Please don’t call me a “foodie”

For that matter, please don’t call yourself or anyone else you know a foodie.  I am really intrigued with why we think we need to define some subset of people for taking an interest in their food.  It seems to me that simply being interested in food isn’t that interesting and doesn’t necessarily mean that ones interest in food leads to good ends.  “Foodie” not only falls far short of telling me much about a person and their relationship with food, but it also seems to suggest some kind of status that comes with eating out a lot or watching the Food Network.

I mean, we all eat.  All of us.  Every single one of us.  Most of us in western culture struggle in varying degrees with our relationship with food.  Michael Pollan has documented this well in his books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  The fact that we take interest in our relationship with food and perhaps even toward improving it should not make us a clique, it should make us human in the best senses of the word.

The other day I was talking with my mom after a weekend when we had gone to both Pizzeria 712 in Orem and Settebello in SLC for phenomenal pizza.  I was telling her how I had almost involuntarily grunted with disgust when someone at church suggested Papa John’s as an ideal choice for an upcoming activity.  My mom cautioned me about being a food snob and thinking that I am better than others.  My response was that I want everyone to know what good pizza is.  I think that everyone should get to eat good pizza and good food in general.  I don’t look down on people who eat Papa John’s, but I just don’t want them to miss out.

Why should we have a good relationship with food?  Well that’s a broader question than I can adequately address here.  However, I’ll give some superficial bullet points:

  • Our food connects (or can connect) us to the land, to our community, and to the life that we are a part of
  • Food plays an essential role in how we define ourselves culturally–we eat this, not that
  • Food and eating are part of traditions of community.  They define religious rituals, festivals, family gatherings, etc.
  • Knowing how dependent our food is upon the earth, the sun, and those around us provokes an appropriate humility and invites us away from individualism toward community

There is a lot more to say than I’ve said here.  The point is that having a healthy relationship with food is not and shouldn’t be anywhere near as fashionable as the word “foodie” seems to indicate.  I say, let’s eat delicious food that promotes our health and the health of the place we live because we are humans and that is good human living.

I really want to hear your comments

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8 Responses

  1. One of the things I’ve only recently considered is how what you did or didn’t eat defines you religiously (e.g., no meat on Fridays). Mormons have the word of wisdom, with the potential to really define us as a culture, but unfortunately, we only take it serious when it comes to alcohol and tobacco.

    So, imagine a world where Mormons had some very literal interpretation of the verses that generally get skipped: that would make for a very peculiar culture, but one that certainly would define Mormons in very distinct way. It’s too bad that we as Mormons don’t take the word of wisdom more seriously then we do, for the reasons that you mention in this post: it would define us, connect us (both to each other and to the land), and teach us a little something about creation (e.g., the seasons, regional climate, etc).

    But religion aside, I think the fact that American culture lacks this relationship with food speaks not just about food but about our relationship with each other and with our country. In fact, this post could probably be a lot more political then you mean it to be. But, this is a food blog, so I’ll stop there.

  2. I agree with the importance of having a good relationship with food. As a dietitian I’ve worked with a lot of people who had terrible relationships with food. I think that a lot of people don’t appreciate the art of growing and preparing your own food and don’t recognize quality differences in food. BUT on the other hand…. having kids changes everything. Your food preparation time is gone, your “customers” have become picky (“what’s this green stuff?”) you would NEVER take them to any nice restaurant with quality food because they would waste it, spill it, scream at it, then throw it up. Pizza for us is a 5$ Little Caesar’s pizza because that’s what Ian likes. (I do occasionally make it homemade as well). And I just turned around from the computer to see that Ian has just eaten 3/4 a jar of homemade jam. I guess he appreciates that at least! Food has become a constant battle in our house, exactly what I didn’t want it to be! Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

  3. Thanks for the comment Wendy. I always apreciate a good dose of reality. I hope Ian liked the jam. That just cracks me up.

    When I was a kid I liked just about everything except for kidney beans and canned peas (still don’t like ’em).

    When I went in for major surgery at age 7 I had to fast for 24 hours before so my stomach would be empty. For my last meal before fasting the nurses asked me what was my favorite food, expecting me to say hot dogs or pizza. Instead I said, “Artichokes.”

    They got funny looks on their faces and then one of them asked me if I had any other favorite foods.

    I replied, “Do you have any shrimp?”

    Maybe if I had had Ian’s iron will I would have gotten it too, but they suggested a hamburger and that was that.

    I also have great memories from last October when I was back at home in L.A. for my sister’s wedding. My (then) 1 1/2 year old niece Katelyn and I went around my mom’s garden picking tiny cherry tomaties and eating them right off the vine, each tomato met with an emphatic “Mmmmmmmmmmm” from both of us.

    I’ve also fed her M&M’s and jelly beans, don’t get me wrong. But my starry-eyed idealistic side hopes that kids can appreciate good foods, however simple (and inexpensive) they might be. And it sounds like Ian knows good jam when he tastes it.

  4. while i agree with most of your post, there are a few things i can’t agree with entirely. i think you’re spot on about people’s relationships with food. it really is our most basic connection with the earth, and one of our fundamental connections with our families, religions, communities, etc. however, i’m not so sure i object to the term “foodie,” or rather, i don’t object to the observation that a subset of our culture is more aware of good food and what it stands for than the rest of the population. many people today are raised in a way that they see food as food. a chicken nugget is the same as a chicken breast. a kraft single is no different than a slice of cheddar. honestly, if it weren’t for having read “the omnivore’s dilemma,” “in defense of food,” and “animal, vegetable miracle,” i don’t think i’d appreciate food the way that i do. i had to be converted, so to speak. so, it might be a very human thing to be connected to the earth and other people through your food, but those that truly embrace these ideas are a small enough group at this point in time that labeling that group isn’t an entirely preposterous idea. i wouldn’t mind being called a foodie – i think it says something important about who i am and how i think. i wouldn’t mind if these ideas were universally embraced so that a label wasn’t needed, but that hasn’t happened yet. until it does, i don’t mind being associated with these thoughts by a title like “foodie.”

  5. Good points Shawn. I have to agree that there is some utility in having a label. However, I think that the label “foodie” has been taken to apply to a much broader group than the one you refer to as being small and embracing good ideas about food.

    The way I hear the word thrown around, it seems like people wear the label if they really like watching shows about food or if they eat out at restaurants a lot. Maybe they make complicated recipes. I haven’t heard it used to distinguish people who are concerned about where their food comes from, what is its quality, and how it relates them to the earth and others.

    If a foodie is just here for the food, they miss out on too much. That said, I probably don’t really object to the term as strongly as I have been doing here in this post. I’d probably rather use other labels that have come into recent usage–“locavore,” “beyond organic,” etc. I just think that we lose sight of what’s really important when the label becomes a sign of fashion rather than the byproduct of our efforts at good living and good relationships.

  6. “Foodie” is a term that is thrown around town? I haven’t heard it until I read it on your blog. I didn’t even know I could have an opinion about it.

    All I know is that members of the Wiggins family LOVE food. We love to eat it, cook it, talk about it, research it, and apparently, blog about it.

    Different families bond over different things, but food stands out as out families unifier.

    So now I know that if I want to offend Brady and compliment Shawn, “foodie” will be my word of choice!

  7. The funny thing is that since I posted this all you wiseguys who never thought twice about calling me a foodie think it’s really funny to call me one now. Well . . . I guess it is pretty funny.

  8. If it is disparaging to be called a foodie, what am I if I have grand delusions of being a foodie just like you, Brady? In other words, I’m a wanna-foodie.

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