“You deserve a good lunch.”I couldn’t think of a better subject line for an email. It was March 20, 10 days or so into sheltering in place for me and my family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This was before my wife contracted COVID-19, before the kids began to claw at the computer, refusing to sit for one more hour of Zoom cacophony that left them uncomfortably numb. Back then, in those halcyon days, I still took great pleasure in food, and an email rewarding my gluttony was just the ticket.I am, by fate and conduct, a gentleman of noble proportions. I experience much of the world through my appetites. I’m the guy you’d call, back when the world was still wide open, to ask who serves the best soondubu in Fort Lee, or where in Monsey to go for a worthwhile cholent. My small kitchen is stacked thick with gadgets, from sous vide sticks to instant pots, tastemaking machines to indulge the most intricate of culinary fantasies. I cook like I eat: joyfully, sensually, too much, and very well. I am, therefore, a man for whom the promise of a good lunch contained multitudes.I clicked on the email, coming from The New York Times cooking section. I was curious about a recipe for oyakodon, a Japanese soupy rice dish with delicious chicken and jammy eggs. Here, in order, were the ingredients the Paper of Record asked its readers to line up prior to enjoying a homemade meal in the midst of a global pandemic: Six tablespoons dashi, instant if you must but preferably homemade; two tablespoons dry sake; two tablespoons mirin or, in case of emergency, aji mirin; deboned skin-on chicken thighs (“ask your butcher,” read the helpful note); six sprigs of mitsuba; and, of course, shichimi toarashi, without which no household pantry would ever be complete.It was Friday. I had just returned from a visit to our local grocery store. Crammed together, masked and gloved, me and a few dozen other shoppers lined up outside before being let in and greeted by half-empty shelves. There were no cauliflowers that day, no shallots, no carrots, no tangerines. There was no pasta or tomato sauce, no ice pops for the children, no Rice Krispies. There was no flour or yeast, and there sure as heck wasn’t any shichimi toarashi.Still smarting from my fruitless shopping trip, I stared at the email for a few long minutes. The men and women who put it together, it was clear, had no idea what was going on outside, in the real world. They had likely heard about the novel coronavirus and its devastations, but their note made it clear that none of them had enough common sense or compassion to figure out that it was probably unwise, in a time when millions of Americans were losing their jobs and when food was difficult to come by for most New Yorkers, to publish a recipe that required a cornucopia of pricey specialty foods available only in high-end markets that were closed even if you wanted to risk contagion and make the special trip. Tossing my phone aside, I blurted out, “do these people know anything about how actual Americans live?”The question continued to haunt me for days, not because it was particularly important—we’ve much weightier things to worry about than a newspaper sharing an ill-considered recipe—but because it seemed so indicative of so much that’s broken in America, and because it drove me to reconsider my own sensibilities and, eventually, say my farewell to foodie culture.Like all true awakenings, this one, too, didn’t come overnight. With very few exceptions, I haven’t had much fun eating out in nearly a decade. Restaurants, I’ve always believed, came in several shades: First and foremost, they were there to feed the hungry, an essential and utilitarian contract that must never be neglected, embodied by that greatest of American culinary institutions, the diner. Then, a few eateries, though by no means most, offered an added layer of subtler pleasure, enhancing the core transactional interaction with the sort of careful design or attentive service that made the hour or two you passed in their midst immensely more pleasant. Finally, at the tip of the pyramid stood the altars of fine dining, minded not by mere cooks but by chefs and demanding a substantial sacrifice of time and money for the pleasure of experiencing something truly sublime.Foodie culture’s first order of business was to slaughter all that. Very much a creation of our progressive moment, it viewed all forms of hierarchical division and distinction with contempt, advocating instead for a more democratic gustatory republic, one governed by principles like fairness, freshness, and fraternity. Suddenly, the famous chefs weren’t the ones who took years to perfect their craft while toiling silently in sizzling kitchens and weeping as they mastered the slicing of onions, but those who made a show of eating street food with relish on their own TV shows or blasting Led Zeppelin loudly in their dining rooms while serving pure pig fat and chuckling as customers swallowed it whole, too afraid to be considered uncool if they demanded something less lardy to amuse their bouche.It smelled like free spirit—no more tastemakers! No more snobbery!—yet it was anything but. Foodism soon hardened into a cult, cheered on, as is always the case, by big money. Eating out, at least in Manhattan, became a sacrament, a way of passing into a higher socioeconomic realm. If you could score the reservation, and if you could afford the meal—$1,100 for two, at 11 Madison Park, say—you were among the anointed. Was the food good? Was the atmosphere lovely? Who cares, as long as you could solemnly swear, the next morning, that you, too, had dined like the immortals.With smaller places struggling to pay ever-rising rents, and with investment groups buying up joints and running them through a central front office, restaurants became corporate enterprises, interested in maximizing shareholders’ profits at all costs. If that meant getting rid of the inspired artisan who toiled for decades and made the restaurant a second home to so many loyal customers, replacing him with some youngling who would crash and burn within the year and shut the place down—so be it. Reputation and relationships don’t mix well with revenue, and as long as you’ve a robust food media establishment singing the praises of the new new thing, the old can take a hike.If I needed any reminder that this is no way for humans to live, I got it with the arrival of the grim virus that drove us all to shelter in place. Liberated from the compulsion to pay more and more for less and less at the city’s most hallowed establishments, I was free now to focus on the food itself, and so turned, like so many others who share my passions, to the foodie scriptures for guidance.Not all of them were as terrible as the Times, but reading them carefully, now that meal-making has become a more deliberate and laborious affair due to scarcity and the need to plan ahead, highlighted just how immensely vapid these publications truly are. Apply the same close read to a food magazine you would to, say, a novel, and three things become obvious. First, the people running it have no interest in food, at least not if you still understand food as something essential to human survival. What they care about is food as means of metamorphosis, which, as the linguist Dan Jurafsky noted in his study of food writing, is why the men and women who compose everything from restaurant reviews to cooking publications use deeply religious terminology, talking about a sinful chocolate cake, say, or a divine bouillabaisse, or a chicken cacciatore that’s to die for.Reading the foodie bibles I once revered, all I could see now was a gaggle of privileged men and women, espousing the most vaunted ideals—Fresh! Organic! Culturally diverse!