“There is something at once decadent and abstemious about the way foodism elevates food to a higher plane than simple refuelling”
The Towngate Tea Room and Deli in the village of Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, opened in March 2009. Before then, hungry hikers and pilgrims to Sylvia Plath’s final resting place could pick from two pubs, one of which offers a “pie, peas and a pint” special. In the Tea Room, the cakes are housed in a towering glass display case. The coffee and walnut sponge is uncommonly good. Savoury fare is proffered on laminated menus, propped between the salt and pepper pots on Ikea pine tables. Sandwiches are toasted, jacket spuds come variously filled, and breakfast lasts all day. Then there’s the “balsamic reduction.”
Gastroculture has a lot to answer for. As well as daubing the nation’s plates with foams and emulsions, it’s made celebrities of chefs, and chefs of celebrities, providing lucrative publishing deals to both, not to mention spin-off saucepan lines and ready-meals. It’s monopolised television schedules and made forays onto the big screen dressed up as a quest (Eat Pray Love), a crusade (Food, Inc.) and a rodent with a dream (Ratatouille). It’s spawned live events and even muscled its way into music festivals via gourmet food trucks and VIP dining tickets. Internationally, our appetite for all things gastro has promoted high-end foodie multiplexes like Eataly, which is plotting outposts in Chicago and São Paolo after an initial expansion from Turin to New York City. And then there’s the culinary tourism, the urban foraging and the obsession with provenance. Food, which has long been a staple of “lifestyle,” has also become religion, theatre, environmentalism, fashion, even sex. Its reach is such that we’re still neologising to accommodate its girth: neurogastronomy, gastroporn, locavorism, molecular gastronomy.
Yet having gone mainstream enough to have made it onto plasticised menus, its moment appears to be waning. It’s ripe for the sending up, of course, and not just from the usual satirical sources (see, for example, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan’s television series The Trip). Some of gastroculture’s chief evangelists are also getting in on the act. Anthony Bourdain has published a graphic novel skewering it. Ted Allen, who hosts a show on America’s Food Network, has appeared in a video for The Onion in which he prepares “a stupidass trendy piece…