Don’t Call Me a Foodie

By on Sunday, July 18th, 2010

foodie: (pronunciation: \füd-ee\)
Etymology: from Middle English fode
1: one who appreciates food (archaic)
2: food snob
3: dilettante who knows little about food but insists on imposing their opinions on others

I love food. Eating it, cooking it, learning about it. Sometimes, I even get paid to write about it. By most definitions that would make me a “foodie.” But when people call me that, my jaw clenches. It’s like nails on a chalkboard or seafood drenched in cheese. A repulsive and unholy sensory experience. An Ennio Morricone aria sung by Celine Dion.

“Foodie” is a casual descriptor, ostensibly neutral. One Sunday morning a couple months ago, I tweeted about how much I loathed being part of the genus “foodie.” To my surprise, my fellow food nerds tweeted their agreement. Here I was, thinking of myself as a bold contrarian only to discover that I was not alone. In fact, I was in the vast majority.

The New F-Word

Among many food geeks I know, “foodie” is perceived as a slur. Just as no bona-fide hipster (insert pale, skinny, ironic, androgynous, American Apparel-wearing stereotype here) would ever label himself as such, no food writer worth her weight in Hawaiian red sea salt would willingly wear that badge of dishonor. What’s with the “Scarlet F?” As @theminty elegantly replied: “I am really a food geek but the term foodie is more easily understood. I’m a little surprised how much the word is despised.”

“Musical subcultures exist because our guts tell us certain kinds of music are for certain kinds of people,” Carl Wilson writes in “Let’s Talk About Love,” his brilliant dissection of taste, identity and Celine Dion (once again, I find myself circling back to Mme. Dion). “But music never stops being a badge of recognition,” Wilson continues. “And in the rhetoric of dismissal…we bar the doors of the clubs we don’t want to claim us as members.”

Food is the new rock and roll, right? Swap out “food” for “music” and Wilson’s assertion hits closer to home. Is my contempt for the word “foodie” so shallow that it rests on the most transparent kind of elitist bias? On setting myself apart from — and above — a certain type of food fanatic?

From the Horse’s Mouth

A few years ago, I was at a birthday dinner sitting at one end of a long table with a lot of people I didn’t know. They were perfectly pleasant, except for That Woman. You know: Loves to ask your opinion so she can explain Why You’re Wrong. She was chatting with my friend and I about food, but what started as a casual conversation quickly became a denunciation (then abrasive, now funny) of anything we liked.

With deadly seriousness, she leaned in to inquire, as if administering a pop quiz, “Are you foodies?” My friend flashed me an incredulous look. “No,” he deadpanned, “we just like to eat.” It was far more polite than what he wanted to say. For her, this conversation had stopped being about food before she ever spoke to us. This conversation was about identity — and she was desperate to prove hers was more authentic.

On some level, I feel the same way about soi-disant foodies as I do about straightedge punks. I respect the belief system but not usually the people who proudly identify as such; there’s something unseemly about wanting so badly to hang your identity on a readymade hook. Besides, they’re mostly humorless.

The notion that “labels don’t matter” has always struck me as woefully optimistic or utterly impractical. My own pan-hedonistic, post-everything ethos makes me skeptical of words that attempt to encapsulate a zeitgeist. Consider the following: preppie, hippie, yuppie, yippie, plushie. Have such subcultural diminutives with cutesy -ie endings ever not evolved into pejoratives?

On the one hand, “foodie” implies earnest, unironic fandom, the kind of culinary charlatan who has “an interest in food but no knowledge or creativity,” as @TriceraPops tweets. On the other hand, it suggests an expertise that’s often unearned. Labels like foodie or hipster have become so broad that they increase our prejudices while decreasing our knowledge, ultimately saying nothing about the people they supposedly describe.

So What?

On the first accusation: Yay! In an era largely devoid of guilty pleasures, sincerity shouldn’t be the last one. As to the second charge: So what? It’s easy to forget before any of us was someone who knew a lot about something (Peruvian cuisine, Chevy small-block engines, French-Canadian chanteuses), there was a time when we didn’t. I can theorize all I want about how I am knowingly redefining my identity by appropriating a “label” and recontextualizing it from outside the parameters of a particular set of culturally assumed values… Ultimately, it comes down to whatever words we like best.

So you can call me a food geek, a glutton, a fresser. I suppose you can even (sigh) call me a foodie. (Just don’t call me late for dinner.) Sure, it’s a milquetoast slur, unquestionably inadequate and meaninglessly expansive. But my jaw now unclenches when I hear it. I don’t let it spoil my appetite.

