Eating In Red America

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In this polarized country, even food is now political. Richmond Ramsey reflects on how the culture war is affecting eating habits in the South:

I’ve seen emerging back home a growing sense that food intake is not something that can be held up for moral analysis and judgment. Those who attempt to do so are typically seen as liberal snobs trying to impose their own preferences.

There’s no doubt that liberal foodies can be horrible snobs, and excruciatingly moralistic (to shop at the organic co-op in my uber-liberal neighborhood is to rub shoulders with people every bit as prissy and intolerant as the Church Lady). But at some point, it’s downright absurd for conservatives to ignore that food choices have moral implications. For me, going to my home county is an occasion for culinary culture shock, because middle-class people there simply do not have the same outlook on eating – especially for their children – as middle-class people do in my liberal city. Put plainly, people eat whatever they want, and lots of it, without giving it a second thought. More to my point here, they see the idea that one ought to care about such things as a sign of effete, high-handed liberalism.

It comes as news to my churchgoing conservative friends here in Coastal Liberal Land that making sure your kids limit sugary snacks and junk food is something only liberals care about. None of us are what you’d call foodies, and none of us go to the gym. It’s just understood that living responsibly, especially in a culture that celebrates the abolition of limits, requires a great deal of vigilance, especially when it comes to child-raising. That’s why though fasting is not really a part of American religious life today, there is still among my conservative friends real moral awareness of a religious duty to live a self-disciplined life, and to avoid the sin of gluttony. Why is the South – the most culturally conservative part of the country, in most respects, especially in Christian piety – so thoughtlessly permissive about eating?

But they are also in fact permissive about many things, while merely claiming piety: pre-marital sex, divorce, abortion, adultery, pornography, illegitimacy, gun crime, etc. The Christianism is as much a neurotic response to the collapse of measured restraint as it is an attempt to address it. 

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