Questions About Being a Foodie

“More lemony than toasty, more refreshing than overwhelming.” That was description of a wine that I read on a recent wine list. I always enjoy scanning wine or cheese lists and reveling in the absurdity of the adjectives. Did you know cheese can be “subtly earthy” or “mildly musty”?

I’m not a foodie. I gorge myself at buffets in Las Vegas, order my In-n-Out Burgers animal style, and say with total truthfulness that my favorite drink (alcoholic or non) is clean, pure water. So long as it’s not spicy, I’ll chow anything down the tube — from sushi to seafood.

Maybe this will change. Maybe someday I will sniff a glass of wine with an air of knowingness and pronounce it “oaky”, or ask for my meat done in something other than “medium rare”. Until then, I must study the existence of foodies from afar, pondering their self-satisfied ways, admiring their slow pace with the fork, and resisting my temptation to finish off their half-eaten steak.

Questions for the world:

1. Are some foodies fakes? Do they claim to deeply appreciate fine food and wine for the same reason that many people “love” art and the opera and high culture generally, that is to signal wealth and sophistication?

2. Do you have to be rich to be a foodie? Fine wine is expensive, no question there. Fine restaurants are also expensive. And buying healthy, fine food from the supermarket may at times be more expensive than processed, frozen, unhealthy, unsophisticated groceries.

3. Should parents cultivate an appreciation of fine food in their under-21 age kids? I’m not a foodie probably because I wasn’t raised one. For me growing up, food was introduced mainly as fuel. Joanne Wilson on the other hand, a self-confessed foodie, says on her blog that her kids are food snobs.

4. Is being a food snob analogous to being a literature snob or a music snob or a refined consumer any other type of cultural product where you devote extra energy and derive extra appreciation? Or is it different because food and wine cost real money? After all, you can’t rent food from the library or listen to food continuously on a CD.

All this being said, the social pressure is getting to me. I found myself savoring the different kinds of cheeses for breakfast in Vienna the other week. And don’t forget that I took a cooking class in Florence last summer. Keep. Hope. Alive.

12 Responses to Questions About Being a Foodie

  1. Not a Foodie says:

    Are some foodies fakes? Do they claim to deeply appreciate fine food and wine for the same reason that many people “love” art and the opera and high culture generally, that is to signal wealth and sophistication?

    Yes. And I suppose that “true” foodies look down on the poseurs in their midst, much as hardcore classical music buffs do at the PBS totebag crowd.

  2. First of all, most of the people I know who are really passionate and knowledgable about fine food would rather eat dust than label themselves “foodies”. When someone calls themselves a foodie, I often find that they want people to think that they have some special, sophisticated tastes and ideas; when confronted with someone who actually does, the charade becomes all too evident. (I’ve seen this a lot with supposed wine experts.)

    You don’t have to be rich to appreciate food, because expensive restaurants are just one of the many places you can find good eats. Maybe your corner deli sells the best corned beef in the city, or the cheesemonger in the next neighborhood makes a damn fine wheel of your favorite cheese, or the nicest farmer at the weekly outdoor market brings you fresh fruit like nothing you’ve ever tasted. Good food is all around, if you look for it.

    As for kids, I’m firmly of the view that they should eat no differently than their parents (with obvious exceptions for the sodium restrictions and similar dietary guidelines for the very early years). To paraphrase Nigella Lawson: If I shred good quality, fresh Parmesan over my pasta, why should I expect my child to eat sawdust-like stuff that comes from a plastic drum? It’s not like you’re dressing your kids in tutus and forcing them to speak French if you give them good food from an early age.

    Most snobbery is, at its core, pretty dickless. I wouldn’t teach my children to be snobs. I’d be most proud if they could appreciate a stadium hot dog with the same sort of enthusiasm as they would the best chocolate in the world (from L’Artisan du Chocolat in London, believe it or not – beats anything in Belgium or Switzerland).

    Don’t try to be a “foodie” because you feel social pressure. Just try to enjoy the food you eat because…well, it’s fun! No need to ruin it with the influence of self-described snobs.

