Generally speaking, my engagement with the publication known as "T:" is like Ignatius Reilly's with the cinema. I know it will likely infuriate me, and yet I cannot look away. Not so long ago, in the early days of the Cod, the "food" T: provoked a whole week's worth of posts. In these latter, more jaded days, I can gaze on $353 ice buckets with placid indifference.
With one exception. There seem to be plenty of folks with plenty of room under the bus for Julavits and the rest of the Believer crew, and while the mag seems precious at times, it does not seem worth the effort to put a lot of energy into disliking a magazine. However, this is the exercise Julavits describes:
The challenge: to transform a distressing culinary relic like Ladies’ Seafood Thermidor or Bologna Biscuits With Vegetables into a dish you’d proudly serve your food-snob friends. This is the stated objective of the Betty Crocker Card Game. The unstated objective is to amiably enact what we’ve long known to be true: that every dinner party is an unspoken competition with your guests, i.e., I see your beef Wellington and raise you a cassoulet. The B.C.C.G. allows you to compete openly over ludicrously time-consuming food, and for prizes.
To initiate play, you need the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, that plastic flip-top box from 1971. The library holds up to 700 recipe cards with lurid photos of, say, Salmon Noodles Romanoff; it is organized into chirpy categories like Foods That Go Places that are no less upsetting.
As best as I can tell, this game is a ritual designed to establish that the players are cooler than their parents, but with the exception of Jakob Dylan and Scott Caan, who isn't? And this exercise in generational self-congratulation would be more plausible if the undertaking seemed a bit more shelf-stable: "Kate arrived in her Zipcar bearing not one but three salads." Of course she did. But this pronouncement crystallized my difficulties with this article:
I summoned a judge (hereafter the Judge) famous for his ability to produce remarkable party fare from a kitchen the size of a Portosan. Further recommending him: his former post as Susan Sontag’s assistant, meaning his critical acuity wouldn’t override a crucial appreciation of camp.
You can judge for yourself, but I have a hard time with this logic--even if working for Sontag produced a Sontaggy comprehension of Camp, the entire exercise Julavits and her friends conduct seems to be deliberate and self-conscious in ways that Sontag derides as beneath real Camp. Camp, properly done, is an exercise in appreciation:
31. This is why so many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old-fashioned, out-of-date, démodé. It's not a love of the old as such. It's simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment -- or arouses a necessary sympathy.... What was banal can, with the passage of time, become fantastic.
This contest of making dishes that allude to Betty Crocker receipts, but updated to reflect the more refined tastes of Julavits and her friends has more to do Alanis-level irony than anything Sontag writes about.
More generally, and I've already spent more time on this piece than it warrants, this article suggests that irony works less well for food than for other arts. You do not have to put an MC Escher poster, a Herb Alpert record, or a DVD of Smokey and the Bandit in your mouth.