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Food is now at the center of American culture. Everywhere art, music, literature and philosophy used to be, food is now. Food is how we express our values, assert our status, and communicate our morality. The new food culture is a strange mix of hedonism and virtue. This leads to some odd situations: organic cocoa beans ferried to Brooklyn from the Caribbean in a handmade sailboat; Alice Waters advising the First Lady on the White House vegetable garden; Michael Pollan establishing himself as a secular saint. Locavores and paleo diets. Mark Zuckerberg skinning a bison he just shot to uphold a vow he made to only eat food he killed himself. Bill Buford, fresh from the fiction desk at the New Yorker, drinking a bucket of blood straight from a butchered pig’s throat and calling it the best thing he’s ever tasted. Why has food become so important? Perhaps because it satisfies the contradictory desires that make us American, for conspicuous consumption and moral one-upsmanship. And as food replaces culture, it becomes the place where we live our dream life—where we’re all as upright as Puritans and as extravagant as Romans, richer than our fathers and better than our peers.

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