Modern Food Culture – Present at the Creation (Part III)

“Wine and Fooders”

This follows on our Part I and Part II.

Cincinnati-born Louis Kronenberger (1904-1980) was a prolific author as well as drama critic, news columnist, and teacher. An East Coast public intellectual, he is remembered in particular as long-time theatre critic for Time magazine.

His writing ranged far and wide, from perspicacity on the merits of Pal Joey to 18th century English biography and social history.

His entry in Wikipedia sketches his achievement. This New York Times obituary adds considerable detail.

His 1943 piece in PM, covering a New York Wine and Food Society tasting, suggests an irreverent but highbrow style for his column “One Thing or Another”. No doubt he attended a real event but in this case invention seems order of the day, for comic effect.

It started this way:

Not long ago I was taken to a “tasting” of the Wine and Food Society. The Society – just in case your social position is anything like mine – is an association of epicurean hidalgos, such as Lucius Beebe and Mr. Jules Glaenzer of Cartier’s, and at their tastings they carefully sample a large assortment of wines. In France, of course, professionals have been sampling wines for centuries, but in the Wine and Food [Society] the members do it themselves. In fact, it gives them something to do.

All of Delicatessen Society* was there, some in monocles, some merely in spats. As we entered we were handed leaflets [the programme], and for a moment I thought maybe it would be pretty much like a labor rally. Mais non. The leaflets merely listed the 29 “American Champagnes, Sparkling Wines and Sparkling Cider” that the members were bidden to sample.

The Horatian tone is further shown by his assertion of French origins, whereas he was American-born. It was useful in the context but likely as well a joking allusion to his surname. The same for claiming to spit wine at the event, professional wine-taster fashion; I doubt he did any such thing.

Between the yuks though, he clearly saw something new was afoot. His statement that non-professionals were tasting wine knowledgeably shows a shift in the culture, as the practice became a cornerstone of modern food and wine appreciation.

His analogy of the meeting to a labour rally illustrated the communal or fraternal nature of budding foodie life. Maybe the “fooder” term suggested itself to Kronenberger from the term bobbysoxer, a la Sputnik to Beatnik.

In truth foodism is age-old, as L.P. Faust pointed out in a perceptive essay four years ago.

But the instinct had been buried for years, by World War I, then Prohibition, the Depression, and World War II. The pall continued: the Korean War, the early Cold War.

A full rebirth would await the 1970s but the signs were there even in the dark mid-1940s, and Kronenberger saw them.

Most telling is his phrase “Wine and Fooders” for these hardy acolytes of Epicurus. No doubt an off-hand boutade rushed to print, it was inspired nonetheless, forecasting the foodie coinage of some 40 years later.

With consumerism laying low due to rationing and supply management, Kronenberger’s bon mot wasn’t destined for the annals of cultural history. In a different time it could have gone the other way.

Grandees dominated such groups then, but as I’ve discussed, some events attracted a wider audience with publicity in the dailies. That, and the presence of commercial suppliers – the drinks and food were largely contributed – tended to broaden the influence.

The process took decades and occurred in conjunction with mass market food writing, radio and TV culinary shows, food and liquor advertising, and the growth of tourism.

Note re image: the image above of Louis Kronenberger is drawn from this Wikipedia entry linked above. Believed in public domain. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*This term seems to have been a mocking expression for a trencherman, gourmandizer, bon vivant. It is used in this sense (“Delicatessen Society Notes”) in a 1918-1919 issue of Harvard Lampoon.