Foodies

Just now a Noble Coffee barista described to me for the umpteenth time the coffees they're serving today. I realize this is part of her job, but as soon as she began enumerating flavor notes, my eyes unfocused and her words became a soup to my ears. I've been here often enough that I've technically heard detailed descriptions of each one of their coffees, but I can't remember anything about them. The only knowledge that has stuck is that their dark roasts nauseate me, whereas everything else is nice.

There has been an explosion of gourmandise in the past decade. It has been an extremely verbose reboot of food as an aesthetic object. You might think that someone who never shuts up about food on this blog and who has stopped bothering with the nondescriptive language of recipes would be pleased with this revolution in gastronomic discourse. More and more people talk about food. But what do they say?

Dylan Moran has this bit in his standup, on wine. (He is, too.) It's the model of what I just said about Noble's coffee: There are two kinds of wine, he says--the kind that make you go "mm, mm, that's ok, let's have eight of those," and the other kind: "jesus what is that?!" An uncle of mine calls the former kind "drinkable," and indeed, this is the highest compliment that one can give a wine. Moran's wine bit is exactly what this new logorrhea about food is not. The baristas at Noble are trained to go on about caramel, white peaches, charcoal, and fresh earth, but not to say anything about how the coffee hits you. These endless descriptions are pure cognition. Anything visceral gets lost. This is not taste for the sake of pleasure, but taste for taste's sake. Foodies are to food what birders are to birds. They discern, identify, catalog, and record.

I have two friends who in their adolescence dated. One is a food snob, and the other is an aspiring food snob. They're still friends, and when they see each other they argue. He repeatedly tries foods he doesn't like to get himself to like them. She finds this ridiculous; if he doesn't like something then he doesn't like it--that's his taste. He counters that some things are acquired tastes, there are foods you don't like as a child but like as an adult. Yes, she argues, but you don't go out of your way to force yourself to try those foods again. She implies that her tastes are entirely natural, but she cultivates them. For both of them taste is mimetic, but for him it has a unidirectional relation to the body. He wants to like things because he's heard that people with taste like them. His body is supposed to behave, not speak.

You'll encounter this muteness if you ever dine with a foodie. He'll reverse engineer the dish for you, dissect its flavors, tell you if it meets his standards. It's a kind of magic trick, but while those performances appeal to the part of us that doesn't think and longs to be confounded, this is the babble of one cogito to another.

28 August 2012