The "Foodie" Is No More

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"Foodie" — which is sometimes used to describe anyone with a passing interest in eating quality nutrients — has become a bad word.


Writing on the Houston Press blog, Katharine Shilcutt writes,

A foodie is now someone who takes food to extremes: Tweeting every course of every meal, obsessively discussing Top Chef Masters and Hell's Kitchen episodes on Internet forums, forcing the entire group to wait as they take pictures of every dish that hits the table and rushing to upload them to Flickr or Twitpic, grilling wait staff to find out the exact provenance of every ingredient in a dish and revering chefs as if they were Lennon and McCartney. Then there's the arguing ad nauseum about whether sous vide is the greatest cooking technique since cavemen created the open flame, whether that bubbly-looking snot on the side of a dish is a foam or an emulsion, whether or not to call themselves "slow food" connoisseurs or locavores, and whether pork cracklins or morel mushrooms will be the next foods to take the culinary world by storm (since bacon and cupcakes are now passé, natch).

A "foodie" (foodist?) in other words, is not someone who loves food, but loves the competitive nature of food culture - for whom a meal is only as good as the reflection upon himself. I tend to regard the term as a relic of the go-go 80s, but maybe that's appropriate given certain trends in food-as-status. In any case, the word is less important (don't tell that to anyone on this thread) than the recent incarnation of a phenomenon we all recognize - certainly anyone who's spent any time on Yelp. Everyone's a critic - and an expert. It's what Shilcutt calls food as "fetishism" - something so far removed from food's traditional dual purposes of nourishment and bonding as to touch the outer limits of decadence. Calling for an "anti-foodie revolution," Jason Sheehan writes that "Herd-followers and bandwagon-jumpers are the bane of any live and vital restaurant scene—are agents only of homogeneity, nothing more—and I, for one (or two, I guess), have had enough of them for the rest of my life." (Sheehan's ire is aimed at snobbery; I'd expand the debate to encompass those who fetishize the "local," the "authentic," the remote and the "undiscovered" - for me a far more pernicious trend that's all about annexation and can become uncomfortably paternalistic very quickly.)

Anything that gets people back to cooking and caring about food is great, swell. Supporting local providers and becoming mindful of one's diet is a good fringe-benefit, whatever the motivating factors. The truth is, the food-fetishization bubble can't last and those who are most guilty of the "collecting experiences" mentality will move on to the next thing. And the world in many ways will be the better for the phenomenon. As Anthony Bourdain put it in an interview with Shilcutt,

The biggest problem I have with this "foodie"-ism is the lack of a sense of humor. You know? Those foodies who don't have a sense of humor and who are angry or proprietary about their choices. That's less fun. People who collect dining experiences like butterfly collectors rather than enthusiasts. But I think anyone who's genuinely taking pleasure in food — and not just food in a vacuum — is something that a lot of foodies miss. If you're using food to fill up an empty spot in your soul or your social life [laughs] and you're collecting these experiences so you can bludgeon people with them online, then clearly there's something distorted there...But anyone who genuinely enjoys food or cooking or even just likes eating as part of a larger picture — because they like people and like drinking and like talking and communicating — that's why the meal's so great, presumably. Most of the time it's because it's fun. It's pleasurable. It's part of a larger social contract. Great meals, more often than not, can't exist in a vacuum.

If you needed further proof of this, consider Roger Ebert's words in today's New York Times. Ebert can no longer taste or smell and, following extensive surgery, eats vi a tube. But, says the article, "what he longs for most is the talk and fellowship of the table. 'The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss.'…''

Has The "Foodie" Backlash Begun? [Houston Press]

Comment Of The Day: Suck It, Foodies [SeattleWeekly]
Anthony Bourdain: "There Has Never Been A Better Time To Eat In America" [Houston Press]
Are You A Foodie Or A Foodist? [Grub Street]


Roger Ebert: No Longer An Eater, Still A Cook [NY Times]



This reminds me of my general unease regarding the current gourmet food phenomenon. Websites like show off the myriads of websites dedicated to making food in unusual combinations and unique ways, in addition to upper-stratosphere ingredients to simple foods like cookies, or oatmeal. And it's all so beautiful and exotic and. . . wasteful. And while I'm REALLY not the person who tries to guilt anyone with a modicum of money, something about all the excess makes me uneasy.

I once joked to some friends that my great grandmother must have had the same perplexing choices about what to make for dinner: potatoes? Or some potatoes? With a loaf of bread? And once a week - meat or chicken? But then again, she lived in Russia. And somehow, we don't consider a meal to be worthwhile unless some macarons are showing up at the end of it.