Thursday, July 10, 2008

Organic bakesale for McCain?

There is only one realm where those on the left can comfortably say that Thing A is better than Thing B, and that realm is food.* Organic, local, and homemade are just plain better than the alternatives. You think Doritos taste better than Greenmarket potatoes? White, processed bread's better than home-baked whole wheat? You're wrong, end of story.

John Schwenkler argues that the trend in rejecting processed foods in favor of the natural and the local should have its home on the right of the political spectrum, that is, the exact opposite of the place where it currently resides. I agree** that the emphasis on the local, the regional, and the rejection of the new all sound like ideas that should be coming from conservatives, not liberals. The one place I disagree with Schwenkler is in the idea that caring about food quality is made less of a conservative cause on account of its association with elitism. The real-food movement is conservative not despite its elitist tendencies, but because of them. To be conservative is to reject the notion that Things Fall Apart is just as good as The Iliad, that Bach is no different from Britney. A conservative feels confident declaring one thing superior to another, without stopping to consider whether said declaration offends those of lower class or minority groups. For a conservative, there's none of this Bourdieusian taste-is-relative ideology, there's simply high and low, quality and junk.


* OK, and Obama. Obama is All That Is Good, if less so this past week or so.

** For the record, now that I'm linking to that other post, I do not think social conservatives want anyone having babies at 15. They do seem to think girls like babies, about which I continue to have some doubts.


Miss Self-Important said...

To be conservative is to reject the notion that...that Bach is no different from Britney.
I don't think most country music would have any fans if conservatives really believed that.

Which is not to say that conservatism isn't elitist in some incarnations, but that populism and elitism precede the modern left/right divide and both run through the right and left in America. The result is that conservatives love both WalMart and fine cigars, and liberals love Harvard and migrant workers.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Although I know next to nothing about it, my sense is that there's a big difference between country and Britney--perhaps not in the music itself or in the concert attire, but in what they symbolize. Country is about the local, the regional, the traditional, whereas Britney is about homogenization, sexualization of youth, and bad big-city values corrupting the rest of the country. What country may lack in quality (or may not, I have no idea) it makes up for in local-ness.

I'm not sure that populism precedes left/right--it of course precedes Obama-McCain. I remember learning that populism (defined as politicians making appeals to the masses) was once a strategy of the left, only to be adopted by the "new" right (in France, at least) of the late 19th century. Winning elections without pandering is not the best strategy.

I should have been clearer on this. It's not that actual, living conservatives all feel one way or the other, but that conservatism, as the home of certain (at times contradictory) principles (such as Thing A can be declared objectively better than Thing B, no apologetics necessary; regional is better than universal), indeed ought to be the home of the new-old food movement, or whatever we're calling it.

Withywindle said...

Country, like folk, hip-hop, and rock'n'roll, is a generally commercial enterprise aimed at presenting the appearance of noncommercial authenticity. If one regards commerce as authentic, one need not tie oneself into knots about one's musical taste. (See also, Authentic Neighborhoods in DC, MSI Commentary thereon.)

I'm with MSI on the multiplicity of conservatisms. I suppose the aligning logic of populism and elitism, however, is that both posit particularity (of quality, of custom) against a thin, universalizing idealism; both populism and elitism argue judgments of value rooted in life rather than principle. But even this, I suppose, is only true of some populisms and some elitisms. Cosmopolitanism, after all, is a parochial value.

Anonymous said...

There is an "emphasis on the local, regional, and the rejection of the new all sound like ideas" coming from conservatives. There was a whole book on it - called Crunchy Cons. And the National Review hosted a blog on it here. You can read the manifesto here - "6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract."

Anonymous said...

Let's hope, for McCain's sake, that the Amish vote.

Jeff said...

My observation on the leftist tilt of the local/organic/natural thing (and I see plenty of it in Seattle) is that it is run of the mill left-wing anti-corporate sentiment.

Want to buy your snacks from a (gasp) large corporation that (double gasp) makes a hefty profit? Or from a heroic local farmer, a member of your community?

(conveniently ignoring that organic foods are a multi-billion-dollar business nowadays)

Anonymous said...

There is nothing like unflinchingly pompous liberales trying to explain "conservativism" while neither understanding liberalism, conservatism, or democracy.

Have you considered moving to france or do you only like the antisemitic place from afar?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh, I flinch in my pompousness, I assure you.