I identify myself as a “foodie“.
There, I said it.
I identify with a word that brings about utter loathing in a few people lately, but the loudest seems to be a certain book reviewer from The Atlantic this month.
I say I am a foodie because I enjoy cooking. I enjoy trying new things, whether it be taking on the challenge of tempering chocolate, mastering a gluten free pizza crust, or simply trying new flavors that I haven’t combined together before. I enjoy going out to nice restaurants, and drinking wine that is meant to be more than a mere vehicle to transform shy people into extroverts over the course of an evening. Currently we don’t have children, we don’t have pets, we don’t go see movies or concerts and the decor of our 50m2 of sacred space is drearily austere and minimalistic. So I don’t mind spending money on quality food, either when eating out exploring a new place, or purchasing ingredients at the market to use when I cook at home. But mostly, I am a foodie because I love how food connects us to each other.
So why all the negativity with the word? Because some people think being a foodie is by definition a state of elitism, resulting in an innate need to push said food-related pretension onto the masses with the zeal of religious fervor. But really, how is being a food snob any different than being a snob about anything else? Isn’t showing off ostentatiously to allow yourself to feel better at the cost of everyone else’s egos the very meaning of snobbery, which has existed in some form, not exclusive to matters of the stomach, for oh I don’t know, several millennia?
Are there people who take the enjoyment of food to religious levels, so much so that their opinions and beliefs around which their worldview of food centers start sounding like a fanatical evangelistic sermon? One whose goal is to either convert the rest of us or at least to try to make us feel very guilty for not “drinking the kool-aid”? Sure there are.
But, as with any group of people, a vast generalization based on a few is never an accurate descriptor of the whole entity. Surely that must be the reason for B.R. Myers’ disdain of all things “foodie”? Else why would one have the need to so incoherently group so many different types of foodie-ism together (I’m sure the author would approve of me adding “ism” to the end of foodie there)? Myers states that gluttony is about “an inordinate preoccupation with food.” If your exposure to the food world is reading about upscale dining experiences and food trends and watch food reality shows on TV (a few of which I will gladly admit I enjoy – afterall, I learned a few tricks of how to successfully cook risotto by watching Gordon Ramsay yell at people on Hell’s Kitchen), then maybe I can at least try to understand the warped perspective a bit. But really, there is so much more to eating than showing off.
Equating foodies with elitism misses the point of celebrating food. For every stuck-up elitist that contributes a bad rep, there’s a family that was saved by cooking and sharing a meal together. Because sharing food is also a way we share and give ourselves to each other. Because the experience of eating food isn’t about the taste alone. No, eating food is a deeply social and emotional act, whether you plan for it to be or not.
Many of my best memories growing up were about an event in which food was involved, and much of it wasn’t fancy gourmet. Enjoyable food comes in many forms; it can be a sophisticated gourmet version of mac and cheese to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, or it can be a simple trip to a local restaurant for ice cream as a child with my grandmother before she was taken by a long and arduous fight with leukemia. No elitist gourmet food snob would think that particular restaurant served the best ice cream ever, but if I go “home” back to where I grew up and order some again, I’m not tasting just the flavors of the ice cream; I’m experiencing all the great memories I had with my Meemaw. Magically she reappears in my mind, a smile on her face, telling me she still loves me and everything will work out. However, taste is an ephemeral thing and does not last forever. But I know if I go back and order that ice cream the next time, I’ll be reminded of her again, even if she wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of my thoughts when I first walked in.
Cooking (and subsequently starting this blog) kept me from going to some not awesome emotional places nearly three years ago. My husband (then fiancé) and I were both in grad school, but had to live 1,000 miles apart for the second half of our doctoral studies. During that time, I had a crazy reaction to a medicine I was prescribed that gave me multiple cases of tendinitis at once, rendering me unable to walk for months. The only problem was that for most of that time I had no clue what was wrong with me, and neither did any doctors that I saw. I could not do lab experiments, I could not walk, I could not even do menial tasks like laundry. My husband was helpless so far away, and the emotional stress of it all tore us down countless upon countless times. Luckily, through the grace of a miracle, my mom and dad were able to take turns living with me and taking me to appointments and tests and specialists, while we all scratched our heads as to what could be the matter. I remember sobbing in tears with the student health office just from the hassle involved in trying to obtain crutches to help me walk. I remember getting pushed out of the way on the sidewalk by people who thought I was moving too slowly and obviously not worth enough to warrant just walking around me. That time in my life pretty much sucked. But eventually, I found the correct doctors and got better, and had the support of some amazing friends. I developed some killer triceps from those crutches (one nice side effect!). My mom took me to the farmer’s market on the first weekend I was able to hobble around enough, where we gorged on the most amazing strawberries I have ever eaten. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever tasted strawberries so sweet. Sharing those market strawberries with my mom was a big part of what got me through that time, emotionally. I dipped them in chocolate. And later that year, my husband and I indulged in strawberries on our wedding night as we told each other, now married, “I love you.”
