From The Atlantic – Frank Bruni, a brilliant writer who knows a thing or two about gourmet food, waded into the simmering debate on the perils of culinary elitism today. In an op-ed in The New York Times, he scolded bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain for picking on the “deep-fried doyenne” Paula Deen for “telling an obese nation that it’s O.K. to eat food that is killing us.”
His message: Moralizing and gastro-snobbery won’t move Deen or a nation of fast-food lovers towards healthier eating. And worse, it “cooks up resentment” between the food haves and have-nots.
Bruni is right in his diagnosis. In the six months my husband, Brent Cunningham, and I spent researching a book on food culture in Huntington, West Virginia, we saw firsthand how many people had written off healthier eating as both out of reach and complicated. Wait, you say I should eat more whole grains but Raisin Bran cereal is bad for me? In particular, we noted how many poor and working-class families enthusiastically embraced the fresh-food-is-expensive message because it liberates them to go back to the familiar and convenient pizza rolls, microwave meals, and, of course, the fast-food drive-through. As Heather James, a Huntington mother of three, told me: “I just feel like it’s all stacked against me. No matter what I do I can’t win. So why bother?”
Unfortunately, Bruni is wrong in his prescription for how to bridge the class divide. Paula Deen isn’t the villain, he argues. It’s the dearth of affordable, healthy food in many neighborhoods. In fact, Deen and other Food Network stars could be part of the solution to helping Americans slim down.
It’s fashionable to blame access and affordability as the culprits of America’s obesity crisis (and the $150 billion in associated health costs). Michelle Obama trumpets the openings of new urban Walmarts. Study after study shows that fresh, healthy food is more expensive per calorie than processed equivalents. (I myself have complained that eight-dollar-a-dozen-eggs available at urban farmers markets set the wrong example.)