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July 12, 2008

Munchies and Politics

MIchael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Rod ("Crunchy Cons") Dreher and Michael ("In Defense of Food") Pollan agree on who the enemy of Food Goodness is: corporate ag, and the governmental regs and agencies that service big ag. But they scratch their heads over the politics of the good stuff.

Funny passage:

DREHER: I mention Slow Food in my work and find it ironic that it was started by an Italian Marxist …

POLLAN: Communist.

DREHER: Yeah. But it’s very conservative.

POLLAN: It is. I always saw myself as being to the Left of center, although whenever I write about food or nature, I feel like I am actually to the Right.

Good for Pollan for being willing to be interviewed in something called -- horreurs -- The American Conservative. I'd sure like to see more lefties open up to the right, and more righties open up to the left. But that would mean getting the whole politics thing in perspective, and the Primarily Political crowd would rather die than let the rest of us do that.

Rod Dreher blogs here.

Long ago, Friedrich von Blowhard and I swapped reactions to Rod's Crunchy Cons notion: here, here, here, here, here.



posted by Michael at July 12, 2008


I've not been able to take Dreher seriously ever since I noticed how many of his concerns show up at the site "Stuff White People Like". Whitey-Cons, anyone?

Posted by: tschafer on July 13, 2008 9:25 AM

Michael, you noted in one of your 2002 posting links, "By letting themselves appear to care only about business and money, righties are letting themselves look ugly, and ugly means that lots of potentially sympathetic people turn away." Well, unfortunately a LOT of the Right has for decades now not only given the appearance of, but acted in substantive ways to demonstrate that they DO care primarily about business and money. Other things they've demonstrated that they care about have been a preference for military over diplomatic solutions, state secrecy, and a preference for "security" over "freedom". Any of these tendencies could, and likely would, have been thought of at a different point in time as being antithetical to a "conservative" POV, but today they are seen as well entrenched core values of the right.

When politics comes up here on 2 Blowhards, as throughout most of the blogosphere and virtually all the mass media, the presumption of oppositional duality prevails. One is assumed to be at a particular point on an imaginary Left/Right balance beam with those seen as hugging too close to the supposed centrist fulcrum disdained as being wishy-washy. There are many, including among those who comment here, only too eager to shift into partisan attack mode whenever someone fails to meet their perceived criteria for right thinking (and often that means thinking "Right"). I've given up attempting to convince certain characters that my complex amalgamation of political and aesthetic proclivities doesn't make me a card-carrying lefty-commie-pinko modernist and just embraced the label. (There is a lot of my kind in Woodstock, or so I hear.)

I've made a conscious effort to find a couple of dominant "right" blogs to follow and offer comments on. This is the only one I've found so far where (a) the range of topics is sufficiently broad and (b) the political views expressed (at least by the official Blowhards) are sufficiently complex and non-partisan to keep me regularly entertained and engaged.

For a little over a year I was part of the ad hoc organizing committee for a local chapter of Let's Talk America. It was created as a result of a conference set up by Utne Reader to bring folks from all across the political spectrum to figure out where they might actually have commonly shared concerns and opinions. Our local group found it almost impossible to get conservatives to participate. Those of us who trained and functioned as moderators regularly urged the tiny number of individuals who attended and expressed conservative views to bring some friends with similar opinions to future gatherings. We were told, in almost these exact words, "conservatives don't see any reason to exchange ideas with liberals, we know we're right."

As for food, my mantra for choosing what I eat remains Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." My hierarchy for what kind of food and where to obtain it moves from as much local organic as possible and on to local conventional, commercial organic and finally commercial conventional.

Posted by: Chris White on July 13, 2008 10:37 AM

So what if there are aisles of cereals or packaged cookies or high fructose tomato sauces etc., etc., in my supermarket. I ignore them and go to the aisles of fresh veggies and unsweetened juices and fresh meat/chicken/fish. Does this make me special? Not at all. What I can't stand about Pollan's pronouncements is that he presumes (as do most lefties) that people are helpless! helpless! to make healthy decisions in the face of big-ag's and big-foodmarket's skewing toward the unhealthy. Baloney. First, there are plenty of choices out there. Second, adults are not the passively programmable creatures the left makes them out to be or actually wants them to be. Okay, rant over.

