I tell people that I’m a political vegan– my choices are determined by my commitment to environmentalism, human rights and labor laws and not by sentimentality. But a recent New York Times article has me thinking about the ways in which our food choices align with the political climate of our times.
In The Land of the Binge, Frank Bruni suggests that the kind of extremism he sees trending in people’s dietary choices is somehow linked to the kind of extremism he also sees in the political world- the kind of bipartisan inflexibility that has made our legislature embarrassingly newsworthy.
He argues that “America these days is an immoderate land of fixed opinions and outsize fixations. More and more we wallow: in our established political philosophy; in our preferred interest group; in our pastime of choice; in whichever health routine we’ve turned into a health religion.” Here he makes the linkage to food much more explicit, citing the fixity with which individuals seem to cling to dietary labels like “gluten-free,” “paleo,” or “organic” with a moral ferocity and, as Bruni says, “not always because they have an affliction compelling them to.”
What I find particularly interesting is not Bruni’s argument that Americans are living in a climate of extremity that dictates both their political and nutritional decisions, but that he sees both political and food choices aligning strongly with an individual’s sense of self. Though he’s making an argument about food that hinges mostly on examples of food fads (such as poutine, “the hipster douchebag dish of 2012. “), a sense of a growing disparity in the foodie movement between hedonistic joy in fat consumption (bacon maple doughnut, anyone?) and ascetic transcendence in juicing, raw foods, and macrobiotic diets (the number of programs marketing themselves as “clean” is astounding), and a romanticized notion of a past in which people were more moderate eaters and more moderate voters.
I’m sure that there have always been currents of extremity in American nutrition and dietary choices, but the Bruni connects political party affiliation and food choice in a way that feels striking to me. You don’t just vote Republican, you are a Republican. Similarly, you don’t just eat vegetarian, you are vegetarian. Bruni doesn’t have enough evidence to convince me that this is a new thing, but it’s certainly an interesting thing and, for me, rings true.