  3. annette says:

    I have a hard time understanding foodies, too. Food is food, why make such a production out of eating a meal, especially when some people in the world are starving?

    That said, I’m still a big fan of TV cooking shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef. I suppose someone has to be around to judge the chefs’ creations. But mostly I always end up thinking how much better of an impression I have of the chefs than of the people who judge their food.

  4. Enjoy it all! says:

    Don’t fall to the pressure:) I do like certain “sophisticated” foods, preferably ones I make more because I’m picky and it’s cheaper. I also have 2 young boys who have tried and enjoy various, more sophisticated flavors such as goose liver mousse pate or gruyere cheese. We’ve found that out through trial and error of just offering it when we have it, not force or pressure. But the other thing is that we all like our burgers and fries, too.

    Most times when I’m trying to buy wine (I only like sweet white wine) at either a store or restaurant, I am told that I will eventually develop into “the superior status” of those that enjoy red wine. But I don’t, and I don’t want to drink red wine just because I feel like I’m supposed to.

    Try new things just for the fun of it. If you like it-great! If not, that’s great too, because now you know something else about yourself. It’s all about enjoying yourself in this aspect of life (and getting some fruits and veggies in)!

  5. Toli G. says:

    I’m definitely a foodie, but for the practical reasons that I enjoy it as part of quality of life. I try to be conscious of everything I eat. Many times I get a high by eating. I will try anything at least once.

    Csikszentmihalyi (Flow): “A cultivated palate provides many opportunities for flow if one approaches eating – and cooking – in a spirit of adventure and curiosity, exploring the potentials of food for the sake of the experience rather than as a showcase for one’s expertise.”

    Good one.

    Then he goes on to add: “A fanatical devotee of food is just as boring to himself and to others as the ascetic who refuses to indulge his taste.”

    Right!

    Also, there is a whole industry that caters to people who like to eat cheaply, which in many cases, is synonymous to eating smartly.

  6. Matt says:

    I agree with Jackie Danicki’s comments. As someone who really enjoys food, I find “foodie” is almost always a synonym for “poseur”, and is often coincident with “joyless critic.”

    The ponderous language is a tricky issue, however. It can be (and often is) an arrogant illusion of discernment. But the language is a response to a real problem. When you experience the miracle of perfectly-sweet corn, or the accomplishment of an impeccably-balanced sauce, how do you share that with others but through imperfect and vague language?

    As for cost: not only can inexpensive food be great (see street food), but with the wealth of cookbooks available, it’s possible, with enough planning, effort, and experimentation, to experience at home some of the sophistication you would expect from an expensive restaurant. I started cooking five course meals as a way to promote conversation among friends and provide a memorable, distinctive experience. It’s not often people these days spend three or four hours at a table. The cost-per-head? A value meal or two.

    As for food and wine appreciation being similar to other forms of cultural appreciation: The two are similar in so far as the techniques employed are cultural artifacts, and additional knowledge and experience helps reveal the makers’ art.

    The appreciation differs in this: food and wine are elemental. They are expressions of life, distillations of landscape and climate, and in that sense, given. For me, a humble appreciation of food and wine is part of expressing thankfulness for life. As you note, the experience is fleeting. But I think that makes appreciation–and the memory it imparts–all the more valuable.

  7. Krishna says:

    I can stand a food / wine buff so long as I am not famished and it’s (s)he that picks up the tab :-)

    The negativity of culinary intelligence gets awkward when such product awareness (so long as it’s not what you do for a living) borders on snobbery where the truly simple and unsophisticated can no longer be simply enjoyed for what it is. The names of dishes on restaurant menus parade the provenance of ingredients like a badge of honor – give me a break; how much do I need to know?

    If I taste something that excites my buds, I get its recipe and turn a connoisseur – strictly need based. Tongue should spur the mind and not other way round. Sadly it’s the labels that matter more than the food itself – expecting, believing, already half accepting them to be all that they are meant to be.

    That which we call a rose by any other name may well no longer smell — and more to the point, taste — as sweet.

