Defending 'Foodies': A Rancher Takes a Bite out of B.R. Myers

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Sarah Palin recently brought sugar cookies to an elementary school in deliberate defiance of its "no sweets" policy. Glenn Beck criticized the First Lady's efforts to address childhood obesity as nanny state-ism. Now comes the unfailingly cynical and caustic B.R. Myers in the current Atlantic. But Myers's 4,000-word rant mostly establishes only that from his outpost in South Korea, he is more than a little out of touch with what's happening with food in the cities, suburbs, and rural communities of the United States.

What motivates "foodies," he argues, is their hellbent quest for carnal pleasure, and to excess--in short, gluttony. Lumping nearly everyone who cares about farming, food, or the food system into one giant despicable heap, Myers piles on quotes and anecdotes showing chefs, food writers, and others engaging in decadent and even, in some cases, disgusting behavior--extreme overeating, consumption of endangered species, eating of live animals, and the like. This, he suggests, is what foodies do and what the food movement is really all about.

Myers's case for indicting the food movement with these cherry-picked quotes and stories is not only weak, it's ludicrous. Of course eating good food can be enjoyable.

Yes, the behaviors he cites range from silly to disturbing. And any tolerance or encouragement of cruelty to animals raised for food deserves harsh scorn. But Myers utterly fails to establish any connection between the statements and behaviors he cites and the broad food movement sweeping this country. In fact, there isn't one. None of us who care about food system reform and healthful, ethical eating would defend such excesses, and we certainly are not inspired by them. Fundamental to today's American food movement is holistic thinking and respect--knowing where your food comes from, understanding its history before reaching your plate, and savoring it with family and friends.

Myers's case for indicting the food movement with these cherry-picked quotes and stories is not only weak, it's ludicrous. Of course eating good food can be enjoyable, enormously so, and there's nothing wrong with that. Fred Kirschenmann, a farmer and philosopher who inspires many people who care about good food, has written about the joy of eating fresh, wholesome food as he experienced it growing up on a farm. "The pleasure of good eating was about much more than the taste of the food," he writes. "It was about a deep appreciation for--and connection with--everything on our plates." It's hard to find anything resembling reckless pursuit of physical pleasure in Kirschenmann's kind of eating.

Similarly, in The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry, another inspiring farmer-philosopher, writes that "growing one's own food is not drudgery at all." Working to produce the food oneself rather than having someone else engage in that toil makes eating it all the sweeter, he notes. "It is--in addition to being the appropriate fulfillment of a practical need--a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies." Would Myers also toss Berry onto his heap of gluttonous foodies?

In sharp contrast to the warped picture painted by Myers, America's food movement emphasizes not only mindful consumption but also reducing waste, conserving natural resources, and respecting the people and animals involved in food production. Moderation and conservation are its fundamental values. Undoubtedly, the movement has evolved this way largely because it is a reaction to an industrial food system that--while claiming to be efficient--externalizes its costs, throws away nearly half of the food it produces, and depends on various public subsidies, including direct payments and anemic enforcement of environmental laws.

Presented by

Nicolette Hahn Niman

Nicolette Hahn Niman is a livestock rancher, environmental attorney, and author of Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (2009). More

Nicolette is a rancher, attorney, and writer. Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems of industrialized livestock production, including the book Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (HarperCollins, 2009) and four essays she has written on the subject for the New York Times. She has written for Huffington Post, CHOW, and Earth Island Journal. Previously, she was the senior attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, where she was in charge of the organization's campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry, and, before that, an attorney for National Wildlife Federation. Nicolette served two terms on the city council for the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She received her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Michigan and her B.A. in Biology and French from Kalamazoo College.

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