Posted by: ricpic on July 13, 2008 11:02 AM

Chris W:
my complex amalgamation of political and aesthetic proclivities

how many of his concerns show up at the site "Stuff White People Like"

As I said before, Chris White, you are just sooooo white.

Not that I have a problem with that!

Posted by: PatrickH on July 13, 2008 11:09 AM

Here's a simple solution: a copy of Mark Bittman's majesterial 'How to cook everything' in every house, delivered along with the phone book. A chimp could cook with it. Will it work? Hell no.

But seriously, what's the problem here? Price or laziness? Poorer people have less money, for sure, but they actually work less hours than wealthier individuals, so presumably have more time to cook and do family things. But it's rare to even eat the precooked stuff as a family. Poorer people also tend to buy a lot of stuff they don't need, like expensive sneakers and drinks, or ridiculous status symbols. And another thing: modern culinary culture owes everything to the French. What do people think of when they contemplate French cooking? Rich, aristocratic etc. But it's not.

In fact, as Anthony Bourdain has repeatedly pointed out, many French dishes don't translate well to the modern world, because they were designed for INFERIOR FOODS. The French peasantry came up with most of the recipes, and they didn't have much in the way of raw materials. The best example Bourdain gives are modern dishes involving sirloin or rib-eye steak, the prime parts of the cow. This is what people think when the word 'steak' is uttered these days. But French beef recipes are designed for the super-cheap, crappy parts of the cow, because that's all they had!! Prime cuts don't taste as good as 'inferior' ones when cooking many French dishes: they seem a little dry and boring, bereft of fatty flavor. The genius of the French came in MAKING THE BEST OF IT. It's always easy to make the best of what you have.

You're poor? Buy inferior products then, make the best you can, and eat as a family. Eating and cooking together is not 'new age', it's been the natural way since the dawn of time.

Posted by: Sebastian Flyte on July 13, 2008 11:47 AM

Those on the left might just as easily make the statement that "adults are not the passively programmable creatures the left makes them out to be or actually wants them to be." Read the same quote replacing "the left" with "corporate capitalists" and see whether it makes sense. Such a statement would be equally true, although, in fact, one might argue that corporate capitalists quite literally bank on the premise that adults can be programmed to consume that which they choose to market to them. And it is, after all, corporate capitalists who predominate in "K Street" lobbying efforts to insure that government regulates (or doesn't regulate) in ways that best serve their interests with little to no regard for the general good of most citizens, only those holding shares in the company and even then only measured in share value, without regard for any negative intangibles or externalized costs.

Posted by: Chris White on July 13, 2008 12:02 PM

I have to wonder if Mr. Flyte actually knows any poor people, or merely takes his notions from a combination of government/academic statistics and wealthy actors portraying the poor in the media. This is not to say that I don't agree that it is more than possible to be poor and make better choices. Still, assuming the somewhat misleading notion that the poor work less than the wealthy, a hedge fund manager who works sixty hours a week and takes home a million plus each year versus a cashier in a Wal-mart working forty hours for a pre-tax haul of $16,000 face very different options in nearly every aspect of life. Among them the choice of which grocery store to frequent; lots of poor neighborhoods are lucky to have a Safeway, let alone a Whole Foods, but they do have 7 Elevens and fast food franchises. And if Mom and Dad are on different shifts or the bus schedule makes it tough to get home before 9 even though your shift ended at 7 family dinners can be tougher to arrange. In short, while I agree that far too many of us, rich and poor, could make better personal choices in food (and status symbols - the poor sport pricey sneakers, the rich buy bad art), it is still worth noting that many choices, including what to eat, a significantly the result of decisions made in Washington and on Wall Street that are intended to serve the interests of the few rather than the many.

Posted by: Chris White on July 13, 2008 1:30 PM

Tschafer -- Rod does tend mighty white, doesn't he? Still, he's concerned some of the time with quality of life issues, which veers into culture and art ... His determination to spiritualize everything, and to defer to the Lord Above in everything (cereal choices, decor decisions) is what bogs me down in his work. But I like the way he asserts the notion that you can be traditionalist and even (gasp) righty and still have an interest in culture. All that said, please, can we have some irresponsible fun too?

