Stef (firecat) wrote,

Wiscon Panel: Privilege in the Kitchen: Food Snobbery and Culinary Condescension

[Check the Twitter hashtag #KitchenPrivilege for more notes about this panel.]

[I participated on this panel and didn't take thorough notes; I have paraphrased everything that was said and also probably included some things out of order.]

[Some very personal stories were told and I don't know if the panelists are comfortable having their names associated with what they said on a public post, so I did not associate panelist names with comments, and I used "they" pronouns for everyone. If anyone on the panel wants to be identified please comment here or send me a DM.]

Privilege in the Kitchen: Food Snobbery and Culinary Condescension

Foodieism is all the rage these days and while there's nothing wrong with making and enjoying good food, it seems to go hand in hand with a sense of condescension when it comes to cheap, simple fare; fattening foods (except for bacon, of course); and "poor food," the kind of thing prepared with a packet of this and a couple cans of that. Let us discuss economics, classism, racism, sizeism, and ableism in the ways we prepare, present, and talk about food.

The moderator ran the panel by asking the panelists questions; here are some of the questions and answers:

What is your food pet peeve?

More than one person mentioned physically inaccessible restaurants. (For example a number of restaurants in the Bay Area have mostly high tables and bar stools, which are inaccessible to me because I'm short and don't like to do tactical climbing before eating.)

Elevating food. E.g. when a favorite inexpensive restaurant changes hands and becomes a foodie restaurant, and now it charges $20 for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Cultural appropriation of food, which can drive up the price.

The "deconstructing" trend in food. Food is a sensory experience and blended flavors are matter. [Later on, an audience member defended deconstructed food because their family is autistic.]

One panelist is in coop housing where they cook for 20 people a couple of times a month. Other members of the coop have health food standards that intersect badly with their needing to make food that is easy, cheap, and tastes good to their children. They get negative judgements.

I said that I want to work in the food justice movement, but in my experience I can't because I run into too many people using "we have to stop the omgbeesity epidemic!" to promote it, and I refuse to work with groups that are trying to promote themselves by trying to get rid of fat people. [That said, there are some food justice groups that are grassroots and not run by concern trolls.]

From whom did you learn cooking?

I don't remember for sure whether the moderator said "from whom" instead of "where," but I remember feeling like my answer [from books] didn't mesh with question.

I said: My mother used to run a research lab and when she retired to raise me she ran her kitchen like a research lab and wasn't comfortable with my helping her in the kitchen. So I didn't learn much about cooking when I was growing up. When I went to college she gave me a copy of The Joy of Cooking. In some ways it is an excellent for learning cooking, but in other ways it's not so good. E.g. it suggested that one needed a copper bowl to whip egg whites. I started out by cooking eggs and being pretty amazed at what they do when you heat them. In my 20s I bought a Chinese cookbook and learned from that. I ended up impressing the OH on one of our first dates by making hot & sour soup out of the cookbook, but I have never made it again.

Another panelist said they had to learn because their mom quit cooking.

What is your best food memory?

One panelist talked about getting praised for their cooking.

One panelist talked about having two comfort foods, being unable to decide between them, and then realizing they could combine them.

One panelist talked about visiting India and being fed ritual fruit — in immigrant cultures especially, food is love.

One panelist complained about comments on online recipes, where people substitute ingredients and then complain the recipe is no good. Substituting applesauce for eggs was mentioned (this actually works in some recipes, but not ones that require baking). Here is an example of the sort of thing:

I talked about discovering buffalo wings in college, realizing that I liked some spicy food (I grew up in the US Midwest and didn't like spicy food), and then proceeding to cook myself a stir-fry with spicy chili oil.

What is the toughest intersection between food and the rest of your life?

One panelist talked about poor-shaming and not-particularly-frugally-minded restrictions on what kinds of food can be purchased with food stamps. [ — I don't remember what the panelist called out specifically, but I see that no nuts are allowed, no tomato sauce, no bulk peanut butter, no canned albacore tuna].[CORRECTION: This link was to WIC, not SNAP. The SNAP link is here: You can buy most foods using SNAP benefits, except for alcohol. Wisconsin was considering a bill limiting what kinds of foods you could buy with Wisconsin's FoodShare program, but this has not been enacted. This is my error, not the panelist's.] They said they get much of their food from a food pantry and get tired of out-of-dated canned food and scrambled eggs, so they choose to use food stamps to buy comfort food. Then people judge what's in their cart and say "should you be buying that?" Being fat also contributes to this judging and concern trolling.

Another panelist talked about getting judged when they were poor and chose to eat at McDonald's sometimes.

Several panelists mentioned the conflict around wanting/choosing to eat for comfort and pleasure vs. the societal expectation that everyone should always eat only what's supposed to be good for their physical body. For example, another panelist and I talked about having diabetes and choosing not to restrict food as part of the treatment, but treating it via medications instead.

"Aspirational shopping" — buying ingredients to make a healthy, fresh meal and then not having enough energy to cook them.

I quoted from a post by The Fat Nutritionist:
food can be more or less helpful to your immediate functioning and long-term health, but the judgments I see people pile on themselves usually concern health only as a thin veneer over something much more troubling: self-loathing. ...

Let me tell you, being human is enough work for anyone. Being alive in a world where terrible and wonderful things happen at random to anyone and everyone at any moment, and the labour we put into mounting defenses against this reality, is a hard damn job. You don’t need to impress yourself or anyone with doing extraneous work just to get fed.

If it makes you happy, gives more than it takes, or adds brightness to your day, by all means, let yourself make that effort. If putting more effort into cooking is what nourishes you, do it and remember to thank your lucky stars. But if it doesn’t, if it adds one more vexing decision that must be made or one more hour of drudgery to your day, why not ask yourself who it’s really for? Because I promise it’s not you.
I also brought up Ellyn Satter's "Hierarchy of Food Needs" ( and said that it seems that many people who have opinions about food overfocus on the "instrumental food" bit on top. [Satter defines "Instrumental food" thus: being able "to consider choosing food for instrumental reasons: to achieve a desired physical, cognitive, or spiritual outcome."]

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