We were eating pizza — thin crust perfectly crisp, topped with ooey gooey decadent cheesy goodness that was just the right degree of meltiness.
As our eyes rolled back in our heads in pizza ecstasy, my friend Tara said she had recently read that the sign of a culture in decline is its glorification of its cuisine and deification of its chefs.
Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck anyone?
Just this past September, a new online community was launched: Foodiacs.com, for “those who are overly zealous and enthusiastic about eating, cooking and fine dining.”
An article in The Atlantic, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” noted that Anthony Bourdain — you may be a foodiac if you immediately recognize the name — wrote in his recently released 10th book, “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook,” that “it is now time to make the idea of not cooking ‘uncool’ — and in the harshest possible way short of physical brutality, drive that message home.”
Bourdain boasts that he has eaten raw seal, guinea pig and bat. He has eaten ortolan, which is illegal — endangered songbirds fattened up in pitch-dark cages.
He writes about his meals with a profanity-laced sense of piety and reverence.
The Gastronauts, a foodie group in major metro areas, stuff live, squirming octopuses and eels down their throats and post their “dining” experiences online (www.gastronaunts.net).
And then, of course, there is bacon. (A moment of silence please.)
Now, lest you think I’m setting myself up as an anti-foodiac with finger aimed and ready to point while crying, “Repent, sinners!” I’m not, unless I’m calling myself to repentance too.
Here’s what’s recorded on my DVR, waiting to be watched: “Pizza Outside” (a show about innovative pizzas across the U.S.), “Unique Eats” (cupcakes episode), “Crave” (quest for the perfect ice cream), “Eden Eats: Austin” (24 hour food adventure around Austin, Texas), “Foodography” (bar food episode) and “Outrageous Foods” (episode featuring bacon candy).
Hail to thee, O Iron Chefs!
Which brings up another thing — the reverence given to chefs. Restaurant kitchens are holy ground. Is it that chefs demand our deference or is it that we have given it to them and they’ve come to expect it? I don’t know which came first only that it is, and now that it is, what does that say about us as a culture?
Frederick Kaufman, professor of English at City University in New York, coined the phrase “gut-centricity.” We are gut-centric, from vegan to offal eating (snout to tail and everything in between).
Blogger Eric Burkett writes, “Food is so many things: It is vital to life, a source of nourishment and of pleasure, as well as an outlet for creativity. It fosters cultural identity and comforts those far from home. But no matter how ethical it may be or how many antioxidants it contains, it will not save us.”
Recently, my pastor talked about creation. He talked about the Greeks who thought the body was bad and only the mind was good.
But God created the world and he created people with bodies and food for nourishment and also enjoyment. Everything he made, God said, “It is good.”
However, my pastor said, the Bible warns against not turning what God has created into an idol, which is just a way of saying something that’s more important than God.
The truth is, there’s always something I crave more than I crave God, and I hate that about myself. I want to wake up every morning hungry for God, but most often I don’t.
Or maybe it’s that I do, but I’ll turn to everything and anything else before I turn to him. It’s a recurring theme of my life — and possibly yours, too.
The thing is, when I finally acknowledge my God-hunger (“O taste and see that the Lord is good!” Psalm 34:8), that’s when I realize it was him I craved all along.
It was the ancient Roman historian Livy who said the deification of chefs and the elevation of eating is the sign of a culture in decline. He might be right; he lived to see the Roman Empire fall.
But whether or not our culture is poised for a fall, I am sure to fall when I make anything more important than God.
Food is good, but it’s not God. It won’t save my soul.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.