Food is molecules, not bits—which also means it can’t be digitally copied, shared, pirated, or sent across the Web. And that may be the secret of its status now. The more virtual our experience becomes, the more we value the tangible, the sensual, and the immediate. Food is very intimate; we put it in our bodies. It creates and affirms our intimacy with others. Not for nothing do families gather around the table, dates begin with dinner, and religions use food as the symbol of communion.
In the age of mechanical reproduction, Walter Benjamin famously argued, works of art have lost their aura of the sacred, their irreducible uniqueness and presence. One can only imagine what he would have said about the age of electronic reproduction. Forget about posters or vinyl or film; now we can be anywhere, to look or listen. But food is always unique. You have to be there, have to be present, have to be in contact with the thing itself. You have, in other words, to be here now. If the purpose of religion is to bring us into relationship with reality, perhaps it’s no surprise that food is our religion today.
I will say only this to its acolytes and votaries. Religions don’t stay innocent for long. Churches, dogmas, heresies, schisms, senescence: you have all this to look forward to.