Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I am a food barbarian. The February 21st article “Tokyo’s samurai chefs devoted to their craft” got me thinking more about the sheer ridiculousness of culinary culture and the wasted concern restaurants, hotels and food professionals afford their Michelin ratings. Of course, my position exposes my food barbarism. There are only three things important to me about food: 1) is it delicious? 2) can I eat it fast? 3) how many calories does it give me? That is all. I don’t care about how pretty food looks on a plate. I don’t care about the reputation of a restaurant, how the Michelin guide rates it, how carefully it is prepared and presented, or how skilled the chef/cook is said to be. I don’t particularly care about how “healthy”a certain food is deemed, either. I eat because I am hungry. My body is an internal combustion engine and it needs to burn calories to keep moving. Dining is not an artistic experience so much as a gas station experience.
The story described “exquisite food” and “extraordinary things to eat” at Tokyo restaurants. Unless you are starving, there is little“extraordinary” about food, and it seems rather immoral to relegate food to the realm of the “exquisite.” “Sea urchin flan, a warm salad with salted pork from the Pyrenees Mountains, fried sea bream and a red-wine consomme flavored with rabbit, deer and wild boar.” Is this a description of something to put in my mouth? Chef Noboru Tani is quoted saying, “It is pride and ambition that bind us…The food we serve is a reflection of how we live.” I suggest that pride and ambition are vices, not virtues, relegating this kind of culinary culture to the depraved, marginal bottom of society, not the revered, artistic high end.
Published on Sunday, February 24, 2008 as “Critique of culinary culture.”
The paper deleted my sentence “Of course, my position exposes my food barbarism.” I thought it was susceptible to such editing because it is redundant, reiterating the opening sentence that I am a food barbarian. But I wrote it to emphasize that I know that I am a food barbarian in the eyes of people who care about such things and that my barbarism is revealed not just by my food choices, but by my words as well. They also deleted my comment about my body being an “internal combustion engine,” and instead just kept the words that it needs to burn calories in order to keep moving. I liked the mechanical image of the engine. They also deleted the words “That is all,”which I favored as a strong statement not just of the finality of my position, but of my firm resolve on the matter as well.
My admission of being a“food barbarian,” which could be used as a criticism that I have no credibility to critique haute cuisine, is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek mechanism to juxtapose the virtue of my nutritional utilitarianism against the immortal silliness of that kind of culinary culture.
It is not that I care so much about what other people eat like some kind of self-appointed food busy-body. I do NOT complain about others’ food choices and preferences. I complain about the stupid hyperbole used to describe it.
In a world where people are hungry for want of wheat or rice, meat or fish and even fresh water it seems absolutely immoral to me for people to be concerned with conger eels and blowfish, cod testicles and sea urchin flan and consommé flavored with rabbit and wild boar. Is this kind of self-indulgence helping our fellows?