Why moralism spoils the appetite
Adam Gopnik makes a powerful and entertaining case for why we shouldn’t ruin the aesthetic pleasure of food by adding a side order of moralism.
Gopnik believes that, ‘Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject.’ When ‘gastronomy’ was on the margins of attention it helped explain much: ‘the nature of hunger; the meaning of appetite; the patterns and traces of desire; tradition, in the way that recipes are passed mother to son’; and ‘history, in the way that spices mix and, in mixing, mix peoples’. You could picture, ‘through the modest lens of pleasure, as through a keyhole, a whole world’. Now, he writes, ‘the door is wide open, but somehow we see less, or notice less’. Betrayed by its exposure, ‘food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is made to matter’.
Gopnik is on to something here. Eating is one of life’s most enjoyable sensations. It’s fun and life-enhancing. Yet today, the pleasure of eating is increasingly weighed down with anxiety. Eating, once a relatively uncomplicated activity for many of us, has become laden with ethical and moral meaning and which has been tasked with grandiose political purpose.