The Anthony Bourdain vs Paula Deen “food fight” has gotten so loud and fun that even the normally staid NYT wants to join the fray (which means the fight’s probably about over, too). Columnist Frank Bruni wades in on the Opinionator page, and brings his readers up to speed on the spat:
Anthony Bourdain, the part-time chef and full-time celebrity, has a tongue on him. It’s the sharpest knife in his set. He has used it to carve up vegans, whom he called the “Hezbollah-like splinter faction” of vegetarians, and the culinary moralist Alice Waters, whose rigidity is “very Khmer Rouge.”
The latest to be slashed: Paula Deen. For the uninitiated, she’s the deep-fried doyenne of a fatty, buttery subgenre of putatively Southern cooking. And Bourdain, in an interview with TV Guide published last week, branded her an outright menace to America, scolding her for “telling an already obese nation that it’s O.K. to eat food that is killing us.”
Bruni adds, with an almost New Yorker sniff of disdain:
To this he added a gratuitous schoolyard-crass putdown of Deen cuisine.
No! A crass putdown? Oh, dear. Were there fisticuffs?? My fainting couch, Jeeves…
Now, look. I like Anthony Bourdain, but…well…there is no “but.”
I really like Anthony Bourdain. He’s my kind of food snob, a no-sacred-cows man using his spotlight to launch handfuls of mashed potatoes at fellow, ridiculous “food celebrities.” He throws pies at organic/local queen Alice Waters and regularly dunks Andrew Zimmern’s head in his own freak-cuisine. If that’s “snobbery,” play through, my good fellow.
So for Bourdain, home-cookin’ queen Paula Deen is a just another juicy target. And he’s justified. She does promote food that’s horribly unhealthy, and Bourdain linked to such a recipe on Twitter to prove it: The Lady’s Brunch Burger (seriously: read it and weep). Defending Deen at all is the wrong strategy here, Mr. Bruni.
But let’s take his argument as face value. The problem with Bruni’s op-ed piece isn’t that he creates a false equivalence between Bourdain and Deen cuisine. It’s that he lamely tries to hit the class struggle angle, saying that their spat “exposes class tensions in the food world that sadly mirror those in society at large.” To wit:
You can almost imagine Bourdain and Deen as political candidates, a blue-state paternalist squaring off against a red-state populist over correct living versus liberty in all its artery-clogging, self-destructive glory.
And just like the tame-stream media that you represent in your own dimly argued yet apt analogy, Mr. Bruni, you fail to identify who’s really got a stake in this fight.
Unlike Bruni, Anthony Bourdain knows who’s in the ring with him. As Bourdain said in his TV Guide interview that started the brawl:
The worst, most dangerous person to America is clearly Paula Deen. She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations…
Way too breezy, Mr. Bourdain. And too bad. You might have really knocked Deen back in her corner if you’d thrown that punch at her head. Like so:
“Paula Deen is dangerous because she’s a shill for Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of pork in America, owning factory farms jam-packed with a hundred thousand pigs in each.”
Think I go too far? No, a Smithfield shill is exactly what Paula Deen is. And shilling for a company like that is a bad, bad choice.
So when Bruni says, “Put aside her one-with-the-masses pose, ludicrous in light of the millions she has made from television shows, cookbooks, cookware, mattresses and more,” he’s missing the target as badly as Bourdain did — and giving Deen an INCREDIBLE pass. Put aside her connection to Big Ag? To the factory farm corporation? You’re going to allow Paula Deen her absurd disguise as Aunt Bea and still call Bourdain a paternal elitist?
If anyone wants to scrap about class in the food system, I’m game, but we start by asking, “Who profits from cheap food? And can we trust those people to tell us what’s good for us?”