‘Food: Bigger than the Plate’
“We are all foodies now, aren’t we?” writes Paul Levy. “We want to know where our food comes from; whether any sentient beings killed to provide our daily fare have led the best lives possible; and if our vegetables have been grown without using anything that could be bad for us. We want to know who farmed them, and how, and that the farmer can make a decent living. And we wish to be assured, not only of the quality of our food, but also of its safety, security, and sustainability.
So, naturally, you’d expect an exhibition titled “Food: Bigger than the Plate” to trade on the universal Foodism of the educated, enthusiastic people who might attend it. For example, say the co-curators Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan in their catalog introduction to the section on “Trading”:
The issue of how our food gets to us does not tend to be replete with sexy or even palatable stories. Where celebratory narratives around the trade of food do exist, they often treat provenance as a feel-good factor. This runs the risk of unhealthily fetishizing so-called “foodie” culture by celebrating too fervently buying choices that are simply out of reach for most of us.
As the co-coiner of the “f”-word, when the late Ann Barr and I published The Official Foodie Handbook in 1984, I have to dissent. Though we were poking gentle fun at what we had noticed and anatomized thirty-five years ago, foodie culture is now less about flaunting how much you paid for your chicken, and more to do with caring about the welfare of poultry raised for food. That is why Europeans, including (for now) Britons, are so horrified and disgusted by the threat of “chlorinated chicken” imported from the US. It is not a question of harming the consumer; it is about why, if the chicken has lived in decent conditions, it should be necessary to treat its carcass with chemicals? Being a foodie today entails not consumer fetishism, in fact, but precisely ethical considerations about our diet—albeit, yes, from a certain position of privilege and comfortable choice.”
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