Thursday, November 15, 2012

Uncle Kierkegaard Ruined Thanksgiving

Chefs Give Nod to Vegetarian Dishes, Haughtily

Vegetables: scorned and maligned as rabbit food or loved as vessels to get more animal fat into one's mouth.  The cool new thing to give a culinary fuck about says the New York Times.  Chefs for the briefest moment take off their sweat-stained "I love Bacon" t-shirts and place them in the hamper to finally be washed.  Is this a turn for the more ethically-minded foodie?  No, probably not, because most foodie-isms are passionately apolitical though occasionally draped in a mimicry of environmentalism.  Nobody becomes a foodie because they want to consume less,  they want more and more -- they want the best and as much of it.  Their body and minds are passive slaves to whatever new refinement is forced into the orifice of pop-culinary's choosing.  Occasionally, however, they feel guilty for a second, and they explain that somehow their unrestrained pursuit of pleasure at any price is the same force that can stop growing global crises that ironically are caused by unrestrained consumption.

But how can this happen -- squash is cool?  Vegetables are cool when only yesterday the king was hipster-pork where the obesity epidemic's love of pork rinds combined with the hipster-foodie's francophilia, creating charcuterie menus in every restaurant, turning them into orgiastic pork binges.  Wait, really, squash is cool now?  I was into squash way before squash was cool.  I have all of squash's records on vinyl.  I call vegetables veggies for short -- I just have that kind of relationship with vegetables, don't be envious.

Squash just got invited to P. Diddy's white party -- check out the watch!

So where is this going?  I'd love to enjoy this moment to wonder if maybe I won't be the guy ruining everybody's good time because I'm the voyeur at the pork orgy -- my inactivity somehow being a condemnation.  Could Thanksgiving be more than just an awkward exchange for me about why I'm not eating the turkey -- full of answers that strike rage and annoyance through the everyday person's mind.  It's a nice fantasy, but the reality is that the veggie-fad is fleeting, as all pleasure or aesthetic-based movements are.

Oh no, who invited Kierkegaard?

Wiser men have realized much earlier than me that our relationships with the world can be easily categorized.  Kierkegaard, everybody's favorite Danish, Existential theologist/philosopher -- sorry all you Martin Luther fan-boys out there -- theorized about three modes of existence for a human.  In the briefest outline, he divides these modes into the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious/spiritual.  A person would go from the basest level of the aesthetic mode, which is undermined by the ethical, which in turn is undermined by the religious/spiritual mode.  How does this relate to trending food interests?  While Kierkegaard was talking about general psychological modes of existence in humanity, food is a part of the way we choose to live, and as we spend so much time obtaining, preparing and eating food, it is a huge aspect of our lives.

The person of the aesthetic mode of being is lost, turning inward to the reflections of his pleasures.  There is a constant pursuit of attaining more and more pleasure, which ultimately desensitizes pleasure, demanding an endless pursuit of greater novel pleasure.  It's a random play of meaningless sensory data, played with, experimented with as nothing of any real weight or concern.  The focus on pleasure and sense smudges and distorts the reality of the relationships and commitments you have to others; you are trapped in the lie of solipsisms where consequences for a manic pursuit of novel pleasure can be easily ignored.  The reality that your pleasure-seeking, inward-turned consciousness is incomplete, feels incomplete, as the haunting reality that the other, the person outside of yourself, is waiting for you to recognize them.

When one recognizes the other, they see the consequences of their actions; they see their true selves in the eyes of others and to what a profound degree they owe their entire being to others; they feel a profound guilt, and they enter into the ethical mode of being.  Now actions must be weighed for their consequences for others.  All senseless pursuits of pleasure and all trivial play with the senses need to be measured and stymied by the needs of others.  The ethical person follows rules and laws that are in the interest of all, not just himself.

The religious/spiritual dimensions is not as relevant to my point and is more abstracted and complicated in Kierkegaard.  But, in the most basic sense, at various times the ethical will be superseded for an ineffable reality only experienced by a sole individual in relationship to something transcendent.  Kierkegaard goes into the theological issue of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac which is a Biblical example of the supra-ethical.

In sum, following cool food trends, whether they be offered up on a plate by a chef, or by a corporation, or a dietician, or the state, is the basest relationship we can have to food.  The aesthete's world is profoundly lonely and meaningless, an array of edible colors, constantly shifting, the arbitrary sensation ahead inexplicably cooler than what you have now.  Eating vegetables because it is in vogue is an inferior mode of human existence, though by accident it may have a beneficial environmental or health impact, that is not the pure intent of the action.  To ignore the consequences of your decisions and to pursue food as an apolitical act of sensory pleasure will leave you with a strange aftertaste in your mouth.  That aftertaste is the specter of the immense suffering and destruction thoughtless consumption causes.

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