  8. I’m definitely a foodie. For several years, I was the restaurant critic for San Francisco magazine.

    Of course many foodies are “fakes” — superficial poseurs who don’t know much about where food comes from, and the glorious traditions associated with it, but have memorized a list of snobbish terms that they throw around to impress their friends: “artistinal,” “extra-virgin,” and so on. But many self-proclaimed snobs of anything are poseurs: Mozart fans, litterateurs, jazz buffs. People can turn anything into an empty exercise in proving their own superiority.

    But there’s nothing stupid about taking food very seriously (with a huge slice of good humor). It sustains our lives, builds community, comforts the soul, and offers magnificent opportunities for creativity and self-expression. Understanding where the food you eat comes from can help you understand your own culture, economy, and geography.

    But at the same time that I can tell the difference between good and bad wine, and prefer home-baked bread to Wonder, I know that the very best kind of food snobbishness is the kind that appreciates the most simple, nourishing foods over elaborate expensive overwrought productions. I can enjoy a sweet organic carrot (like one I had yesterday) as much as a sublime bite of raw-milk Morbier. One of the reasons I quit being a restaurant critic was that I came to hate eating out so often.

    Being a foodie, however, does have its occupational hazards. I’m fat, and my love of jazz never made me fat . So it’s good to encourage in kids a love of exercise as well as a love of food.

  9. Jeff Maurone says:

    Hi, Ben. When I read this post I had an enormous amount of thoughts. Many of those thoughts have now been recorded by others in the comments above. But a few additions…

    Jackie’s comments are sheer perfection. I find it fascinating how much we tend to seek identity with some group or level of intelligence. To say “I am a foodie,” is to ignore the fact that the world of food is the world of humanity. Everywhere there are humans, there is a unique set of ingredients, cooking styles and local flair. It’s impractical to think that one could sample enough of these derivatives to classify oneself as an expert on food, as someone calling themself a “foodie” might hope to do. I think a love of a food is a pursuit of a different experience on a multitude of levels: the food itself, the environment of the restaurant, the style of serving, among others. All without regard to price or what that experience can do for you in those social situations when everyone around you seems more cultured, which brings me to…

    The relationship between price and food: It’s true that some of the finest meals I’ve had have been followed by enormous bills. At the same time, there are sandwich places in Philadelphia for which I’d travel hundreds of miles for a sandwich that costs eight dollars. It’s all about the experience and price isn’t the indicator of a unique culinary experience. The experience is. Paying more for a meal only enables one to feel better about eating food that not everyone can afford.

    Finally, there’s the notion of “poseur foodie.” Once again, I think this comes from tendency to seek identity with a group. Learning words like artisanal and extra-virgin may make you feel more comfortable talking to others that have taught themselves the words artisanal and extra-virgin but it won’t increase the joy you find in food.

    If you find fun in traveling to a new city just for the sake of its food, then by all means do it. If it’s just social pressure, then learn words like artisanal and extra-virgin.

  10. lacey says:

    I think there are a lot of factors that go into being a foodie. I grew up eating junk food and eating fast, never learning to actually taste food… it is not in our culture. After years of traveling and nutrition study, I learned to focus on food and have a connection– being a foodie is about being able to pick up on the subtilties of flavor and have an appreciation for where the food came from. I have been spending the last 5 months eating local in deep France… and I tell you, nothing tastes better than your own home grown lamb, raised organically and self slaughtered… for me being a foodie is having knowledge about how the meal made it to your plate as well… but when you are connected to the process, I believe your palate expands as well!!

    I could go on and on on this one, Ha!

  11. My passion for ridiculously good food started well before I could afford it, and even before I had ideas about how to try to cook it. As with anything, love what you love because you love it, not in order to talk about it.

  12. Chris Yeh says:

    Appreciating fine food doesn’t have to conflict with being a no-brow cheapskate like me.

    If you enjoy eating food that tastes good, then why hassle over the exact vocabulary that you use to describe the experience?

    Personally, I can’t stand the madness of wine afficianados who use flowery, fruity language to describe wines. But I had tasted fine wines and cheap wines, and I can definitely tell the difference.

    It’s madness to say that all food is created equal. It’s not. But it’s also crazy to insist that there’s only one way to appreciate good food.

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