expressing xenophobia through food shaming and drunk food book club




i'll admit, today's post title is a little misleading.

this is a two part post in that we have two different subjects to discuss.

for those of you who were looking forward to being xenophobic by food shaming people who were interested in drunk food book club, i'm sorry.

this isn't the post for you.


xenophobia is a weighted word.

it's a hot button word in anthropology.

and it almost always wins in scrabble.

but despite all of this, the idea of xenophobia is often distanced from ourselves and lives. we don't identify as xenophobic or label our actions as xenophobic, even when we or they are.

in a sense, we create an "other" out of this very term that describes the act of othering. (annnnd that might be a new cactus garden term, because, while anthropology uses "other" as a noun quite often, i can't think of an example to cite of it being used as a verb.)

perhaps this is because (like the very word itself) xenophobia feels like a big concept. or, because like many negative labels, we don't like to attribute uncomfortable or upsetting traits to ourselves.

the truth is, there is no scale to define xenophobic actions or persons. small acts and words can be just as harmful as larger ones, and in many ways they can be much more insidious. chances are you, like i, have said or done something, possibly hurtful, in reaction to someone else because they came from a different culture or because they did or said something outside of your understanding.

often we don't mean these things. sometimes we do. sometimes we regret our actions after the fact. sometimes we don't.

xenophobia, like people, can be chaotic like that.

sometimes we don't even realize that we've been discriminating or hurtful in the first place.

food shaming often falls into that last category.

most recently i've been seeing food shaming in reference to weight issues and food disorders. it's more than just that, though. when someone eats different foods or has different dietary requirements that are considered against the norm, they are often ridiculed or harassed for not conforming to lemming society. any time we make someone else feel bad or guilty or even just at odds with her/himself because s/he is making choices different from our own, we are being xenophobic.


the truth is, if we look at food and our personal choices in this light, there's something "wrong" with us all.

i don't eat cheese. or mayonnaise really. or sour cream. these are personal choices. when i go out to restaurants, i never lie and tell the waiter i'm allergic. i tell the truth, even though that often means i'll have to resend my dinner back. food preferences are often considered optional in public, food allergies not so much. i have a deep fear of ordering a sub when we get delivery because of this. and when i explain that I only eat cheese on pizza to new acquaintances, i'm often offered an odd look or asked "what's wrong with you?"

nn keeps kosher. at home she eats meat. outside of her home — at work, at restaurants, even when she visits me — she doesn't. and, because of this lifestyle decision, her coworkers think she's a closet vegetarian.

kb was a vegetarian for a long time; about eight years i believe. i've heard her tell several people the story and almost every occasion she's been asked what the "gateway" meat was for her back to omnivorism. it's a gateway because she was reentering "normal" society, because vegetarians (and vegans) are an other, and because meat in our consumer culture is often depicted as an acceptable drug.

mk is gluten free. there are beers he can't drink. he orders his hamilton tavern burger without bread. none of this means that he doesn't enjoy his food or can't socialize with others.

th doesn't like tomatoes. or raw veggies. that doesn't mean we can't eat at the same table.

my mother cut sugar (and caffeine) out of her diet before it became fashionable. they were health choices, but (as far as i can tell) they weren't decisions she regrets.

js didn't like chocolate growing up, and he's still not a huge fan. we're still friends.

my older sister, anm, is allergic to red grapes and onions. she will never eat onions sautéed in red wine. that's okay, though. she doesn't miss them. (update: okay, sometimes she misses onions, but she doesn't miss red grapes. whatever. you get the idea.) and there are other foods she likes better. like cheese. i'm perfectly happy to give her all the cheese in the world i will never eat.

the choices we make are our own. they aren't up for public debate.

so why is it acceptable to belittle the choices other people make?

whether it's an issue of ego or insecurity, there's no excuse for telling someone their food choices are strange, weird, gross, or whatever other thesaurus term you use. saying you don't know how someone goes without such-and-such food can be just as disparaging as spitting unwanted food out into a napkin.


and so, with all of that having been said, let's move on to the second part of this post:

drunk food book club.



if you haven't noticed, there are a lot of books over in the epicurean canon.

i haven't read them all, but i'm working on it.

a week or so ago, i suggested the idea of drunk food book club to kb, mk, and cg. they all seemed amiable, so i figured we could give it a go.

the title of the group is open to interpretation and your own personal grammar preferences, but basically i've been looking for an excuse to read some books i haven't gotten around to and drink some wine with friends before i leave for boston.

and, while i know we can't all meet in person for that glass of wine, we can still meet virtually to discuss what's in our glass and what we think of what we're reading as we go along. the nice thing about having an online format is that things can continue long after i move.

i'll be creating a small discussion board (it'll be on the right hand side, probably above the king of the road section) to get things going. i'll be posting comments and quotes as i read, and i hope you'll join in with me.

the first book we'll be reading is the physiology of taste: or meditations on transcendental gastronomy by jean anthelme brillat-savarin. brillat-savarin was a renowned gastronome and one of the earlier food writers/critics.

you can find his book on amazon (see the above link), in your library (remember, inter-library loan is always an option if they don't have it on hand!), or online (for free) at project gutenberg.

happy reading!