Several years ago, I stood in my sister’s kitchen watching her unpack groceries and talking about food. Ruthie knew that my wife and I had a thing for farmer’s markets, grass-fed meat, and organic milk, and it ticked her off. “Well,” she said, “it’s fine if you have the money to shop that way, but we don’t.” Message: only snoots care as much as you do about food.
As we talked, she put away several bags of chips and cookies, the kind of thing my wife and I almost never buy at the supermarket. True, we probably did spend more on food than Ruthie’s family did, because eating well—in terms of taste and health—is a priority for us. Cooking is our hobby, and preparing dinner for friends is our primary form of recreation. Some people buy tickets to the baseball game; we buy grass-fed brisket and good beer.
But it is also true that we allocate our grocery budget differently, so we can afford higher-quality meat, dairy, and produce. A clever home cook knows that if you cut out junk food, you have more cash for good stuff. If you don’t eat meat every day, you can eat better meat when you do. Whole Foods is expensive, but I learned how to make meals for pennies by shopping the bulk bins for beans, rice, and grains.
The interesting thing about this conversation, though, was the intense class resentment my sister had around food. This is surprisingly common. Since I began writing about food some years back, I have had countless conversations with conservative friends, fellow food geeks who have had serious disputes within their families about food. These arguments aren’t really about food itself, but food serves as a proxy for the politics of class and culture.