The Power of Pleasure

power of pleasureAlice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse and current Vice President of Slow Food International, is well known for introducing Americans to the idea that fresh is the key to flavor. But Waters often mentions a related idea that is equally important. Speaking of the growth of the  Slow Food movement in a recent interview she says:

Yes, we are now in 156 countries and I think the reason it is so successful is because it is using pleasure to bring people back to their understanding ideas like sustainability and biodiversity by feeding them. I am a Montessori teacher and I believe we learn by doing. There is no real book for this revolution.

We should not underestimate the importance of pleasure in bringing about social change. People are more likely to change their behavior if the goal is more pleasure. This is something that religions have understood and that secular social movements have often missed. Part of the success of religion is explained by the pleasure people get from imaginative stories and stimulating rituals.

The food movement has staying power because it is about pleasure.

And so stories like this one (h/t Elatia Harris) make me laugh. Dan Flynn asks, “Has the Foodie Craze Run its Course?”.

I am beginning to detect signs that the broadly defined Foodie trend has hit a wall. My guess comes at a time when the National Restaurant Association says that more dollars are being spent eating out than eating in. And my email traffic dedicated only to Foodie interests seems to be peaking.

It makes me wonder if there can be enough reader interest in all that’s generated for the Foodie audience. My concern comes just as I am noticing the Foodie dominance in social situations may be waning. For example, I’ve noticed that one Foodie in a group is no longer enough to sway table conversations toward food, and I’ve even seen some attempts to photograph food items slapped down.

It feels good to know I wasn’t the only one who felt silly holding up a plate of food for someone’s photo shoot. Nor am I unique in caring less about hearing about some chef’s biographical details or when some item last appeared on the menu. Or, blah, blah, blah.

So evidence that interest in food is expanding is somehow evidence that interest in food is waning, an “insight” that is buttressed by the personal observation that “foodies” may be moving beyond some of the more silly aspects of food culture. Note to Mr. Flynn—the pleasure we get from food is primarily not from taking photos of it or dominating conversations about it. It is about, well, eating—a practice Mr. Flynn apparently does not enjoy.

While we’ve seen this fixation on food for the past decade or so, in the future it’s very possible food choices will become clear and distinct without all the talk.

Future dining might be more akin to being aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise where the replicator will provide you with exactly what you want, even if you had it yesterday. None of the current obsession with menus will likely survive.

More simple, straightforward and efficient food decisions would leave a lot of extra time for other things — like Foodies could get a life.

You can never have too much efficiency I suppose. Welcome to the machine, Mr. Flynn, and might I introduce you to Soylent—advertised as a powdered “meal replacement product” and specially designed for people who get no pleasure from food.

Get a life indeed.


  1. I don’t think our culture will “unlearn” all that has occurred since Julia Child taught people to appreciate and cook good food. Foodies will just come up with a new kind of crazy.

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