What Is a Foodie?

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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12 Responses to What Is a Foodie?

  1. deirdrereid says:

    I have always felt a bit funny about that descriptor. I’ve met so many people who describe themselves as foodies, go to tastings and dinners, watch the Food Network, yet don’t like cooking. Huh?

    Maybe it is because I was an insider for well over a decade (restaurant manager and later pastry shop cook) and never would have even thought to describe myself as a foodie, food was my life and living. So I guess I still have that mindset. Unfortunately my current budget doesn’t really allow me to be in the ranks of those who buy the $12 piece of cheese or $6 jar of chutney, I wish. But at least I can read about it. Time to go thing about dinner…

  2. burgeoningfoodie says:

    I feel like you do actually. I like learning about the history of food and what roles it plays and has played. How is it evolving and yet staying the same? I think I’d like to be an insider, but couldn’t do the time or would lose my love for those that work in the industry or provide us with produce. I gave myself the nickname you see because I thought it gave a sense of never coming to an ending. Never being an actual “foodie” and like many food professionals (I’m sure) learning that there is still more to learn about what you may think you already know about.

    Foodie to me does take a somewhat negative connotation in the ways that you mention. Also it reminds me of something I’m trying to avoid being and that is a pseudo intellect or braggart. I don’t do well with bullshitting so whatever I have to contribute to a conversation will either be a naive question or my own experience. Although I do get a little starstruck when I see a chef who can run a tight kitchen and put out amazing meals regardless of price or fame.

  3. SF says:

    What kind of pie did you eat today?? Humble Pie, maybe? I am proud of you for defining what a foodie is and for admitting that you are one. I never think of a foodie in a negative light. I think they bring to us non-foodie folks an educational approach to food that enlightens and inspires us. You call us to also pay attention to what we cook and what we eat and where we go to pay money for someone else to cook for us and serve us. I worry about the obsession part because it is probably more healthy to not obsess about food, but as long as you are not a FOOD SNOB(which can occur with any foodie I imagine)you are okay in my book. It seems to me at the end of the day that food obsession, Dean, is your hobby. You play a little golf and a little basketball, but bottom line, Food is your chief interest in life besides your family(I hope).

  4. The Gourmez says:

    I think the problem comes in when we start ascribing behaviors like trying to earn more notches on the foodie bedpost to all foodies, or saying that someone’s not a true foodie if they don’t cook for themselves or try to learn everything there is to know about the history of a food–some foodies do all the previously mentioned things but plenty of others don’t and saying a foodie must do any of those things makes it a pretentious label, thus garnering the negative connotation the term often has. For me, being a foodie is simple: A person who loves exploring tastes, combinations, and cuisines to the point that it becomes a hobby.

    That about covers it for me.

  5. It’s okay, pal.

    You’re in good company!

  6. Food is an avocation for me. Is it an avocation for you?

    “Foodie” is what comes from the problem of trying to give everything a one or two syllable label that can be described in a 30-second soundbite.

    I am somewhat label-phobic. People think that once you have named a thing you have put that thing in its niche and you don’t have to *think* about it. This is why when people ask me if I’m a democrat or a republican (can you see the fnord there folks, let’s just reduce their choices to one or the other, make them think it’s their doing, and then shove them in that pigeon hole) I tell them that I’m a totalitarian anarchist.

    There are two kinds of people in this world: people who divide people into two kinds of people; and people who don’t.

  7. James says:

    This reads an awful lot like the guy at Comic-Con who looks around and thinks “Man, what are all of these nerds doing here? None of them are as cool as me.”

    You are what you are – a foodie. If you don’t like the way many foodies carry themselves or act, work to change the behavior and perception of the foodie from the inside. By your own admission, you are not nor ever will be a chef or a restaurateur. That means your peers are other foodies, not industry insiders. How many of those foodies that you so disdain walked away from conversations with you thinking “That guy thinks he’s better than us b/c he knows a few insiders and thinks he’s got some more noble motivation than we do, but in fact he’s exactly the same as the rest of us?”

  8. dmwcpa says:

    As a member of Slow Food for maybe 15 years, and the Southern Foodways Alliance for 10 years, I consider myself an advocate for local foods and beverages.

    I do not consider myself a groupie. I do enjoy attending Slow Food events, and meeting others who appreciate the craftsmanship of small local producers of food. This includes farmers, ranchers, preservers of farm animal breeds, chefs, cooks, wine makers, brewers, members of the media, and consumers.

  9. Jeff says:

    To me, “foodie” is a term that describes a great variety of people who take more than a passing interest in food. There are many subsets of foodies, some intersecting, some not. One subset is that of “food snobs”, which for some people, unfortunately, is synonymous with “foodie”. I think Dean is just trying to point out the distinction, and declaring himself outside that particular subset.

  10. PTuorto says:

    I agree with Jeff. The term foodies has become almost more of a fad than anything else and with many self-titled individuals. But unlike most fads that contribute almost nothing to society as a whole, the “foodie revolution” can do nothing but help the current market and raise awareness for fresh, honest food.

    As for inside and outside foodies, I completely agree with you Dean. Having always worked in restaurants prior to my professional career I can say with experience that chefs, servers, and restaurant owners do not consider themselves foodies…it’s what they do, they don’t need a label.

  11. Varmint says:

    The reason I wrote this piece was because I was at times feeling like, as James wrote, that guy at Comic-Con. I tried to convince myself that I was different than other foodies, when that’s probably not the case at all. I don’t like the label, and some foodies get on my nerves, just like I get on others’ nerves, so it’s no big deal.

  12. Chops says:

    Part of the problem Dean is the foodie that cooks vs. the foodie that does not. As a foodie that cooks it is hard for me to take someone seriously when they are talking about food, but they don’t actually cook anything. I could care less if people cook or not, but it seems strange to be given or give yourself a label of “foodie” if you have never used an appliance other than the microwave. Ruhlman wrote a good piece on home cooks and what label they should have. Either way arguing about this is great, becuase that means we have a reason to be called a foodie.

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