Food Fetishism: The Final Frontier Of Wealth Disparity


The selective hearing of the west is at its very least a bit awkward. While dolled up celebrities on one screen beg us to donate money to famine victims somewhere still suffering from western imperialism, your phone will vibrate a notification into your thigh, and before you know it you’re looking at a photo of someone’s untouched $20 meal with the caption ‘#yummy’ or ‘#paleodiet’, or something equally inane.

‘Food culture’ may be a social norm dictated by celebrity chefs, but it is perpetuated by a blind populations’ misunderstanding of the social significance of fetishising dessert in one time zone, while in another timezone vultures pick at the bones of children starved to death by famine and war.

We must, as individuals, take responsibility for the part we each play in social media’s white-noise orchestra before we can begin to acknowledge the extent to which we are drowning out the voices of those not living so comfortably.

This hedonistic distractionism, and this constant competition for social capital, is fundamental to western ideology. It prevents most people from making the obvious connection between one’s western life of plenty, and Bob Geldof saying something something no clean water something something on the TV in the corner.

Think about it this way: in 500 years time, what will your social media footprint tell an archaeologist about the ideological disconnect between classes and geographical points in what people refer to as the ‘age of communication’?

At what point does the proliferation of the amateur food critic cloud the reality of global food shortages? Could it be that food form fetishism is altering our perception of the gap between the eating habits of the developing world and the first world? And what does this mean for our ability to empathise with those who do not have a voice on social media?

I feel like I’m living in an unlikely dystopic vision every time someone’s Facebook tells me to donate to their ‘Live Below the Line’ quest for manufactured empathy. But keep scrolling through the posts and $10 says you’ll eventually find a photo of a $15 Max Brenner Waffle. #chocaholic. #yolo.

But perhaps we cannot even blame the people completely, either. Perhaps this behaviour is a prime example of ideological Stockholm syndrome: the mental gymnastics one performs as a necessary defense of a commodity-rich lifestyle; the ugly face of capitalism that one merely grows accustomed to.

For, to suggest that superficiality, inequality, and greed is prevalent today any more than it was yesterday is like saying dogs used to bark less. What is unique about today is not self-aggrandising behavior itself, but rather a sub-conscious shame-induced pretence that most self-aggrandising practices must be explained away as serving some societal purpose beyond the generation of an individual’s social capital.

‘I’m just letting others know that this is a great place to get a zacapa old fashioned’. Tag location. Take friends. Hashtag some shit.

So then, how do you tell the person sitting across from you that you don’t want to appear on their news feed wedged between self-publicity stunts?

How do you point out the irony, and the hypocrisy, of the West’s identity fetishism, without hurting someone’s feelings?

Our ideology is so much a part of our sense of self that you really can’t point these things out to someone without inadvertently making a statement about their personality, which means that any conversation on the issue seems to inevitably be perceived as an ad hominem attack, as opposed to a much needed conversation about gluttony.

I’d suggest that to begin with, we must remind the food-porn photographers out there that most behavior is a semi-autonomous regurgitation of broader ideological circumstance. Kids play ‘Batman’, and parents play ‘Jamie Oliver’. We never stop re-imagining ourselves as our television heroes.

But that doesn’t mean we ought to stick our heads in the sand and say ‘that’s just the way it is’ every time someone draws our attention to how tragic the airbrushed quest for online validation is.

When social capital is more important to the individual than social equality, we aren’t dealing with localized cultural phenomena. We are dealing with the sociological follow-on effect of a particular prevailing economic ideology.

By the way, according to the World Food Program, one in four children’s growth is stunted as a result of inescapable poverty. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three. You can scroll down now. 

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.