Strawberries have been a central theme on this blog over the years, and now you know why. For the longest time my avatar on each comment was of those exact strawberries from the market with my mother, because whenever I eat the sweet and juicy little red fruit, the love and support of my family and friends fills me with joy. I don’t worship the strawberry, I just like being reminded of the incredible network of wonderful people whom God has granted me to be lucky enough to interact with in my life. Every time since then that I eat a strawberry, I remember this fact. I like preparing them in a fancy way, and I like preparing them simply – mashed and heated up they make a great topping for French toast. But my favorite may be dipping them in chocolate, just like I did with my mom those years ago. For you see, food is not just about taste and making the newest and grandest creation. Beyond the calories are memories. Emotions. Meaningful experiences that should never be ignored or tossed aside. Those are the important aspects that celebrating food offers us.
You see, being a foodie is not all about elitism, nor is it about forcing political or health or socioeconomic viewpoints on others while society incessantly exalts the ever more grandiose (some foodies may be able to do some good in the world, too – and if more foodies mean more gardens, I certainly will not complain). There is a different side to the story too, where being a foodie is simply about understanding the connection between ourselves and each other, and knowing that food often plays a role in that equation somewhere. It can be as simple as fresh fruit and a little chocolate. Or it can be very complicated with special ingredients. But it doesn’t have to be pretentious to be enjoyed by a foodie.
For Valentine’s Day this year, I spent two hours just preparing a garnish of a dessert I was making for my husband, orangettes. So much care and patience involved in peeling and slicing the orange peels, candying them, melting and tempering the chocolate (without a thermometer, mind you), then dipping them into the chocolate, all to be just a tasty garnish on the dessert I had made. Why would I labor that much over mere food? Because it’s how I tell my husband I love him. Some people write cute notes or make mix CDs (ok, I’m showing my age there, but don’t you remember doing that in high school?). Moi, I cook. I’ve always thought that food was a form of poetry, and the more I cook, the more convinced of this I become. Just as art or a novel or a fashion choice is a statement of expression, for me food is that medium. Sure I made a fancy dessert. But my husband would’ve been equally happy if I’d made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It’s not really the food that is the end-point, it’s the meaning behind it.
For you see, food is culture. How we form and evolve our relationship with food has a profound effect on our outlook of everything else. Many many ordinary non-elitist folk have deeply meaningful personal stories where food is involved in some way. Maybe Myers is right, and the seeming “worship” of food that the author seems to take such issue with is really an expression of society’s need for living in the moment, a little escapism from the harsh reality of the turmoils of life. Or maybe, it’s the very idea of what a foodie is that’s all wrong.
To me, a foodie is just someone who enjoys good company with others around a meal. Now where is the need to be so vitriolic about that?
Orangettes, adapted from Giada de Laurentis
- 2-3 oranges (depending on their size)
- water for first 2 boilings of oranges
- 150g water
- 225g sugar**
- beans from 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
- 200g dark chocolate, melted and tempered (or at least enough chocolate so that you can easily dip, maybe more/less depending on size/shape of your bowl)*
*if you use dairy free chocolate, this recipe can be dairy free.
** palm sugar works fine in place of regular sugar as well
- With a sharp knife, slice an “x” on the bottom of each orange, only cutting through the skin. Then carefully continue the lines down to the other end so that you have portioned the rind into 4.
- Carefully peel the rind off of each orange, and lay flat on a cutting board to slice it into parallel thin slices, about 1 cm (3/8″) wide
- Boil the rinds in enough water to cover them, about a minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Repeat boiling, draining, and rinsing. Remove from pot.
- Add the 150g water and 225g sugar to the pot, along with the vanilla. Let come to a boil and then add in the orange peels. Bring down to a low boil and let cook for about 15 minutes.
- Use tongs (because the sugar/water will be very hot) to remove the peels and let them cool on parchment paper.
- Once cooled, dip one end (or all of it, your choice) in chocolate and then let cool. Garnish on your favorite dessert, or just eat and enjoy with a friend.
I am also using this post as my submission to GAHIGF, whose theme this month is all about love potions & charmed foods. Being a foodie is about love of food, love of family, love of friends, love of flavor. Not necessarily in that order, but all of it charms me and warms my heart.