Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Foodie: A Four-Letter Word (with two extra letters)

If you are reading this blog (either of you) then the chances of you going to a restaurant these days without first enlisting the services of yelp, chowhound, citysearch or a similar website are slim. With so many individual reviews, from people just like you, you’d be foolish to risk wasting your hard earned (or stolen) cash staring at a plate of subpar grub in a joint with questionable sanitation practices.

This is 2010 (or 3008, if you listen to Fergie) and for every restaurant you want to visit, someone else has already been there. Not only have they been there, they have told their friends and family about it, they’ve made a Picasso picture album documenting the experience, they have posted images on Facebook with witty captions, posted even more select pics just for those special friends who are not going to think less of them for doing the things they were doing in said pics and, not least of all, published a detailed review of the restaurant on their blog and/or one of the afore mentioned sites (this all happens regardless if the individual tweeted about the place before, during and/or after going there). So for one to go blindly would not only be dumb, quite frankly it seems like it would be next to impossible to do.

Having all this information at our fingertips has created a new wave of experts. These experts get alerts on the hippest restaurants in their inbox every morning from Tasting Table, Thrillist and Daily Candy just to name a few. After patronizing a few of these recommended establishments and padding their vocabularies with the latest ingredients du jour taken from uber-hip menus that boast the latest cutting edge dishes prepared with classic French undertones, these folks feel ready to take on Food Network’s biggest and brightest. They watch Anthony Bourdain and his global culinary misadventures and fantasize themselves in similar experiences. Bobby Flay seems to speak to them as he plucks baby octopus from the sea and grills it for use in a classic paella with a Greek twist. When frying up a batch of chicken, they find words dripping from their mouths with a slight twang `a la Paula Dean. But nothing brings them together like their shared condemnation for Rachel Ray.

So who is this they, you ask? This they is the foodie.

Foodies refer to themselves as foodies. It is, in sorts, a badge of honor bestowed upon them by none other than themselves. However, one must not look for this badge pinned on the foodie’s chest or sleeve, as it is not the badge that gives the foodie away; it is the foodie’s mouth (or fingers if a foodie is typing) that gives the foodie away. For the foodie will surely tell you that he or she is a foodie. All you have to do is wait for it.

Why is it folks chose to label themselves “foodies?” Does by somehow labeling oneself a foodie, give one’s food opinions and adventures more credibility? Does the foodie proclaim his status so that he or she may be thought of as the room’s authority on all future food conversations? Or does the foodie just possibly truly know everything there is about food?

No, the foodie usually knows very little about food.

The word “foodie” was first used by New York Magazine writer Gael Greene in a story published on June 2, 1980. How this word came to replace "gourmet" as the word of choice for one-who-likes-food-and-stuff, can be attributed to Paul Levy. Or at least claims Levy in his 2007 article on guardian.co.uk. Levy, co-author of The Official Foodie Handbook, claims he first used the word in mockery and then others utilized it to replace the pretentious word “gourmet.”

Though now the unpretentious "foodie" has taken on the pretentiousness of its predecessor.

Now I am not claiming that foodies are palate-ly challenged. In fact, each and everyone of us has different tastes and for that reason new and exciting dishes are constantly being created. This keeps the food universe, well, new and exciting. We know what we like and what we don’t. And that is good. I would never belittle someone for their tastes (Yes, I would. But for the purpose of this blog I’ll pretend that I wouldn’t….I’m looking at you Marshmallow Fluff lovers), but I would and will belittle them for not making their tastes their own.

Foodie’s know the restaurants they are told to go. Foodies know what they are told is good. Foodies know trendy dishes. Foodies know how to check restaurants and popular dishes off their lists of places to try. Rarely do foodies really know food. And if they do know a thing or two about food, they know enough to not call themselves foodies.

I’m not claiming that restaurant reviews by the average non-professional food critic aren't helpful in guiding a person toward a pleasurable dining experience. Nor do I claim that there aren’t times when that 5 star review by foodlover1975 on yelp.com isn’t spot on. But please dear foodie, understand that it is okay to not like a place everyone else is digging. Or the opposite is fine too; dig a place that no one likes. You won’t lose your table cred for it, I promise.

When I meet new people and inform them that I am both a cook and author of a nifty food blog, I am often met with, “So, with you being a foodie…” This makes me hurt. If I didn’t rely on cooking for my livelihood and didn’t need these folks to visit my food establishment and oh-so-clever blog (and click on the ads!) I would give them my diatribe regarding the use of the word. But I do, so I don’t.

Though it does make me wonder, does writing this blog and reading countless others, make me a bloggie?