The Infantile Appeal of the Organic
The things that drain you off and drive you off the hinge, part 842. I am not, as very assiduous clickers-on of my hyperlinks will be aware, a well man. Food is a particularly difficult thing for me. I'm torn between an extreme laziness about cooking, leading to the temptations of the Hong Kong Garden and the famous Mr Fast Fry, and a medically-based avoidance of anything that will make me even worse. The combination of these two with a liking for the comforting, enveloping smell, taste and general atmosphere of food exceptionally greasy can become a major problem. If I could, I would no doubt subsist on roast dinners, suet dumplings, crispy seaweed and sausages in batter, and before my early 20s I could. As things are, whenever out of doors and in need of a meal, the only sensible choice is usually Japanese food, which is both lacking in gastroenterologically aggressive spices and is half way palatable, although often prohibitively expensive. However, in torrential rain today I swallowed my pride and momentarily, the chip on my shoulder, and entered Planet Organic, on Torrington Place.
Now, as we know, the middle classes tend to have a fairly high estimate of their own usefulness to society at large, and by association of their intelligence and generally mature outlook on life, politics and food, as opposed to the fried chicken or Findus-munching underclasses. Look, for instance, at the interviewees in this feature on 'chav-free holidays' (ta to Bat for the link). So the supremely middle class phenomenon of organic, gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free food would, one might imagine, be a matter-of-fact milieu of straightforward, non-patronising food choices, where ingredients are listed without recourse to flashy marketing etc. Quite apart from the fact that when going to these places I tend to arrogantly and embarrassedly assume I'm the only person ill enough to actually need to eat this sort of guff, as opposed to doing it out of perverse consumerism, I thought I'd examine the labels and packaging of the items in question. The Impostume has already done this with great skill on the ideology of the Living Salad and the 'Innocent' smoothies, but I might go one step further, onto the list of ingredients and other extraneous matter. My packaged and pasteurised Organic, Gluten-Free Brownie, purchased out of grim necessity, lists a variety of things, from emulsifier, lemon juice (lemon juice! Good god, that's like pouring hydrochloric acid down there!), soya lecithin, 'golden syrup, and love'. I do not look for love in my gluten-free brownie. Similarly, the water I purchased, which turned out to be 'Carpe Diem Botanic Water', full of everything from quince to galangal, lists among its ingredients the grammatically interesting 'fruit-sweetness from pear', and additionally informs us that 'the Ancient Greeks were already studying the effects of herbs and plants'. Indeed they were.
It's an easy target to mock the vaguely spiritual or pseudoscientific approach often used by such consumer items, given their distant heritage in new age, which no doubt originates distantly in a politics, albeit a wrong-headed one. Rather, it's the infantilism of these objects that is most irksome of all. This is food aimed at a desperate people, in need of soothing babytalk from its packaged foodstuffs lest its hard-faced, 60-hour-week, underpaid, insecure, un-unionised world would collapse into thousands of tiny pieces. In a sense this is little different from my own liking for warm, stodgy food that fills a dissimilar but equally gaping void, but done with rather more dissimulation. What is more infuriating, especially given that surely a fair few of the purchasers of these perishables could be as ill, if not more, than myself (though I suspect we're outnumbered by those suffering from the disease profiled in Todd Haynes' Safe), is the confirmation of Philip Marlow's thesis that as soon as you suffer from deficiencies in your body, the world assumes you're similarly deficient in mind. Could we have a health food with sachlichkeit, I wonder? A way of not eating shit that didn't go alongside cutesy labels, contempt for the lower orders and the delusion that shopping choices can become moral? Perhaps the kitchens of the world's social centres and anarcho or autonomist enclaves could lead the way here, pioneering a straightforward, no-bullshit approach to feeding the masses (or in my case the gastrically afflicted)? The kind of food one might imagine being (but probably wasn't) made in a Constructivist communal neighbourhood kitchen, perhaps?