Chris -- I think a lot of confusion arises from one main thing: the difference between shouting-heads-style partisan party politics and the deeper meanings and allegiances actual people actually cleave to and have. I have zero interest in partisan party politics myself. Once in a while the spectacle amuses, but that's it, and I quickly make an exit whenever the shouting begins. But "conservative" in the deeper sense, the history of "liberal," the contributions of whackos and anarchists -- all that interests me very much. On that level it's hard to find anyone more concerned about culture than a hyper-conservative like Roger Scruton. So a generalization like "conservatives aren't interested in art" strikes me as wrong, though it certainly has some validity if you're talking about everyday American Republicans. And I think you may be ignoring the extent to which the lefties have annexed art-and-culture as a flag that they own and wave. I think a lot of the hostility that many who think of themselves as righties have towards art isn't towards art per se. (After all, they still eat, and listen to music, and watch, and read -- we're all thoroughly caught up in the culture game whether we want to be or not.) It's towards the contempo art establishment, and the contempo art line of baloney. I find the aversion many day-to-day righties act out to pleasure and beauty really unfortunate, and often downright repellant. And I spend my own time among zany edgy arty downtown people. But I do think the arty-lefty axis has a lot to answer for. By making the "art" thing a sword to wave around, assaulting normal life and traditional pleasures, they've alienated a lot of people who might otherwise be very interested in art. That's why I'm really glad when someone like Dreher comes along, or when someone like Pollan shows up in the AmCon magazine. It's one of the reasons behind the existence of 2Blowhards, for that matter -- we're here partly to demonstrate that you can be a person who is passionate about the arts and who's responsive to beauty and pleasure without buying totally into the agenda the left is selling.

Ricpic -- As Nina Planck says, "shop around the outside of the grocery store -- that's where the fresh stuff is. Skip the middle, where the packaged stuff is." Practical question for you? Without people like Pollan around pushing things and making loud noises, how would the poor (or just the ignorant) ever find out about what good eating is? If I'm feeling picky I can take objection to some of his points. But more generally I approve -- he's raising awareness, and some of that may percolate through to some people who'll find it useful, or maybe even enlightening. No? Yes?

Sebastian -- That's a really good point about the French and their cuisine. Something Americans really don't understand is just what cheapskates the French are. French cuisine and French cooking generally come partly out of a determination to let no crumb go unused. They're really ingenious about it!

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on July 13, 2008 3:18 PM

Chris White

I said the poor work shorter hours than the rich, because so much work the poor do is part-time. This has been verified in a million studies. Remuneration might have something to do with it, for sure. Adam Smith said the more money a person gets for something the more of it they'll do. He worried that if wages became too high people would work themselves to death.

I agree with you about shift work. America has a stupid, 'always on' culture, everything has to always be open, 24 hours etc. And as usual, the biggest supporters of this culture are conservatives, because the market is always right.

Take a look at a country like Germany, the ideal 'crunchy con' nation in Rod Drehers view. One of the things that makes Germany an interesting and CONSERVATIVE country is the fact that they have laws, yes - real frickin LAWS, against late hour opening. Shops">>Shops can't open after six or on sundays.

Shift work for the poor wouldn't get in the way of family time if you had the balls to legislate on the matter and order businesses what to do.

Posted by: Sebastian Flyte on July 13, 2008 3:36 PM


To indirectly answer your question: when I was young I ate a lot of, an unconscionable lot of unhealthy food. With age came food wisdom. I know you don't dig politics but it more or less fits the pattern of young-liberal, old-conservative. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that the young are essentially unteachable in this as in so many other areas, whereas the old teach themselves or somehow (we'll never really know how) arrive at sanity in eating and in so many other things.

Do gooders, or do righters, are like a tickbird on a rhino's hide.

