4 min read


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Portrait by Richard Dowker

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By Raven Smith

Raven Smith: the Vogue columnist whose quick-witted observations on culture have us hooked. As we ditch uniformity and embrace stone fruit with all its scars, he picks up the narrative.

Something weird happened to the way we eat. I don’t quite know when, but something fundamentally morphed our appetites. It’s the Internet’s fault that the wires got crossed on the mechanics of our hunger. Our feeds inundated us with ingredients and produce and meals. In turn we became somehow desensitized to ingredients and produce and meals. Our appetites—usually steered by some sort of carnal, biological instinct—became triggered by scrolling, seeing us not so much foraging for scrumptiousness as being repeatedly battered by pictures of it. Aesthetics somehow trumped actuality.

Where we once reached for trusted, well-thumbed cookbooks, where we once perused farmers markets, things got less wholesome and more, well, pretty. Less visceral, more digital. The fudgy edges of our appetites—those days you won’t know happiness until you scramble an egg or two—got pixelated. The doughy bits of our desire for carbs solidified. Our plates got neat and visually palatable. A strive for perfection, or, perhaps, more accurately, the illusion of it.

Two general food camps are emerging: pretty or worthy. Meals you covet online are either stunning—a veneer covers reality like the puff on a pot pie—or morally pious—keto eggplant disks and burgers wrapped in lettuce. I don’t think either of these have anything to do with real hunger, with real cravings, with real deliciousness. It’s an artificial pricking of hunger, a glamor. A synthetic idea of being hungry, stirred more in the eye than the stomach. Have we been reconditioned to eat with our eyes? Searching out the smooth? Veering towards the lustrous? The internet gumbo of niceties has a threatening aura, like well-polished Stepford Wives, but all is not lost.

Great food, I think, is something not immediately pretty. It doesn’t try to seduce you with its looks. It doesn’t need chicken fillets in its bra. Good food, real food, doesn’t shimmer in order to shine. Real food is as flawed as real people. It needn’t be aesthetic to water your mouth. It can be ugly and muddy and gnarled and still be utterly enchanting. Real food eschews conformity. Real food comforts. Above all, real food tastes. It is not filtered, not forced. Good food needs frippery, good food needs folly, good food needs flaws. As many content themselves with a well-plated pasta, I want the soft comfort of something that’s reconciled its flaws. I want a badly-iced iced finger, still tacky to the touch. I want a smithereen of chocolate forgotten on a sofa cushion. I want toast with Dalmatian burns, a thick denier of butter smeared across. I want zebra-streaked peaches. Plums scarred like high seas pirates. The sugary sweet spot of a nectarine. I want potato eyes that look at you like they’ve just done poppers. I want to eat round the brown bruise on an apple that’s lived a little. I will mash tired bananas into pancakes. Though it is certainly not an apple, I have been known to eat small Sainsbury’s quiche like an apple. Perhaps that says more about a flaw in me, rather than the well-foiled savory tart.

But on the whole, food is for the eating. The weird bits, the unfamiliar flavors, are all part of the journey. Uniformity is conformity, your mouth deserves better.


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