Sky Full of Bacon

Feel Foodie, Punk?

One thing that bugs me about foodie films is when the world revolves around food so completely that it seems unnatural. That may seem odd coming from someone whose world plainly does revolve around food, but in some of these movies it just seems forced, when food is so completely the music of love. I want to see the role food plays in life, not a life in which food seems to be playing every role.

There’s an excellent example of the kind of foodie film I like in theaters right now, though you’d never guess it: Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. As you may know, it’s basically Clint’s version of The Karate Kid, grouchy, bigoted old Korean War vet living in neighborhood surrounded by Hmong becomes something of a father figure and something of a protector to the Hmong kid next door. And what was striking and completely believable to me is that food is the thing that first breaks down the barriers between Clint and his neighbors (who are initially no more fond of the last white guy in their neighborhood than he is of all the Asians taking over his neighborhood).

The movie begins with gatherings at both houses, in which food plays a natural role— and you can almost see him thinking theirs looks better than his. When he scares off some toughs threatening them, they bring him gifts of food, which he initially tries to reject but soon has to admit smells and tastes better than the single-guy dinners (a pack of beef jerky and a six pack) he’s living on. At a party, he breaks down their barriers by being a cheerful and appreciative guest for the clearly competitive ladies pushing their food on him in the kitchen. And so on.

There are no extravagant poetics about food here, indeed the role food plays is hardly even discussed explicitly, but it proves to be a natural and realistic picture of how food is almost always the first avenue of communication and exchange between strange cultures.

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