Food, foodies, and jerks
I love food. Mostly I love eating it, but on a good day I’m also capable of taking a great deal of pleasure in cooking. I’m not a natural cook, and I’ll fess up to letting my wife do most of the big meal preparation in our house, although that’s changed a bit in the last year or so. Now I’m responsible for making sure that my daughters are fed before they head off to school, and I do more cooking in the evenings, which means I’m making a lot of things I’ve never made before, and I’ve just started to discover the indescribable feeling of tweaking a recipe and making it really work.
This is a big step forward from the bagels and tuna fish that fueled most of my final year of college, when I finally moved out of the dorms and started making my own meals. My wife will tell you the amusing (and true) story of when she and her roommate took pity on me and started cooking for me once a week. But even then, if I think about it, I showed the first signs of a burgeoning foodie. Danielle ridiculed me for my obsessive-compulsive Eggo waffle preparation, which involved pre-slicing the butter while the waffle toasted, so that it would actually melt when placed on the waffle, and rotating the Eggo in the toaster at least once so that it toasted evenly. To this day, however, she’ll admit that they were the best toaster waffles that she’s ever eaten.
There are two points buried in this story. The first is that foodies do silly things. We keep butter in the refrigerator because it tastes better that way (and because it makes your roommate less likely to steal a pat than when you keep it on the counter), even if it means elaborate rituals like slicing it before our toast is ready (so that it will warm up a little and spread nicely). Sometimes these things are laughable, sometimes they’re alienating, and sometimes we need to do a better job of explaining why we do things than simply settling into a self-satisfied reverie over a slice of perfect toast.
But the second point is that even a frozen toaster waffle can be really, really good. That is, since there’s a certain amount of elitism embedded in any effort to say that there are things that are really, really good, and it’s worth a bit of effort to find them, or make them, or make them in just the right way, being a foodie has a tendency to become associated with snobbery. My favorite food writer is Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten. If you don’t know him from his fabulous (and hilarious) books The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate (both of which you should go buy and read right now), you might just know him from his occasional appearances as a judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. The man is the epitome of snobbery. He writes about how Iranian caviar is actually better than Russian caviar and humblebrags about his near-unlimited expense account. Even his redeeming quality — his humor — is tinged with elitism. (Steingarten was a writer for The Harvard Lampoon in his college days.)
At the same time, Steingarten writes rhapsodically about fruitcake and pizza. And did I mention that he’s funny? (Seriously, you should go read his books right now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)
Because being a foodie — embracing that ridiculous, inherently self-deprecating word over truly snobbish terms like gourmet or gourmand — isn’t about being better than other people, it’s about eating better than you would have if you weren’t paying attention. It isn’t about feeling superior, it’s about pleasure.
We all eat, and no matter how expensive food is, it all gets reduced to the same mush when we chew it. Being a foodie isn’t about rules or evangelism, and if we seem a little OCD at times, it’s only because we’ve found the results to be worth it.
Sure, some foodies are jerks, because some people are jerks. And they’re not jerks because they’re foodies, they would have been jerks anyway. And they should be shunned. Because they’re jerks, and who likes hanging out with — much less eating — with a jerk?
So I hope you come along for the ride. I promise that there will be crab cakes, cheesecake, and funnel cake.
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.