For a couple of days we sat in in on a roundtable dedicated to the very slow process of editing in preparation for the second edition of the program manual. A section on riparian and wetland areas caused us to hit a snag. One middle-aged producer consultant objected – fastidiously and immovably – to the use of the phrase “sensitive areas.” He insisted that farmers didn’t like the word “sensitive” and it would cause them to close their manuals, never to be opened again.
I wasn’t sure exactly why this gentleman was so willing to go to the wall over this subject, but my mind immediately started making pop cultural connections.
I envisioned him as a proud survivor of the great Sensitive Man movement of the 1970s. He had survived the rhetoric of first-wave feminism. He had survived the touchy-feely nagging of male feminist Alan Alda. But most importantly, he had survived quiche – lampooned as a signifier of male sensitivity in Bruce Feirstein’s 1982 comic tome Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.
I pictured him just wanting to be left alone during that era to do his farming, watch televised sports and hunt and/or fish as time and the season allowed, and the bitterness over these minor interruptions to his lifestyle remained.
Being a pretty junior guy at the table, it took all of my will to rein in my smartass nature and spout out “So I guess these wetlands don’t eat quiche then?” I’m not sure if the joke would have landed anyway, so I don’t regret not making it. Inwardly, though, I was cracking up (Quiche? Eggs? Cracked? – I’ll be here all night).
Times have changed. Quiche is now something you can buy at gas station convenience stores, and I would guess that most younger men don’t see it as anything more than a compact breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs.
However, our tendency to belittle people based on their food choices remains. “Soyboy” has become a popular pejorative in some quarters for describing males who support any kind of liberal cause – be it feminism, environmentalism or LGBTQ+ rights. The term manages to be both sexist and racist at the same time, given that soy has been a staple in Asian cooking virtually forever. Or am I being a soyboy for being sensitive about that?
In another instance, ever since a U.S. politician dismissed the financial struggles of millennials with a single viral social media post of someone paying $20 for avocado toast, that food item has become a symbol of every (mostly inaccurate) millennial stereotype championed by baby boomers: laziness, oversensitivity, political correctness and something something participation trophies. As a Gen Xer, I’m just happy that the boomers have found a new target, although I suspect they apply their blanket mischaracterizations to everyone younger than them.
Oh by the way, I have nothing against boomers. Some of my best friends are boomers. My own mother, in fact, was a baby boomer. And I just left myself open to a joke about my mom being my best friend, so I’m beating you to the punch.
Things aren’t so great on the other side of the food consumption aisle either. There are some circles which would assign you to the seventh layer of hell for admitting a weakness for fast and/or processed food, even if you only enjoy it in moderation. As if eating meat wasn’t bad enough, you would have committed the mortal sin of not shopping for organic, environmentally-sustainable options.
I suppose I could launch into a serious tirade about the role food prejudice has played in racism throughout history, but I just want to have a little fun. Besides, writing something so somber requires energy, and I haven’t had my shot of avocado toast today.
The only semi-serious insight I have to offer points to the inevitable beef industry pushback against these plant-based burgers that are becoming all the rage. I would actually be disappointed if they didn’t use some kind of food-shaming technique. Might I suggest “Stop eating the food my food eats?” or “Fake beef – the choice of soyboys everywhere.” Or how about “If you eat fake beef made of vegetables you probably got a participation trophy in school and pay $20 for avocado toast and don’t drive because you’re lazy and can’t pay off the student loans on your liberal arts degree – loser.”
Um, okay – it’s a work in progress.