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Food brings joy to life.

Byline: RICHARD MCCOMB

s it immoral to spend pounds 100 on a meal, for one? IAnd is there something inherently wrong with gorging on bats, seal meat and songbirds? Your answer to these questions is very important, according to B R Myers. Should they be "no, pounds 100 is fine for dinner" and "God, no - I love bats" you should gird your inevitably fat loins and prepare to be slayed, or at the very least be jolly embarrassed by your salivating behaviour.

Myers, a contributing editor to The Atlantic magazine, has penned a splenetic critique of pompous gastronomes. Myers' "moral crusade against foodies" is motivated by the belief that gluttony dressed up as "foodie-ism" is still gluttony.

And you know what? He's got a point.

(Myers also talks a fair bit of nonsense because criticising the self-righteous, of which the foodie community has an abundance, can come across as selfrighteous in its own right. So as the great moral philosopher Ron Atkinson might say: "I half agree with Myers, although two-thirds of me disagrees with him.") Chief among Myers' targets is the notion of the "foodie" and God love him for giving them a grilling. I am acutely aware that my roving role as a restaurant critic and fledgling food buff qualifies me for honorary membership of gastronomy's Pseuds Corner. I hope the invitation never arrives. I'd have to turn it down and fall on my fondue fork.

During my stint writing about food for the Birmingham Post, it has been my pleasure to have met some of the most fascinating, passionate, humorous, talented, drunken, foul-mouthed people I have ever come across, including senior members of the police service and legal profession.

Our daily lives can be enriched by unexpected pleasures and I feel myself privileged to have met some of the most soft-centred egotists you could wish to fall out with. I count some of these people as friends, confident in the shared knowledge that we will stitch up each other at the first opportunity.

But the sometimes joyful experience of eating at restaurants, meeting dedicated producers and getting invited to dinners, needs to be measured against the inherent risks - namely, ending up sitting next to/getting approached by a smug "foodie." Affiliates register high marks on the obsessive index and have turned the exploration of culinary selfaggrandisement into an art form. Many of them, of course, are journalists, writers and food bloggers. Like me. Blimey, they're boring.

(Incidentally, if I am boring - boring, that is, as opposed to inaccurate, trite or offensive - please tell me. If that's not too boring a thing to ask.) With pompous foodies, Myers is on the money. Chief among his targets are exchefs-turned-hacks like Anthony Bourdain, the author of the brilliant Kitchen Confidential and the less well garnished Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.

Myers is narked by the elitism of Bourdain and his ilk, cheffy types who, in the book, are brought to the peak of quasi-sexual stimulation by a secret banquet at which they gorge on wingclipped ortolan. The diners' heads are concealed, as tradition demands, by napkins, thus enhancing the experience.

Ortolan, a protected species of endangered songbird, can fetch up to pounds 100 on the black market. They are fattened and drowned in Armagnac (which, incidentally, would be a dream come true for me) before being lightly roasted and devoured whole, bones and all.

Goodness knows who's meant to be impressed by this spectacle - except food writers, naturally, whose approach and style has been transformed by the testosterone-fuelled bully boy antics of TV chefs la Ramsay.

Myers has it pretty well spot on: "Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its [food writing's] default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonising.

"References to cooks as 'gods,' to restaurants as 'temples,' to biting into 'heaven,' etc, used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face."

Too right, Myers, you tell 'em.

Here's what some idiot wrote about Bourdain's championing of the ubiquitous, tawdry grilled meat patty: "I'm with Bourdain all the way on burger deification."

I'm naming and shaming: it was me. Yes, I'm mortified. I've been there, I've got the T-shirt - I've flirted with foodie fadism, with sermonising. But it was brief and I've seen the light.

Where I disagree with The Atlantic writer is his joyless approach to food. He quotes Aquinas, not Atkinson, as saying that gluttony leads to "loutishness, uncleanness, talkativeness, and an uncomprehending dullness of mind." So, too, does food puritanism. For many people, unflashy people, people far more modest than me, food is more than a source of energy. It is part of family life and human relations; and in countries that truly celebrate food, as opposed to deifying it, food is part of community life.

Food can be fancy but generally it is unadorned and honest.

For this reason, I'm rather turned off by all the excitement about Heston Blumenthal's new restaurant, Dinner, in Knightsbridge, simply because it gives too many over-paid hacks licence to bathe in their own juices and wallow in the reflected glory of a culinary genius. The cooking, by all accounts, is wonderful, but who really wants to eat in a dining room full of food ponces? I'd love to try Blumenthal's "British historic" gastronomy but I'll wait until he opens in Birmingham, and pray that it's better than Jamie Oliver's Italian.

To paraphrase Andy Coulson, Dave Cameron's former head of spin: "When the chef becomes a bigger story than the food, it's time to move on."

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Pleasure comes from good food, preferably served sans comment, but a soupcon of Armagnac-sodden songbird....
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 24, 2011
Words:979
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