Food culture, television misinterpreted

Adnan Zarif, Staff Columnist

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the direction food culture is headed. People are reading books such as “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine” by Anthony Bourdain and watching TV shows like “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” and are left thinking that this is what contemporary food culture has become. People are seeing pigs having their throats cut and bowels removed and are disgusted because they assume that this is what they must do if they want to be in the loop. But this is a misinterpretation. The chefs are not trying to dictate what people should be eating, or what food culture is.

Shows such as “No Reservations” and “Bizarre Foods” feature their respective hosts traveling to faraway, under-traveled and often dangerous places for the sake of the viewer. They travel to these countries and take in the local food culture regardless of what it entails. When Andrew Zimmern travels to Tanzania, collects and drinks fresh blood from a calf and eats the coagulated tissue, he is not making any statements about what food should be and what real cooking is. The fact is that there are cultures around the world whose food customs might make those of us with a Western sensibility uncomfortable. There are cultures that slit the throat of animals to drink their blood. There are cultures that skin and grill guinea pigs. The purpose of depicting these sometimes grisly rituals in books and on television is a demonstration of tolerance. These shows are an attempt at education rather than posturing an attitude about food.

Localism in food has also come under similar, unwarranted criticism. Localism is the practice of consuming food that has been grown or produced nearby. The purpose of this is twofold. First, it is an attempt to support local farms and producers instead of large, industrial factories. The choice of locally grown foods is driven by the desire for organic, ethically produced food. This idea of thoughtfulness and choice in food selection is a notable trend. There is a growing exigency for consumers to think carefully about what they are eating. It is becoming less acceptable to eat whatever falls in your plate without thinking about the way it was produced.

It is easy to mistake the occasional gore demonstrated by TV chefs and food critics as the new direction of food culture. These depictions are simply meant to inform the public of the real food practices of other cultures. The actual direction of food culture is that of selection and consideration on the part of the consumer.

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A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 19 print edition. E-mail Adnan Zarif at [email protected]

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