Posted by: ricpic on July 13, 2008 4:49 PM

Michael, I'm confused. You seem to think that I offered up the generalization "conservatives aren't interested in art". I'm not sure how or where you came up with that. I know liberals who have no interest in art and conservatives that do. I know political liberals who have very traditional taste in art and conservatives who love modernist abstraction. My only comment here about art was the cheeky one that the rich buy bad art as status symbols.

What interests me, and what I liked about the Pollan interview with Dreher, is getting past the simplistic thinking that has come to dominate political discourse, thinking that seems to insist on setting up oppositional dualities. Talk about favoring local or organic food, you must be a liberal. This seems nonsensical, which appears to be your central thesis in this post.

Sebastian Flyte – My point was that whether or not the poor work fewer hours than the rich (and I have more than a few questions about those million studies and just what they verify) the options the poor have when making choices about food, including whether they can share a family meal, are much more limited and often limited in ways that push them away from easily making better choices. Also I was pointing out that it is human nature to adopt various status symbols. Residents of an upscale neighborhood of single-family homes may find swimming pools or SUV's to be signifiers of status while among poor urban youth flashy sneakers serve a similar purpose. I might argue that, in both cases, the money spent on these could go to better use. Still, I know how much I resent it when folks who have loads more wealth than I do try to tell me how to more productively spend my money, usually because they haven't a clue about what it actually takes to live without the kind of income they enjoy. There are plenty of folks out there who know that they're making a bad choice but also know it is because their options are between bad and horrible, not bad and good.

Posted by: Chris White on July 13, 2008 7:32 PM

Hmm,I'd like to add an intelligent comment, but, I am too full of good homemade Indian food my cousin made. Yummy-yummity yum. The good things in life sure are good, huh?

*As it turns out, I think that's a perfect comment for this post! Oh, and congrats to you and Mrs. Blowhard's on the filmi stuff. Yeah, being creative and all!

Posted by: (onparkstreet) MD on July 13, 2008 8:09 PM

Oh, I mispelled and mispunctuated, or something. Too happy to care :)

*I was horribly angry at the all the crunchy con stuff, at first, because I thought he was looking down at people who had a different aesthetic, but, instead, I think he's just saying it's a big tent and people on the right can care about beauty, too. Well, duh!

Posted by: (onparkstreet) MD on July 13, 2008 8:12 PM

Unfortunately, the American Conservative and other brilliant young "paleo" thinkers like Daniel Larison are far, far outside the bounds of "mainstream" conservative Republican thinking. Hopefully they will prove to be one of those small but seminal intellectual movements that has a big influence down the road, but just personally, I'm not optimistic about that.

A big problem is that corporate capitalism is fundamentally not culturally conservative, so a strong cultural conservative movement would be in favor of a level of regulation that would read as socialist to Americans. Another issue is that conservatism since WWII has used loyalty to American empire as a key litmus test.

Personally, I'm a "liberal Democrat" who finds the American Conservative and the like more congenial to my underlying thinking than almost any liberal thinker I could name. But when it comes to electoral politics, I think in our current situation stopping Bush-ism is our most important priority. Of course, that's the boring politics...practical politics is bullshit, boring, and inescapably important all at once.

Posted by: MQ on July 14, 2008 12:53 AM

As a Far Right Wing Bastard, I must agree that many of my Right wing "cultural" fellow travelers are pretty repellent, especially when it comes to the arts and pleasures(such as eating)I would also like to add that many are rather unintellectual. Some times I feel more at home with the Lefties than with fellow Righties.

I'll probably get some heat on this, but I tend to find Anglo conservatives the dullest of the lot. What is it about the Anglo Right wing weltanshauung that makes it effeminate to like art and culture while at the same time making economics and and politics the final arbiter of all that is good?

I grew up in a cultural atmosphere of working class mitteleuropa, and even in that environment art and culture were seen as positive things to be cultivated. A man deficient in such things was not whole. Food was important. Everything Scruton writes about food and animals was pretty much the standard stuff I grew up on.

I would say though, to the Left, that many of the Right wing dullards are closer to your world view than mine. Many of the Left decry right wing authoritarianism yet are quite happy to wield it when in power. Many in the Left hate the Right for their bigoted religious views but are quite happy to implement their bigoted secular visions. Same thought processes, different intellectual premises.

