What Is a Foodie?

August 17, 2010

Anyone who knows me even peripherally understands that I’m obsessed with food.  I think of food the way many a college sophomore thinks of sex — it’s always on my mind to one degree or another.  When I’m finishing one meal, I typically start thinking of the next.  Most everyone I know would consider me to be a — egad — foodie.  But to tell you the truth, I hate being called that, even if the label fits.

There are several traits of a foodie, and although I fit many of them, I still try to convince myself that I am not a foodie.  First of all, a foodie is not an insider.  If you work in the food industry, as a chef, cook, restaurateur, bartender, farmer, supplier, wine vendor, or food writer, you are not considered a foodie.  I don’t know why that is, but I have come to learn that folks within the industry never get tagged with the label, “foodie.”

Foodies are the groupies of the food industry.

Foodies are typically chef sycophants and individuals who like to brag about how many Michelin-starred restaurants they’ve been to, adding notches to their belt with each new place.  Essentially, they love to say, “Look at me!  I ate at Alinea and Per Se and Ko (and yes, I got into Ko 3 times last month).”

Most foodies I know take a very clinical approach to their food.  They analyze it, obsess over it.  They want to photograph it and post it on Twitter.

Foodies love to get together with other foodies to share their war stories.  Sometimes they bring a dish to show off some really cool ingredient or technique.

I like to cook, even to the point of showing off.  I like to talk about food.  Some of my best friends are chefs or food writers.  But for some reason, I just don’t like calling myself a foodie.  My self-denial is driven partly out of arrogance, that I’m somehow better or more insightful than others.  But I’m not really.  I’m no different than all those other individuals at the Tweet-ups and farm-to-fork potlucks.  I can try to convince myself otherwise, but I’m just being delusional.

I’ve learned over the years that I don’t particularly love hanging around most other foodies.  I can talk for hours with chefs and food writers, but when I start talking with another food groupie, the conversation often comes quickly to an end.  Sure, I have lots of friends who are foodies with whom I can talk all day, but I struggle conversing with the vast majority of foodies.  Is that me, or is that them?

One distinction I try to make in distinguishing “me” from “them” is that I want to have greater knowledge of food and its place in society, whereas most foodies merely want to have more culinary accomplishments.  For instance, I know foodies who have gone to culinary school, and I think some of them did that simply so they could say they went to culinary school.  On the other hand, I know a handful of folks who went to culinary school to truly learn what the industry is about. This might be a completely bullshit distinction, of course, but it might have some merit.

Ultimately, I think that I’m the type of foodie who deep down wants to be an insider, but with the sad realization that that will never happen.  I will not be a chef or a line cook or even a bus boy.  I will not be a restaurateur.  I will not be a food writer.  But I want to have the knowledge of those people and to be treated like a peer, rather than a groupie.   I try to convince myself that I’m not the type of foodie who likes to rack up gastronomic merit badges, just clinging to the insiders in order to show off to the world.

But once again, I’m probably fooling myself.  And at the end of the day, what difference does it make?  I like food.  I like making it.  Studying it.  Eating it.  I like understanding the sociology and history and evolution of food and cuisine.  I like bullshitting with insiders, and I like showing off my skills to everyone.  Hell, I even write a food blog to say, “Look at me.”

I guess, when it comes right down to it, I’m gonna have to live with being a foodie after all.  Dammit.


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