Food as Politics: Initial musings at the launch of a website

Weird Meat Boyz | 26 February, 2021


          
            Food as Politics: Initial musings at the launch of a website

The blog is a curious aesthetic form, one that will take some getting used to seeing as the Weird Meat Boyz are far more comfortable crafting beer recipes and irreverent academic papers than anything quite so ostensibly banal and informally formal as a blog post. In this episode (is that the right word?), I seek to set the stage for a series of mildly esoteric posts about the deeper political philosophy behind our food and cooking adventures, a philosophy born from conversations had while tending many a fire and consuming many a beer. I keep this blog train mostly on the rails, but please do forgive occasional off-roading that may occur. Now, let’s leave metatext behind until the end of this jaunt and just get into it:

Food is love, food is life.

There’s a sense in which that's true: so often food is a material realization of our love and care for one another, for the family, friends, or strangers for whom it is made and with whom it is enjoyed. Plus, food is, by definition, explicitly intended to become part of a living body. It is so often something we require for being alive. Though Soylent is trying to challenge that... 

But even more often than food-as-beautiful-exchange-of-love-and-care, food is bizarrely uncritically fetishized. It’s a bit peculiar that the everyday experience of eating that is both universal and intimate — the act of letting something alien inside us, become us, and pass through us — can feel so alienated, so unremarkable and lacking meaning, reduced to the mere sensation of taste. What I mean is that our experience of food is very often quite divorced from not only its source and cause, but from the history, traditions, and people that make it possible. Grandma’s cooking might be the best, but are we really ever fooled into thinking it's the best because the food tastes objectively better than all other food? In the words of the incomparable Ed Lover: “C’mon, son!” We all know there’s an extra dash of something-something, a little sprinkling of meaning, that makes Grandma’s cooking special.

 

In most of our everyday cooking and eating experiences, deep reflection is spotty and fleeting. This is not unique to food: the sensuous now rarely comes under such scrutiny (perhaps a benevolent happenstance given our general state of alienation in the modern world). But alleviating food-specific alienation isn’t just a matter of doing the whole “locavore” thing or making all food “from scratch,” though these seem like not terrible things. Eschewing chain fast food or supermarket produce in favor of homemade sourdough and local faire are mere changes in content, when what is needed is a change in formAlleviation, and hopefully emancipation, can occur only through a potent blend of:

collective critical reflection + action on a scale far greater than the local

I suppose that’s a crucial element of the Weird Meat Boyz food philosophy: that food provides an exceptional chance for us to intentionally and radically change ourselves, our relationships, and our world. All we need bring to the table is a relentless critical engagement and the fullness of our capacity for experience. Oh, and a few beers never hurt.

Now, to be fair...

To be fair, the Weird Meat Boyz don’t deny the utopia that is having Taco Bell delivered on late nights or the modern marvel of having fresh produce available year-round. And while we do think it is worth trying to enact the aforementioned changes in content (buying & eating local, maybe eating less Taco Bell, maybe not?, etc.),

our more interesting political move is not in content, but in form: we seek to honor the history, traditions, and people that have made the food we cook possible.

In a word, we seek to honor the origins of food.

It’s literally the least a couple of white dudes can do.

How about a concrete example for this initial food philosophy romp? Our favorite cooking method is what today we call "smoking." Basically just cooking stuff low and slow with fire and smoke. It’s never not worth remembering that the version of this ancient cooking art that we call smoking in the US is an art developed by Black slaves, indigenous peoples, and poor working class immigrants (check out this great history post if you don't believe me). There’s just no getting around that. And there’s just no sense in glossing over or even trying to forget that history when we light the fire. Smoking food finds its origins as an innovative method of History’s unacknowledged and oppressed. As such, these origins can afford certain unique possibilities in both content and form:

Content-wise, smoking still performs today the miracles it always has: making large and/or undesirable cuts of meat delicious and/or preserving meat for future use. In terms of form, it accomplishes something equally miraculous: it imposes a kind of alternate spacetime that is more closely attuned to the material processes involved in burning wood than the abstract increments of time we call “minutes.” The phrase “it’s done when it’s done” is never truer than when said about a brisket on the smoker. This combination of transforming content (meat) and imposing an alternate form (spacetime) has historically been put to all kinds of use, examples ranging from communal political and religious celebrations around the globe to feeding the Black slaves and poor whites who worked the fields in the US during the cotton harvest. Barbecues featuring smoked meats have also been (and continue to be) a key element in formal US politics, as well as a staple of family reunions, community events, and competitive festivals and fairs.

A quick aside: it is worth noting that when the Weird Meat Boyz talk about food as politics, we do not mean it strictly in the sense of formal politics (parties, elections, legislation, etc.), though this is related to our understanding. Politics for the Weird Meat Boyz is not so much of a closed and set category, but refers more generally to how humans organize and make collective decisions. When we say food is political, we mean that what food we have available, how we procure it, how we cook it, and how we eat it, are all matters of collective human concern, and that the answers to these "hows" says a lot about our society and our history. 

 

We can also see the commodified form of this alternative smoking time in the barbecue industry. Picture a famous barbecue joint with its line of people wrapping around the block and communal tables packed with excited eaters. Commercial barbecue retains this ability to not only physically gather large groups of people from all over the world and from all walks of life to a single location, but also to hold the attention of these people — to enact an organization of humans —to create a true political situation. The more popular joints are international destinations in and of themselves, and it is custom, a rite of passage even, to show up and wait for hours with total strangers to eat food that has been cooking all night. Contrast this with the individual cars in fast food lines and all of a sudden the dramatic difference in potential between barbecue and other forms of food consumption appears clear. So while there are blog posts to come regarding the way this alternate spacetime has been rendered impotent by modern “convenience” (“this machine kills boredom,” anyone?), it’s worth noting here that in commodified form, barbecue is still a political force to be reckoned with.

One goal of the Weird Meat Boyz is to trigger the power of this alternate spacetime. You see, we reckon that latent within the act of waiting for food to be done is a redemptive way of experiencing time connected to a sense of place, family, and community. We want to use the possibilities of commodified barbecue to reignite this political potential by ultimately providing a space for people, related neither to each other nor to the place, to be brought into relation as fellow humans rendered relatable through their shared anticipation of the feast to come. Through desire. The political question the Weird Meat Boyz hope to someday pose with their smoker is:

what happens when the barbecue line becomes more than a barbecue line?

If you’re still with me, bless you. Like I said, there may have been some off-roading but we are generally near the station. You can walk from here. The hope is that you now have some semblance of what we may be up to with all this talk of sauce and weird meat. If not, fear not; clarity will undoubtedly be offered to you through even more verbose ramblings to be found right here on the Weird Meat Boyz blog: “food for thought and eating.” 



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