Gastro-gawking

The food bloggers sure have gotten buddy-buddy lately. A bunch of them got together in the Bay Area Sunday to eat a reportedly crazy-delicious meal, and now they can’t stop talking about it. Amy (of Cooking with Amy) not only got to attend that event, but she also hooked up with more food bloggers in Seattle and had some yummy meals there, too.

So maybe I’m a teensy bit jealous that I wasn’t on the guest list for these get-togethers (Okay, of course I’m jealous —so much deliciousness! Warm fuzzies flowing like wine!), but these posts got me thinking about a criticism of the food-writing community that I came across recently. Journalist and former New York Times food columnist Molly O’Neill chides contemporary writers for engaging in food porn, creating “a world that exists almost exclusively in the imagination, the ambitions, and the nostalgic underpinnings of American culture.” She doesn’t let the readers who buy her books off the hook, either: they’re the ones who demand this porn-y writing, and she says it’s up to the journalists not to pander to them and do some real “reportage” instead, a la James Beard or M.F.K. Fisher.

Of course a ton of wonderful blogs dabble (or revel) in food porn, and there are some great sites and meta-sites dedicated entirely to the genre, but this passel of posts about the bloggers’ potluck really seemed to hammer home the point: Food porn at its most stripped-down is really not about learning or doing, it’s about imagining (and of course wanting what the other guy has).

Is that really a problem, though? I generally agree with O’Neill that today’s food writing could use a little “more authority and less autobiography,” but nostalgia and fantasy are such important parts of any culinary experience that it seems odd to criticize their prevalence in gastro-journalism. Then again, maybe food porn only appeals to relatively well-off folks, as O’Neill suggests, and excludes the rest of the population. What’s your take?