Both my wife and I were seeking out unusual restaurants and opportunities to try all sorts of regional and ethic foods over 40 years ago, well before savvy marketers started driving up the prices of foods that once were under-appreciated or shunned. Later, when society started catching up with our interests in these things, and the term “foodie” came into the popular vernacular, I adopted the term, thinking it was an appropriate descriptor for me with regard to all things edible.
But it seems to me the “foodie” culture has gone off the rails. Rather than simply celebrating the joy that diverse foods bring to the table, the “foodie” culture, I think, morphed into a means of demonstrating status, intellectual superiority, and economic might. Though I appreciate Americans’ growing interest in a diverse diet, I loathe the manner in which marketers have turned that interest into a “foodie” culture that equates cost with quality and that rewards arrogance and greed. Unique ingredients and the delightful foods that arise with their skilled use are not treasured simply for their aromas and tastes and textures. Rather, they are treated as tools for building economic and social status.
The marketing minions of the “foodie” culture have successfully engrained in the popular psyche the sense that an appreciation of unique foods is the province of the wealthy intellectual elite. Further, marketers ever-so-cleverly suggest it is possible to join this elite class by buying into, figuratively and literally, the “foodie” culture. So, Central Market and Whole Foods Market and the growing legions of similarly-styled culinary temples are awash in worshippers eager to spend their way to greater glory.
Lest you think I am deriding a class of people to which I do not belong, people who have fallen victim to the food marketers’ wiles, I am not. I shop at Central Market and Whole Foods Market, though each time I do I leave feeling as though I have been thoroughly fleeced. I delight in finding sources of unusual spices and I buy expensive cuts of meat and I succumb to the temptation to overspend when I “buy local” from people whose profit margins are so high as to challenge payday loan makers as the leaders of immoral profiteering. That having been said, though, I am working to wean myself from buying from people whose mission in life is to milk every last penny from every possible customer. I would be perfectly happy to buy all my groceries, including those things I now must buy from Central Market or Whole Food, from Kroger or Tom Thumb or (preferably) a local grocer if they carried them. I have no need to build my “foodie” credibility or demonstrate my financial strength by shopping at places whose stock and trade is as much in selling status as it is selling food.
My choices are to either: 1) accept being fleeced and being grouped with those who equate food diversity with intellectual and economic superiority; 2) stop supporting the madness by withdrawing from the church of culinary worship, thereby denying my epicurean pleasures; or 3) seeking out and supporting food stores and restaurants that eschew the “foodie” culture. I’ve made my choice; I’ll go with number 3. By that I mean I will make an active effort to support businesses that make reasonable profits on their products and that do not equate food with social or intellectual class.
I have no objection to businesses making a decent profit. I have no objection to people wanting to associate themselves with others who have similar interests. But I have objections to businesses making indecent profits. And I object to people who attach extraordinary value to status and who attempt to hold themselves out as “better” than others who don’t share their interests or their economic “class.”
It is too bad that the “foodie” movement has morphed into what I consider an elitist social construct with little real connection to the joys of food. Maybe the pendulum will swing back one day. In the interim, I will continue to love trying new and exciting foods from places that have yet to join the “foodie” gravy train.
We do most of our shopping at a local food co-op. We do go to the big Safeway for cat food and wine. After reading some of the words that the CEO of Whole Foods has uttered, I am glad that there’s not one in our small town. If I had to choose a bigger store to shop in, I would go with Trader Joe’s. The only good thing about a food fad is if it improves your health. Otherwise, it’s just another fashion statement, and those are just silly.
Well said, John. It’s never been about socio-economic status for me. It’s been very much about people and places. Getting to know cultures through their cuisines kind of logically follows my background in art, I suppose. Here in Traverse City I shop the co-op, two locally owned groceries, and occasionally a giant supermarket that does a good job stocking organics and some hard to find international items. It’s also about “getting to know the neighbors” — we are fortunate to have so many conscientious farmers in our region!
I remember reading about a shift in preferred cuts of meat that took place during the Carter administration. Previously, hosts of dinner parties had “shown off” by serving only the best cuts to their guests. With inflation and escalating grocery costs, there was a return to the old skill-set that was required to make the lesser cuts taste even better than the best cuts. I had opportunity to play with those skills when I started buying local, pastured beef a quarter steer at a time. The extra time and effort has many rewards!