TikTok chefs stir-frying and red-cooking in idyllic Sichuan countrysides, listicles of where to get not-your-nonna’s tagliatelle, Youtube channels featuring artery-busting barbecue smoked by men who seem, above all, engorged: What are we awash in today but endless food content? With issue no. 70, The Baffler overcomes the dyspepsia induced by such gluttony to consider the contemporary consumable.
The issue features reports regarding the psychoactive substances of (semi)legal choice, with Adrian Nathan West taking on the craft cocktail bar and Kathleen Alcott scrutinizing the weed restaurant: the former home to a frenzy of ritualized “premiumization” and the latter a portal to an otherworldly catatonia. Equally replete with body horror is Will Self’s fiction contribution to the issue, featuring a surgeon’s diary of fantastical operations. Meanwhile, Chris Crowley writes on the gratuity-included attempts to solve the eternally vexed politics of tipping in America; and, across the pond, Ruby Tandoh visits the British seaside destination of Margate, which is caught between a creative class fairytale of cute restaurants highlighting seasonal ingredients and the hardscrabble town as it actually stands.
Of course, every plated morsel is not the sui generis product of a noble chef working in harmony with nature but the precipitate result of a bewildering tangle of agricultural and economic policy, as Alan Guebert describes in his overview of farming in the United States. For millions of food-insecure Americans, to plate a morsel at all requires food stamps, which Christopher Bosso defends in his treatise on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Elsewhere, Karen Olsson’s history of the Texas Observer considers the often tenuous connection we have to the land, one made only stranger by online tradwives in Gaby Del Valle’s report on influencers on the range.
Sometimes this connection is deliberately severed, as Sarah Aziza details in her essay on Israel’s history of “making the desert bloom” by planting water-intensive monocrops over the site of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages, while Jen Monroe depicts several victims through sugary sculptures of our messy agricultural present. Such distance can be remedied, argues M. Jahi Chappell in an interview with Zoé VanGelder, by the decommodifying principles of agroecology, a discipline which seeks to design more equitable and sustainable food systems aligned with the needs of local communities. Though the land itself must first be protected from the golf course-ification of the world, as the baker of a Wisconsin-famous whole-grain treat attempts to do in Dave Denison’s account of the Guerrilla Cookie and its erratic creator, Ted Odell.