how about author Barbara Kingsolver, whose groundbreaking work Animal Vegetable Miracle recounts how she and her family moved back to a farm in Virginia and chose to grow all their own food at home or at least buy locally?

To the Food Bullies (That sounds way worse than “Elitist,” doesn’t it?  See, no one likes being called names.), both the famous and the armchair quarterbacks of the ilk, I say, your days are numbered!  Your mean-spirited rhetoric is going the way of the dinosaur.

That said, let me cozy up to you here for a moment because I am all about reaching my hand across the dinner table.

I get what you are saying loudly and clearly.

Namely that oftentimes organic foods are more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts; that the only people who can afford to live organically full-time are idealists with fat wallets.

I’ve done my share of comparison shopping.  I’ve seen the organic chicken and vegetables that cost upwards of three times as much as the nonorganic options.  And certainly, any fast food chain fare or even some A-list restaurant chow is cheaper than various restaurants that offer organic and locally grown foods.

I understand that the majority of the population doesn’t live in Berkeley or the countryside, and many live in cramped urban spaces where their only outlet to anything even remotely resembling food (i.e., barely digestible chemicals) might be the corner convenience store, if even that.  AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON SCHOOL LUNCHES!

I realize that what Alice Waters and some of her colleagues suggest doing in terms of eating all organic and local all the time sounds impossible – That’s because it is impossible for most of us.

But Alice, Michelle, Michael, and gang are right.  That lifestyle is the healthiest route we can take.

And, yes, you warriors against edible elitism are right too.  That lifestyle is often too expensive and largely unrealistic for many.  Yet when you hurl an ugly word like “Elitist,” which leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, or you insinuate as much, you are putting an instant wall up between the public and their choices for healthier living.

Trust me, I hear you, better than anyone.  So you can lower your voices a few octaves now.

I live in small town America surrounded by farmlands and yet my best friend who lives in the heart of Manhattan has more access to wholesome, farm-grown food than I do.  There’s a large farmers market a few blocks from his apartment four times a week, a Whole Foods around the corner, and he and his roommate just opted into a Community Shared Agriculture program.

Am I jealous?  Sure.  But it’s certainly no reason for me to scream “ELITIST!” and cry over the mass-produced, long-distance veggies I’m more or less forced to eat most of the year when our local farmers market and family garden run dry for the season.

Here’s the catch, oh ye naysayers.  I don’t care if what Alice Waters or Michael Pollan says is impossible for the average John and Jane Q. Public to follow to the “T” or if they are indeed looking down their best-selling noses at the rest of us commoners.  I don’t care if people don’t have a plot of grass to plant a Mrs. O.-inspired garden or a successful novelist’s salary and freedom to help them cultivate a year’s worth of food in their backyard (if they even have a backyard).

This movement at its core is not about any of that nor is it about the growing number of famous personalities attaching themselves to the farm to table crusade.  It never has been, never will be.  That is where you, Food Bullies, have missed the mark with your venomous attacks.

Just because someone says we should eat nothing but organic and local doesn’t mean we have to, especially if that’s not realistic for us and our means. Would you jump off a bridge just because some authority on the subject told you to? (Didn’t think so.)

Then what is it all about?

We are a nation that was founded upon inspiration.  Inspiration is the spark that has launched every new invention, every great work of art, and every life-changing revolution.  Inspiration is always the first step on any journey.

When the so-called Elitist Foodies tell us to eat all natural, all organic, all homegrown, all the time, when they tell us our goal should be to wear the badge of locavore with pride and dedication, we need not take anymore from that than the spark of inspiration.

Maybe for us that means instead of a brimming, time-consuming garden in a lush backyard (that we don’t have), we simply buy a tomato plant for our side porch or patio.

Or, we plant herbs in a pot on the windowsill.

Or, how about just eating one more serving of fruits or vegetables a day or a week, period, regardless of where they come from (simply buy the best you can afford)?

OR, sans any nearby location to secure even the scrawniest of veggies and fruits, maybe just drink more water instead of sugary soda (You can’t get any more natural and realistic than that, and yet this little step is a direct descendent of the larger movement).

What today’s food pioneers are giving us is a launching pad of hope during a critical moment in our existence.  Truly fresh food, albeit currently enjoying a renaissance, is still largely endangered.  And the perils of rampant obesity and other food-related health issues are swallowing us and our children whole.

This movement is not a mandate, it’s not a garden dictatorship, and it’s not about the girth of your wallet.

It’s about tailoring these sparks of inspiration from the experts and the overall farm to table concept to what is real and possible for each one of us today.

I now extend my hand to you, Food Bullies, and leave you with what this debate boils down to:  You can either join us in moving this nation forward in a culture that is increasingly embracing this adventure in big and little ways OR you can continue to spew vitriol, stagnate, and shamefully hurt the very people you think you’re helping.

The choice is yours and yours alone to make.  I only hope you make the right one.  Then we can finally put name calling aside and begin to savor a healthy feast of inspiration and common sense around one big happy table.

John Schlimm is a member of one of the oldest brewing families in the United States, meaning he sees life through sudsy, gold-colored glasses.

A former celebrity publicist, educator, and artist, John is the award-winning author of several books, including his latest, Harrah’s Entertainment Presents…The Seven Stars Cookbook as well as The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Cookbook (named “Best Beer Book in the U.S.” and “Best Beer Book in the World” by the international Gourmand Awards).

Join John on Facebook.com/JohnSchlimm and Twitter.com/JohnSchlimm.  For more information, please visit www.JohnSchlimm.com.