In this Washington Post article, “Why Being A Foodie Isn’t Elitist”, Eric Schlosser argues that “foodie” is not an elitist term. Schlosser believes that thinking and talking about food actually challenges the corporate elite who own the nation’s food systems, and is therefore not elitist. His article is terrific and I couldn’t agree more, but I’d go one step further and say that we need to reframe the language surrounding food in this country. We need to dump the word “foodie”. Today in this country, there is the foodie and there is the rest of America. It is the rest of America that is going to change food.
“Foodie”, by my definition, is a person for whom food and drink are a hobby (in a good way). These people devote a good amount of time, money and effort to chase the latest hot ingredient, hip cocktail or heirloom vegetable. They will wait in line for charcuterie. They will drive an unreasonable distance for wood fired pizza. There is nothing wrong with this person. I have done many of these things. For the “foodie”, epicurean thrill seeking is a fun past time for people with a good amount of time and disposable income on their hands. Which is fine–they have fun and it supports small-time chefs and artisans, which is fantastic. There is nothing wrong with this person (OK fine, I am one).
The trouble comes when the label “foodie” is slapped on any person that is thinking about, or questioning, the food that is being fed to their family. Let’s face it, most Americans are not “foodies”. Most people I know work, and raise children, and have a lot of things to do other than find small batch bourbon or the perfect piece of lardo (again–yummy, but not something most people have time for). But there is a growing movement in America–people are starting to ask some serious questions about the food supply in this nation. I know a lot of mothers that don’t want to feed their families GMOs, or pesticide laden fruits and vegetables, or ground meat with dubious “pink slime” tucked in there for filler. People are beginning to wonder why there are high fructose corn syrups, additives, stabilizers, flavorings and colorings in virtually everything. Families are looking at the huge rise of diet-related disease in this country and beginning to make the connection between the worthless non-food on the grocery store shelves and the problems of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in this country. Articles are being written about the lack of transparency in our nation’s food system, and people are asking questions. Are these people “foodies”? No. These people are thinking people, independent Americans that are starting to get the idea that we are all eating simply to generate corporate profit, at the expense of our family’s health.
My other problem with the word “foodie” is the implication that unless you are the full-time food and beverage gourmand, you aren’t really a cook and aren’t really authentic. My mom is the perfect example. When I was growing up, she cooked everyday. She made chicken stock, and tacos, and tuna noodle casserole and carrot salad and rice pudding and really good banana bread. She cooked fresh, simple, honest food. These days, in our current food celebrity culture, she says things like “I don’t really know anything”, which kills me! She does know. She knows plenty. A lot of mothers know, or are trying to learn, the basics of real, simple home cooking. One does not have to be a “foodie” to feed a family well.
Because the word “foodie” can be dismissive and diminutive, it is the perfect label for these giant corporations to throw around. It implies that anyone questioning the food being served to them is an elitist, a privileged, annoying (probably liberal!) upstart that is speaking out of turn. In my experience, quite the opposite is true. I know people of all age groups, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions, that are starting to be really interested in the idea that agribusiness has sold us up the river. It is time for a back-to-the-basics approach, time to get away from the aisles of processed crap and disgusting meats and filler and flavors and junk that is killing people. People are finding their kitchens, and their gardens, cooking more basic, simple food and trying to create a more wholesome diet for their families. Are these people “foodies”? No, they are my next door neighbor and my mailman and my doctor and my running buddy. Will they wait in line for lardo or spend thousands of dollars on wine next year? No, but they are rediscovering a simple, wholesome diet that we have forgotten in the last several decades. They are changing America’s food landscape. Are they foodies? No. We need another word.