In this day and age, it is often hard to escape headlines touting the disadvantages of globalisation: damage to the environment, cultural homogenisation, depressed wages. But the experts at Davos always seem to forget the most dangerous development of all: the rise of the well-intentioned, middle class individual who labours under the delusion that liking non-Western food counts as a personality trait.
It started with Sriracha. Oh Sriracha, you sexy, practical little chilli-based beauty, always ready to give a Thai seafood dish or a bowl of pho a good kick up the arse. What did you do to deserve being tattooed onto the hairy, jiggling limbs of every Trevor, Corey, and Kayleigh from Florida to Missouri?
It’s hard not to draw a line between the decline of the US on the world stage, and the number of its citizens for whom the ability to eat hot sauce is apparently such a major achievement. Yes, Kevin, I know you used to cry when your mom put mustard in the Kraft Mac ’n’ Cheese, and you must be very proud that you only had to drink four glasses of water after accidentally eating a wasabi blob, but frankly there are more important things in life. This stuff can salvage bland food, but not your bland personality.
The sriracha ends have a kind of endearing oafishness, at least they’re sort of like primary school children who still take pride in making macaroni necklaces, despite the fact that the rest of the class has moved on to basic literacy.
Far worse are the self-anointed foodie gurus who you scroll past daily on Facebook and Instagram. Often decked out with septum rings, fishtail braids, and other reasons why old people think millienials can’t buy houses, these people pout and pantomime at you like actors in a silent movie, brandishing the newest ‘it’ food in one hand while tapping on it frantically with the other. And they’re all employed by companies whose entire marketing strategy consists of attaching a random grammar particle to a noun or verb. Foodist. Cookist. Foodily. None of these are real words. Perhaps audiences are supposed to infer that their dedication to the culinary arts is such that they just didn’t have time to learn English.
‘This’, the screen ashes in friendly orange lettering, ‘is a JACKFRUIT!’ Cut to their reporter in the eld, shaking said article up and down while looking bewildered and a little afraid, despite the fact that it’s literally the national food of Bangladesh and supports most of South-East Asia. If you’re lucky, there are a few seconds of the food actually being prepared, but this is just the calm before the psychological storm that is the sight of the reporter eating the result. It’s a little known fact that by law, at least half of any social media food video has to be footage of someone eating while making ridiculous faces. I sometimes wonder how the reporters’ parents can watch these videos, given that they can verge on extremely unerotic, softcore por- nography. Watch them utter their eyelids at the steaming plate, like extras in Gone With The Wind; watch them break out the hand gestures that are meant to suggest excitement, but which really look like some kind of seizure; and Christ, if you have the strength, watch as they gulp down the first forkful, bugging out their eyes, thrashing their heads back and forth, smacking their lips, and looking for all the world as though they’ve just shot a massive load of skag.
At best, this behaviour is fetishising; at worst, there’s a clear twinkle of self-congratulation in the eye of whoever’s just managed to choke down a spiky, ossified fruit that smells like “pig shit, turpentine, and onions, garnished with a gym sock” before it’s cooked, in the words of Richard Sterling.
Appreciating international cuisine is great, but sometimes it can seem like now that the colonies have been returned and the natives liberated, food has become the final frontier.
In place of Francis Drake and Roald Amundsen, today’s self-styled intrepids expect to be admired for their culinary exploration, when in fact people have been eating this stuff for generations without making a fuss.
There’s nothing wrong with getting to grips with another culture, but if your preferred method of doing so necessitates a song-and-dance celebration of this ‘achievement’ then stick to the mayonnaise next time, Deborah.