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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1 Tara Seguin October 4, 2012 at 11:48 am

Ugh, I can’t even finish reading it – I’m having too bad of a day to make it worse with such sweeping declarations of how liking things is bad!

Absolutely he is right to make fun of the snobs and the single-minded gluttons. Our only defense against the snobs who dehumanize most people for our lack of “proper discrimination” is to laugh at them, and gluttons need to develop a healthy embarrassment if they value food above all else. BUT – he goes too far in lambasting the pop-food-culture. Food blogs and food books appearing on the bestseller list is not because we are all horrible people or mindless sheep. It’s because food has always been a social, binding experience, and it used to be prepared by hands you knew, and shared with people you were bound to and depended on. And when the old social dependency and community is exploded (as it is for most people, especially in urban areas), it’s hard to put food in it’s proper place. We’re trying to put food back in the context of interpersonal love and community. I think we’re trying to show each other the kind of love and care that food has always been about, just this is the only way to do it via the Internet, and given the fact that food trucks and diners are usually much closer at hand than family members.

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Margaret Cabaniss 2 Margaret Cabaniss October 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Hear hear, Tara! Food has been at the center of culture for, well, pretty much always — it was one of the main things that bound us together through shared needs and experiences. It makes sense that, the more society fragments (for good and for ill), the more we’d turn to something like food to find that common thread again.

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3 Kathleen October 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Like everything life, moderation is key. Food is important for all the reasons you and Tara mentioned. I personally love food blogs and reading magazines and watching food shows, because I need inspiration and help. The family meal brings all of us together and, I want it to be beautiful and delicious. Sometimes, it is. Somedays, however, it’s hotdogs and apple slices because I can’t deal. I don’t freak out about those days nor do say I will never feed my kids anything that isn’t fresh off the farm truck. I think that is excessive, but wishing to provide high quality meals as much as is feasible does not make one a food snob. Taking beautiful pictures of food that inspires you, it like the 21st century’s recipe box.

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Margaret Cabaniss 4 Margaret Cabaniss October 8, 2012 at 9:05 pm

The 21st century’s recipe box — I like it! And that’s a lot of what it is for me, too: I feel like I learned how to cook thanks to Alton Brown, Mark Bittman, the CI crew, and on and on. Like you, I’m not putting on gourmet meals every night, but it’s a fun skill that I enjoy practicing. And tasting.

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5 SarahD October 7, 2012 at 12:49 am

I thought his reminder about the various forms gluttony can take was a good reminder, but other than that I thought he was overreacting. If foodies annoy you, pay them no mind. I wasn’t even aware until just now that foodie was pejorative, I just thought it referred to people who really got a kick out of food and wanted to master it themselves.

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Margaret Cabaniss 6 Margaret Cabaniss October 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Eh, it probably isn’t strictly negative; I just always hear it that way. (Or maybe I’m just sensitive because I’m a foodie? Heh.) But yeah, the gluttony section was interesting — which made the rest a bit of a let down.

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