What We Talk About When We Argue About Food
A defense of the seemingly-pointless debate
Yesterday, something unusual happened: people argued about food on the internet.
Wait, did I say unusual?
I meant to say something extremely usual. It’s one of the most common of occurrences on the internet, in fact, perhaps only behind a man rephrasing a woman’s own joke to her in a worse way. In fact, I’ll tell you just how usual it is: I was already planning to write this piece before this tweet exploded across my Twitter feed.
At the moment I’m writing this, that particular prompt has been quote-tweeted nearly 54,000 times by people airing their most would-be controversial opinions on food, from the inflammatory-but-pedestrian “pizza is mediocre” and “chicken wings are trash” to the truly bizarre “dipping Oreos in water is better than dipping them in milk” and “I dip my pizza crusts in Coca-Cola” to the okay-we-get-it-you’re-British “baked beans on toast is delicious”. It’ll probably be far more by the time this publishes, because if there’s one universal truism about human behavior in the year 2022, it’s that we all freaking love arguing about food.
Personally? I think that’s great.
I’ve been known to start a food argument or two myself, primarily through my full-throated and only-slightly-ironic embrace of Cincinnati-style chili, a foodstuff that elicits a bizarre level of rage from people who’ve never tried it and often aren’t even anywhere near its fairly-limited geographic territory. I often bring it up because I know it’ll get people riled up, but also because I genuinely believe in the value of weird regional foods, a stance that’s practically the mission statement of this newsletter.
I’ll go so far as to argue that arguing about food is the healthiest use of the modern internet.
The endless-scroll, reaction-driven experience of social media has created an environment where many of us genuinely feel as though we need to have an opinion on literally everything, even things that we are in no way qualified or equipped to have coherent opinions on. The world is a big and complex place, and some of the gravest issues facing society have far more nuance than can be expressed by simply choosing between hitting the “This Is Bad” button or the “Actually, It’s Good And You Are The One Who Is Bad” button.
Food arguments are the perfect release valve for this pressure, because they have virtually no stakes at all.
If I log into the internet and profess my affinity for a plate of overcooked spaghetti slathered in sloppy spiced meat sauce and laden with a catcher’s mitt worth of un-melted shredded cheddar cheese, it affects no one. Sure, it’ll make some people upset, and many of them will take pains to tell me exactly how disgusting they think the Queen City’s most notable culinary delight to be, but it has no consequence to speak of. I am not asking you to eat Cincinnati chili. I am not offering it to you. If you’re beyond the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky tri-state and not in Florida, I can’t offer it to you.
The worst thing that can happen to you from this interaction is that you must find a way to live with the knowledge that I am wrong, something that I have done myself many times over the years, often on issues far bigger than chili.
Our discourse is broken in some truly serious ways. I don’t mean this in the mealy-mouthed tone of a coffee-magnate billionaire about to mount a quixotic bid for the presidency that will cost 86 million dollars and earn 132 votes in an Iowa caucus. I mean that fundamentally, many of us have forgotten how to communicate with each other without reflexively defaulting to the most extreme version of what we’re trying to say, a tendency that often leave us screaming at people who we largely agree with on the substance of most issues.
I don’t know the solutions to many of the problems facing us today. I don’t know what the West should be doing to save the people of Ukraine from Vladimir Putin’s atrocities without starting a nuclear war. I don’t know how to curb inflation or resolve supply-chain issues. I don’t know how to function when one party is branding its opponents as pedophiles and the other party is more concerned with following Robert’s Rules of Order than putting out the fires around their feet. I don’t think any of these issues should be ignored, but I also don’t think they can be properly addressed in the span of a tweet.
I don’t know how to suck the poison out of our politics before it kills us all.
What I do know is that Starbursts are disgusting, along with virtually every other chewy candy, expect for candy corn, which is a delightful seasonal treat. I know that sweet breakfast foods aren’t half as good as savory ones, and that the basic idea of a cheeseburger has not been fundamentally improved upon since 1932. I know that Diet Coke tastes better than regular Coke, and that penne pasta is the worst shape of pasta. I know that the best way to get a drinkable beer at a craft brewery is to ask what they have that’s “like Bud Light, but good”. I know that pie is better than cake, sausage is better than bacon, and that pineapple is absolutely fine on pizza. I know with ninety percent confidence that ninety-five percent of the population cannot differentiate between a $12 bottle of wine and a $200 bottle and I am one hundred percent sure that I am part of that ninety-five percent. I know that a hot dog is not a sandwich because sandwiches do not exist; all foods are simply variations on dumplings or pizza. I know that you’d be fine with Cincinnati Chili if it weren’t called chili, which it shouldn’t be. (It’s gumbo, which is pizza.)
I know some of this probably made you mad at me, but I know we can argue about these things without hurting anyone in the process, and I say, well, that’s one thing we’ve got.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)