Imagine my surprise when, idly flipping through a local foodie mag, I got to this page:
Is that really an ad for KFC? Yes, indeed. Let’s take a closer look:
Why am I surprised? Probably because I have become so used to a prevailing smugness in the foodie community – one that is summed up with good humour in this HuffPo piece on “Surviving Whole Foods” – that requires total separation between “real” and “junk” food, and complete abstinence from the latter. So it’s OK (nay, expected!) to see foodie adverts for Le Creuset (in which you can make your own fried chicken), but surely advertising KFC is the equivalent of being a shill for “Big Food”? (And besides, people who read foodie magazines would never touch the stuff!)
It’s a nonsense separation, of course, because the categories rest very precariously on some vague idea that “mass produced” is bad, whereas epithets like “gourmet”, “whole”, “local”, “artisanal” or “signature” transfer otherwise junky items (pizza, burgers, fried chicken) into some sanctified realm of OK-ness.
The discussion around Chipotle’s new animated film is doing some of the work of unwinding categories that don’t stand up to scrutiny (is it junk? is it real? is it approved for foodies? see the parody version here), but for the most part what’s happening in conversations about food – how, what, and how much to eat – is disturbingly self-serving, while pretending not to be. And by that I mean that there is a disturbing amount of selective focus, and approving/rejecting things depending on how they fit into some agenda, and just ignoring any blatant contradictions or holes in the argument. So we hear stories like “sugar is killing us” to explain obesity, but not an explanation of how or why that narrative doesn’t apply to people who queue up to buy cronuts (now in South Africa!), or a slice of four barrel coffee cake at some San Francisco bakery.
So it’s rather refreshing, actually, to see some transparent advertising. Even a foodie magazine needs someone to pay the bills (for all those cronuts the editors have to try!), and I guess the Colonel’s money is as good as anyone else’s. (Although ‘A-grade chicken and the freshest produce’? Yeah, right).