Written by Elina Shatkin

Elina Shatkin is West Coast editor for Toque as well as restaurant critic and staff writer for LA Weekly. Shatkin was a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and has written for a variety of publications in print and online. She's the co-founder of the incipient food blog Guzzle & Nosh.

22 Comments

  1. I enjoy cooking and eating
    and all that it entails. (searching
    for good recipes, creating some of my own, shopping and the
    preparation) What I really enjoy is sharing it with family and friends. What I do not enjoy is being judged by a food
    “snob” who wants to put me in a
    particular category. I judge my
    success by observing whether or not it wa a “fun” experience for
    all who participated.

  2. oakley says:

    I like to eat. I like to cook. And I occasionally blog about what I eat and cook. You can call me whatever it’s not going to change my love for food and cooking. Labels don’t really matter to me on this one. :)

    That’s right, Elina. You can’t eat if your jaws are clenched. Relax and enjoy the feast!

  3. Tony Pierce says:

    LAist alumna doing well! RT @loislane79: @elinashatkin's piece in @ToqueMag on why "foodie" is the new f word http://bit.ly/dAcbnf

  4. Foodie: The New F-Word a.k.a. "How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Not Gag at the Word Foodie." http://bit.ly/bA2BXn

  5. sarah j. gim says:

    i hope i get there, too RT @elinashatkin: The New F-Word…How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Not Gag at the Word Foodie http://bit.ly/bA2BXn

  6. Alicia says:

    RT @ToqueMag: Don't Call Me a Foodie http://bit.ly/dAcbnf

  7. Tony Pierce says:

    RT @thedelicious: i hope i get there, too RT @elinashatkin: The New F-Word…How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Not Gag at the Word Foodie http://bit.ly/bA2BXn

  8. It was just pointed out to me, maybe the way some gluttons hate "foodie" is like how some Star Trek fans hate "Trekkie" http://bit.ly/bA2BXn

  9. Should you stop calling your friends foodies? RT @thedelicious @elinashatkin: The New F-Word… http://bit.ly/bA2BXn – a great new food mag

  10. Is "Foodie" an f-word? New Toque post: http://tinyurl.com/2f9nwc5

  11. etkotite says:

    Is "Foodie" an f-word? New Toque post: http://tinyurl.com/2f9nwc5

  12. RT @toquemag Is "Foodie" an f-word? New Toque post: http://tinyurl.com/2f9nwc5 /I don't see what the problem is w the word foodie…

  13. Don't Call Me a Foodie http://bit.ly/buUhJz by @elinashatkin

  14. Katie Stork says:

    Don't Call Me a Foodie from @toquemag http://bit.ly/b4wWwm

  15. RT @toquemag: Is "Foodie" an f-word? New Toque post: http://tinyurl.com/2f9nwc5

  16. Food lovers, do you hate being called a "foodie" ? What does everyone think? http://cot.ag/b1Yc3r (via @toquemag)

  17. Elizabeth says:

    I really don’t see the problem with the word “foodie”. People like to classify others and this is the term they choose to describe all food obsessed “food nerds”.

    Really the problem I think most people who hate “the word” have, is with being labelled. Get over it. Labels are everywhere and they will never go away.

    I LOVE food, live it, breathe it, write about it and dream about it. Call me a foodie, a food nerd, whatever. I am also obsessed with local and organic so I also get the “hippie” label. Doesn’t bother me one bit. I am who I am and a silly word will never change that.

  18. Chef Tony says:

    GREAT post…for some odd reason, I’ve caught myself even just using the word in conversation and getting p*ssed off because usually a self proclaimed “foodie” is nothing more than someone who has figured out what a myer lemon is, or subscribed to Gourmet and has to plaster the nomenclature on him/herself to feel more self important…like most things, SHOWING you’re intense about food (and by the way, that can include making the perfect PB& J in my opinion) is way more impressive than TALKING a good game.

    Intensity/passion/submission to any topic has it’s own built in respect.

    Keep the conversation going….

  19. Oakley Boren says:

    @pfont @nazkey On the "foodie" subject, @elinashatkin wrote this @toquemag in July: http://trunc.it/apd3k

  20. [...] critics, fans and “foodies” have tried to wrap words around Michael Voltaggio‘s cuisine. But the only way to truly [...]

  21. Kate Wilson says:

    Oh right, Espetada. But wrong again, Foodie/Food Nerd totally distinct. http://t.co/OcFXPj7 RT @callsignvector: Same thing?

  22. [...] SPACE CHALLENGED FOOD LOVERS HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE Don’t Call Me a Foodie by Elina Shatkin for Toque and the banter in the comment section, summarizes just about every [...]

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