—while serving up nothing but stress and sumptuousness, the former demanding that you clear the next four hours to braise your meat and the latter insisting that the meat you buy be organic, free-range, and hormone-free. Which is great, if you have the time and the money. But if you don’t, expect little compassion from foodies. Not for them is the inconvenient fact that 95% of all meat Americans eat comes from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, massive industrial operations that very often abuse animals, poison the land, and make anyone living near them sick. Nor do they care much that Americans, having consumed about 28 pounds of poultry per person per year on average, now devour 93.5 pounds, an increase that is bad for all but the massive corporations that increasingly dominate the farming industry.Foodie culture doesn’t care about any of this, because foodie culture isn’t about food at all: It’s about class, and like the other industries spawned by those who see themselves as our moral and intellectual betters—tech comes readily to mind—it’s particularly revolting not because of its excesses but because it insists on wrapping them all in a shroud of performative righteousness, singing their superiority even as they ravage the very foundations on which our society was once built.Now look: Every healthy society needs a bit of gluttony here and there, a few gregarious outbursts of over-the-top consumption to release it from the humdrum of always being sensible. But when you make sport of cackling at the poor saps who huddle at the Olive Garden instead of throwing a 36-hour dinner party for their delightful friends, you cross the line and enter some deeply disturbing psychological and political zone. Put bluntly, conspicuous consumption is part of any capitalist order, but conspicuous consumption oozing with self-righteous condescension and then wrapped in bacon is truly repulsive, because of the self-satisfaction it licenses, in which the poor are gross, and it's their own fault for being sick and fat and stupid. You can introduce as many nods to foreign cultures and cuisines as you’d like. You can invite as many minority chefs to join you on Mount Olympus. None of this redeems foodie culture of its vacuous, preening nihilism.Could it have gone any other way? To answer this question, just look back to the movement’s origins, to true saints like Alice Waters. The grand dame’s mantra was simple and true: Anyone can and deserves to eat well, but eating well requires a modicum of effort. Grow your own vegetables if you can. Farm, if that’s an option. If not, take time and care with the things you put in your mouth. There are greater delights out there than a Filet-O-Fish, and so the goal ought to be making them as widely available to as many Americans as is possible. That’s the sort of work done by righteous men and women like Will Allen, who received a MacArthur “genius grant” for starting an organization that grows good, fresh food in Milwaukee’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, addressing the challenge of having 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, too far away from a grocery store to have access to fruits or vegetables. This is what foodie culture ought to have looked like, a thrust to encourage us all to eat better, which necessarily begins with a push to make it possible for us all to afford the nutritious and delicious food we all deserve.But don’t bum out the beautiful people with all this talk of poverty and obesity. At the very most, you’ll get them to run a playful piece about why, if you must eat fast food, you should totally opt for the $8 Shake Shack double burger rather than the $4 Big Mac, because the former was crafted lovingly by Danny Meyer, who is a famous restaurateur who can make even something as fundamentally unhealthy as a double cheeseburger seem better for you by virtue of having the foodie culture’s seal of approval.This kind of contemptuous Kabuki theater is getting harder and harder to stomach. I didn’t expect the tony tastemakers to grow a heart and a soul overnight, but when disaster strikes, true colors fly. Watching so many Americans die, and realizing that so many of them were made sicker and more vulnerable in large part because they had no access to nutrition made the recipe revelers of foodie culture seem not just slightly ridiculous but outright insufferable.Of course, food culture being what it is, it managed to bungle even its chance at a reckoning: Earlier this week, Bon Appetit’s editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport was forced to resign, not because he led a publication so wildly contemptuous of the real-life problems of real-life people but because, one Halloween 16 years ago, he stupidly wore a costume that, by the inquisitional standards of today’s identity politics, is considered racially insensitive. Rapoport delivered his auto-da-fé on cue, stepping down and saying he’d not done enough to champion “an inclusive vision.” But don’t think for a moment that the woke staffers who pushed him out will deliver anything more humane or mindful: They’re not talking about a radical change in direction, about hunger or industrial farming or the other troubles that plague the poor and unstylish. All they want is a license to engage in the same contemptuous snobbery, a grotesque definition of diversity if ever there was one.And so, spare me your dashi or aji mirin; give me rice and beans and potatoes, served without fuss and shared with the people I love. Give me gardens in every city lot that can house one, and a new generation of children experiencing the simple marvel of tasting a fresh cucumber or a bit of basil they themselves had grown. Give me the real pleasure of eating, the pleasure of breaking bread with those you love, a pleasure as easily obtainable at a Taco Bell as it is at Boulud Sud. Give me a food culture united to stop 11 billion pounds of fruit and vegetables from going to waste, animals from being tortured, humans from being stuffed with junk. Spare me the stratified hellscape in which the poor gag on garbage while the rich drone on about sustainability while leisurely tending to their pricey chow. Save me from moralizing by those who’ve turned the most essential of human pursuits into a litmus test for taste, sophistication, and class. It’s time to bite back into the basics.