Are You a Foodie?

October 4, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

I was thinking about posting a tasty recipe today, with carefully styled food photos to match, but after reading this diatribe against foodies in the Guardian, I had second thoughts:

Western industrial civilisation is eating itself stupid. We are living in the Age of Food. Cookery programmes bloat the television schedules, cookbooks strain the bookshop tables, celebrity chefs hawk their own brands of weird mince pies (Heston Blumenthal) or bronze-moulded pasta (Jamie Oliver) in the supermarkets, and cooks in super-expensive restaurants from Chicago to Copenhagen are the subject of hagiographic profiles in serious magazines and newspapers. Food festivals (or, if you will, “Feastivals”) are the new rock festivals, featuring thrilling live stage performances of, er, cooking. …

If you can’t watch cooking on TV or in front of your face, you can at least read about it. Vast swaths of the internet have been taken over by food bloggers who post photographs of what they have eaten from an edgy street stall or at an aspirational restaurant, and compose endlessly scrollable pseudo-erotic paeans to its stimulating effects.

Well, the food blogger thing has me dead to rights, though I never would have called myself a “foodie.” That’s one of those words, like hipster, that everyone uses pejoratively, though no one can really tell you what it means…and the more you protest that you aren’t one, the more likely it is you are.

If the author, Steven Poole, is talking mainly about people who obsess over food, or critique and analyze all the fun out of it, then I agree: For them, food is a status symbol, not something you actually enjoy. Of course, that makes them no different from film snobs, or art snobs, or wine snobs — and we’ve always had those with us, so this isn’t exactly a new trend. People have made idols out of their stomachs since the dawn of time. Still, I’m not sure why the mere existence of a “Feastival” is necessarily any worse than a rock festival — maybe just as pointless if it’s not your particular interest, but surely just as harmless.

For me, I enjoy food — and cooking it, and writing about it, and photographing it — because it’s scrumptious, for one, and for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with status or pseudo-spirituality. Food is one of the quickest ways to learn about a new culture, region, or period in time; sharing a meal is a sign of hospitality throughout history and all over the world. More immediately, food is intimately tied with memory: Every great meal that I can remember is also connected to a specific event, in a particular place, with actual people — my grandmother’s dressing at Thanksgiving dinner, my mom’s comfort food, the fancy restaurant meal shared with friends. Cooking is a way I can care for others, to make them feel welcome and happy and loved, the same way that they’ve cared for me at one point or another.

…granted, if I were to spout off like this every time I had a really great dinner, I’d get pretty sick of me, too. I’m all for rooting out the elitism and sacrosanctity some people erect around food, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater (or the turkey out with the, uh, giblets?).

Read the rest of Poole’s article and see what you think. Do you agree with his critique of foodism?

Image: Margaret Cabaniss

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