Every second book seems to have some bobblehead on the cover, maybe a model, some sculpted fitness instructor, or just an idiot in yoga pants beaming into the camera. A self-proclaimed guru on nutrition, but in reality just a vainglorious narcissist obsessed with image. The bullshit titles like Eat Yourself Fit or Eat Yourself Beautiful, claim that with the help of their recipes, to use the term generously, you too can be thin, toned, beautiful or fit just like the boastful fool grinning vacuously on the front cover. The soul-sucking, depression-inducing recipes will commonly contain superfoods, which don’t bloody exist, acai berries, wheatgrass, linseeds and other such ingredients that make you want to reach for the nearest shotgun and end the misery. The authors of these cookbooks have no interest in food above perpetuating their own image and these waste-of-paper books are nothing more than publishers using a pretty face to appeal to the vain and the image-obsessed.
If you want to partake in some ephemeral diet fad, then now is a great time to start. A dispiriting profusion of diet books grace the shelves of every bookstore. Some will give you the advice needed to stuff yourself for five days and starve yourself for two. Others may suggest juices that will have you whittling your life away sitting on the porcelain throne for five hours every day. There are hundreds of these books to help people lose weight and squeeze into their bikini for their annual fortnight in the sun. Here is a revolutionary idea: eat what you like in moderation, demonstrating some common feckin’ sense and get off your arse and do some exercise.
If you don’t want to get your culinary inspiration from a professional, or someone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the subject, then you can always get it from some arbitrary celebrity. Maybe some out of work z-lister that most people have never heard of, possible one who went on Celebrity Masterchef, or the sportsperson who thinks because they are on a controlled diet it gives them to right to share their meals with the world. Worse yet, get a cookbook from the nauseatingly moronic Gwyneth Paltrow – the actress who believes that water has feelings, had a ‘macrobiotic chapter’ in her life and would ‘rather die’ than let your kids have a cup-a-soup.
Worse than the yoga pant aficionados and the celebrity cookbooks, are those that claim that food, and in some cases their recipes, have medicinal properties. Going beyond the benefits of eating a balanced and healthy diet rich in nutrients, these frauds claim that food can be medicinal, with some even suggesting that they can be used in the place of drugs. This is harmless for most ailments, like trying to relief a cold or a chronic bout of room-clearing flatulence, but one would hope that people don’t believe this homeopathic, pseudoscientific baloney to the point of not seeking professional and competent medical attention for a serious issue, but supposedly natural selection will sooner or later take care of those who do.
This abundance of shit falling off the shelves in your local bookstore is a symptom of a greater problem of the image obsessed, phony foodie brigade and the restaurateurs creating restaurants that more concerned with impressing on Instagram than on the plate.
Look at some of the most popular, and, laughably in some cases, award winning restaurants in Dublin. Restaurants with a theme that are all style and little substance. A meal last year in a place that feels the need to tell you the source of the waiter’s suits (this set off alarm bells straight away) showcased a restaurant where the food is not nearly as important as the aesthetics of the themed room. It was abundantly clear that the badly prepared, ill conceived food takes a backseat to the décor, lighting and ridiculous pretense.
Being ‘into’ food, or a ‘foodie’, as people like to call themselves, is a fashion statement, it is trendy, it is a status-symbol that tells people you are sophisticated, that you are discerning about your calorie intake. Oh yes people, being a foodie tells anyone who will listen that you are a person of class and worth in society, a person that knows where the best food can be found, and if they are lucky, the chef who creates it.
Except, some of them, it would appear on even a fleeting inspection, are not discerning about their gastronomy at all or not in the least bit sagacious in the matter of dining or restaurant quality either. You only have to look at some of the terrible restaurants that they frequent and the gleefully accepted invitation to the opening of every here-today-gone-tomorrow generic hole. No, there seems to be two concerns for many of the self-declared foodies; image and attention. A depressing photo appeared on our twitter timeline a few months back. It was one of those marketing dining events where all these foodie bloggers met up. But these foodies weren’t sampling some culinary delights, instead the photograph was of a group of people sitting around a table all staring gleefully at their phones. All, most probably, tweeting every thought that came into to their head, trying to snap the best, and first, photo of each morsel of food that passes before them. These are most likely the same people who will tweet a restaurant before going to announce their impending arrival, as if it is in some way an honour, but really in the hope of getting a bit extra attention.
But maybe the biggest absurdity of all effecting the food industry currently is the diner with the coveted food intolerance – a rapidly growing first world problem it would seem. Is there any other industry in which it is fashionable to have something wrong with you? A food allergy is indeed a serious ailment, in many cases it is life threatening. A food intolerance, while not as serious, can still be quite debilitating – painful cramps, vomiting etc. A vague sense of bloating or being tired is not symptomatic of either of these conditions. Yet, now there are thousands of dimwits boasting about the foods they cannot eat. Some even send away kits with a bit of their blood to charlatanic companies who will send them back a list of foods to avoid. What must be missing from their lives that they feel the need to seek attention by claiming to have an ailment. Or maybe, they just like the sense of importance that going into a restaurant and forcing the chef to tailor dishes specially to suit their whim gives them. You can ask any chef and they will tell you some of the more ridiculous claims from diners about food's that they must not eat. Although these hypochondriacs have created a larger market for people with serious allergies; thanks to them coeliac sufferers, people who have a genuine and serious gluten intolerance, have far much choice on their supermarket shelves and are finding restaurants increasingly accommodating to their needs.
Of course, a few silly books, over enthusiastic foodies and themed restaurants are pretty harmless, but when did food stop being about pleasure and start becoming a societal status symbol? Why is what you can’t eat more important than what you enjoy? We would consider our lives to be very much food-centric, but only because great produce and food gives us tremendous joy and makes us happy – this surely is the point.