The term “foodie” is so generally retch-inducing that it regularly starts flame wars at blogs like Serious Eats, and, despite having lots of friends and family members who are great cooks, I don’t know a single person who would dare label their hobby or themselves with the simple, but loaded, term. Okay, I can think of one person, but truth be told, he’s kind of an irritating elitist who does things like sigh if you serve him bottled salad dressing.
Jessi Klein’s Daily Beast post “Foodies Give Me Indigestion” humorously puts its thumb on what bothers people so much about foodie-ism as a culture:
I’m sick of the foodies who need every morsel that goes into their mouth to be a Picasso painting, a Giacometti sculpture, a Proust novel, evoking the world with each crumb. Foodies who need everything to be caramelized, sauteed in a blabla reduction, nested in a bed of shredded whatevers, served with a mushroom top hat and a julienne of leeks that have been knitted into a sequined scarf.
Just like intellectual elitism, there’s a spirit of “better-than-thou-ness” embedded in a foodie’s ramblings about which Asian market he’s purchasing chili garlic at this week, but unlike intellectual elitism, being a true foodie is more tightly linked to economic status. While anyone can rent the Criterion Classics or check out the latest Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek at their local library, the sparsest meal at a Mario Batali restaurant is expensive, as are the ingredients for this delicious-sounding and prep-heavy Bon AppÃ©tit menu for an “AprÃ¨s-Ski Supper for 8.”
The origins of the word “foodie” are recent, though not as recent as I had imagined–Paul Levy of the UK’s Guardian stakes a rather personal claim to the word’s introduction, which happened in 1982, when an anonymously written article called Levy out as the epitome of an obsessed, gluttonous “king foodie.” Levy actually edited the article, which was published in a magazine which employed him, and would go on to co-write The Official Foodie Handbook (1984).
However, American (USA! USA!) Gael Greene, food critic for New York magazine, first used “foodie” in print all the way back in 1980. So I guess she and Levy will have to duke it out using only their knowledge of wine and cheese pairings and, should things actually get physical, a pair of rosemary-rubbed, grass-fed, French-cut baby lamb chops in a mint pesto sauce, or something.
Despite Levy’s and Greene’s appropriation of the word “foodie” as a positive, inclusive alternative to the truly ghastly “gourmet,” “foodie” is currently suffering a dip in reputation so severe that Urban Dictionary now defines it thusly:
A dumbed-down term used by corporate marketing forces to infantilize and increase consumerism in an increasingly simple-minded American magazine reading audience. The addition of the long “e” sound on the end of a common word is used to create the sensation of being part of a group in isolationist urban society, while also feminizing the term to subconsciously foster submission to ever-present market sources.
There’s a nicer definition on UrbanDictionary that actually has more “thumbs up” than the above, but it’s also two years older.
There’s a lot of truth in this stinging rebuke–in addition to being somewhat exclusive, foodies are also now irredeemably trendy, part of a widespread marketing campaign to convince people they need stone-ground flour, steel-cut oatmeal, and hand-carved cheese pyramids (I ran out of off-the-top-of-my-head examples).
So has “foodie” irredeemably jumped the shark? Will we have to invent something entirely anew, erring on the side of the totally descriptive and non-cutesy? Do I need to start referring to Jacques Pepin as an “eater” or Francois Simon as a “stomach filler”?
I’m not really sure. I’m uncomfortable with “foodie” because of its connotations of elitism and wealth (including money and leisure time), and because of the odd stench of consumeristic greed and weirdness that seems to waft away from it. I’m not sure that stench is ever going away.
But those of us who like to cook and eat and bake, without necessarily availing ourselves of all the hip nomenclature (“rustic,” “artisanal,” “alfresco”) or even the very best ingredients, should take heart, because that great equalizer, the Internet, means practically anyone who enjoys food can learn more about it and claim ownership of the term “foodie.”
I don’t subscribe to Bon AppÃ©tit, but I do read their blog and I’ve even made a few recipes off their site in the past week. I made a delicious, simple, and relatively inexpensive (canned) tuna linguine dish, and a pretty terrible vegetarian chili . Lesson learned: if you don’t like beans, a fancy chili that requires you to fresh-squeeze orange juice will not make you like them.
In addition to the usual suspects of Bon AppÃ©tit and Gourmet, RealSimple‘s collection of online recipes straddles the fancier magazines and the recipes you find on the back of the peanut butter jar. And AllRecipes is still my go-to for basically anything I don’t already know how to make–the rating system is surprisingly accurate, the helpful reviews are a great place to look for tips on cooking technique and what substitutions worked for other people, and I dig the whole “populist” vibe.
Additionally, there is a whole, vast sea of blogs that are committed to sharing delicious recipes on the cheap: BrokeAss Gourmet and The Cheap Gourmet are really good, and there’s another awesome blog I can’t seem to find right now, which is similar in that the woman blogger makes good, whole meals out of primarily simple, inexpensive, easy-to-find items. And it’s delicious.
I also think that, the more we, as a country, start prioritizing health and eliminating food deserts, people from more walks of life and economic strati will be able to embrace good food and good cooking. Then we can all be foodies–and if we’re all calling ourselves the same dumb thing, we can’t feel weird about it!