Many of my Right wing friends are surprised that I admire George Orwell. He also recognised that in many instances the differences between Right and Left in practice weren't that much. The difference between corporate capitalism and corporate statism is not on the structure of power, but on who gets to wield it. The pigs end up looking the the humans in the end.

If the Lefties want a good introduction, to mitteleuropean right wing thought, then one would do well to study a bit of Wilhelm Ropke. Really give him a try, you'll be tripping.

Posted by: Slumlord on July 14, 2008 10:29 AM

I am astounded to discover that Chris White thinks I belong to any political group, right or left.

I don't. I don't give a shit which party wins, nor do I give a shit who's president.

You don't have the complex views you think you have, Chris. You are, as you say, a commonplace occurrence in upstated New York, which has become home to the politics of sanctimony. You regularly congratulate yourself on your "enlightened" views on women and gays.

What I keep asking you... and what you keep slapping away as some sort of partisan interest is... and I'll ask you again. Where in the hell did you get the idea that everybody but you is beating their wife? Where in the hell did you get the idea that everybody's father but you was enslaving his wife and daughters? Why are you so convinced that all gays agree with your views, and that you are the only guy on earth who has gay friends?

I'm tired of seeing men do to each other what you do reflexively. If this is politics, so be it. You really don't have what I'd call a political point of view. You like to draw attention to your halo. This is extremely commonplace among the left in upstate New York. You are fighting over politics. You are fighting over pussy in the backward, inside out, underhanded, crazy way that has become commonplace in the loony left. I'm damned tired of it. You might stop to consider for a moment just what you are doing to other men by playing this insidious, underhanded game.

I've lived for the past 35 years in San Francisco, New York City, Brooklyn and Woodstock. I've grown weary of the stupidity of the left to which I belonged when I was a kid. I've grown especially weary of the politics of sanctimony. And, incidently, when I lived in San Francisco I learned a lot about whole foods and grains.

This obsession with "tolerance," "bigotry" and "discrimination" on which you base your sanctimonious ideals about yourself is precisely what I have grown sick and tired of. This does not mean that I have a great interest in politics. I find the Republican and Democratic Parties equally irrelevant. What I am sick of is the politics of sanctimony you so ably represent. Let me try to put it as bitterly as possible: The back stabbing game you are playing hurts other men. Get it?

Michael, perhaps you can serve as an interpreter here. You almost got the idea across in your post.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 14, 2008 9:55 PM

ST – I haven't answered your questions directly because they seem so obviously rhetorical. I presume you ask them to insult me, denigrate my positions, and move whatever discussion is taking place away from the actual topic and toward a caricature version of Right versus Left arguing in which you can play the Dan Ackroyd character from those old SNL skits "Jane (or Chris), you ignorant slut ..."

"Where in the hell did you get the idea that everybody but you is beating their wife?" – This is not my opinion. I think most men treat their wives well. I don't think that there is a political reason behind spousal abuse. I tend to believe the problem is psychological and moral.

Where in the hell did you get the idea that everybody's father but you was enslaving his wife and daughters? – This is not my opinion. I think most men and their wives settle into roles that fit well together ... or not. Good marriages are those where the balance achieved works well for both parties, bad ones are those in which couples fail to be compatible. I think the view of what women can or should do with their lives has altered, mostly for the better, over the past few centuries.

Why are you so convinced that all gays agree with your views, and that you are the only guy on earth who has gay friends? – This is not my opinion. I have known gays with whom I share certain views and gays with whom I mostly disagree. I know many straight guys who have gay friends. I presume many men that I don't know have gay friends. I'm sure you have gay friends. I never thought being gay meant those who were gay all had the same opinions politically, aesthetically, morally or any other –ly,

I find your notion that, for example, offering my hierarchy of food choices is my way of "fighting over pussy in the backward, inside out, underhanded, crazy way that has become commonplace in the loony left." Your insistence on moving so many discussions, this one about food choices and politics, into one about how one should or shouldn't go about being a man strikes me as rather bizarre.

Posted by: Chris White on July 15, 2008 8:40 AM

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