-- Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
Every single time we have a potluck (today was the fifth this year), someone proclaims midway through the first plate, "THIS one is the best ever." And they are always right. Because we up the ante every time. I have had to stop saying anything about "THIS" being the "best bite of food I have EVER put in my mouth," because it is starting to sound like hyperbole (but it has been true every time I have said it this year).
I've read three food books in the last few weeks: Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris; Cathy Erway's The Art of Eating In (inspired by her blog, Not Eating Out in New York), and now I'm finishing up Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals -- the one that everyone says turned them vegetarian halfway through.
I'm still an omnivore -- but Foer's book came up a few times during today's potluck/housewarming brunch. Along with Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism; Monsanto as thinly-veiled in Michael Clayton; "Hoarders;" and 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust. (Here's the npr interview that came up -- I haven't read the book yet, but plan to.) The first guests arrived at 11 am and the last left at 9:15 pm, so there was a lot to cover.
We didn't have any vegetarians today (sometimes we do). We could probably best be characterized as Michael Pollan-Moderates, though I don't think any of us found anything new in Food, Inc. Factory farming is a disgusting, unhealthy, reprehensible business. We all know a lot about it and we all do our best not to subsidize it, to varying degrees. (Even if you could get beyond the bad politics, bad economics, and disease of factory farming, no one could doubt its culinary crimes -- it tastes like what it is: wretched and hateful). My Dad is a lifelong farmer and utterly committed carnivore (with the triple bypass scars to show for it) and he still won't eat chicken. He's fond of saying (with some drama) that if you opened a can of chicken soup in his kitchen and he "had to smell the stench of misery that went into that can," he would "throw up." I know people who gave up bacon after Food, Inc. -- but not chicken. Though I didn't learn anything I didn't already know, at least maybe Foer will school a few on what a joke most "free-range" labeling is. (He gives "organic" far more of a pass than I would.)
At any rate, our now-monthly gatherings have developed a set of rules -- all of them related to snobbery, and none of them sociopolitical. Non-Foodies are allowed to attend, but they are limited to contributions of ice and liquor. There are always a few offers to "pick something up" (presumably a Kroger pie), but no one is allowed to pollute our Food Religion. Every single thing on the table is homemade. Every single thing is a labor of love representing the best effort possible to outdo our neighbors and make everyone sick -- sick -- with envy. Oh sure, you can pick up dessert... if you want Rachel to have an aneurysm right in front of you.
It was an impressive turnout, given the epic -- nay Biblical -- rains. A few maybes stayed home to mop up their flooded basements (but Maybes don't get invited back anyway), but it was otherwise a full house and a full menu.
Mostly, I just spent the evening trying to think up stuff I could slice with my new deluxe $437,000 housewarming-present Williams-Sonoma mandoline from the FoodGays. (Now I can stop relentlessly borrowing theirs -- though I will always be a Special Occasion user, whereas I suspect theirs gets a routine workout.)
All I can say is: watch your fingers.