What Makes A Foodie?

Do you like food? Are you a douchebag? If you answered yes to both of these questions, guess what? You’re a foodie.

 

Just kidding—well, sort of.

 

Although Urban Dictionary is not the most reliable source of information, I believe that there is always a little bit of truth in every stereotype, even those that are as extreme as this one. A more proper definition might be that a foodie is someone who has an avid interest in the latest food fads (“Simple Definition”), or someone who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages (“Foodie”). Clearly, there is no simple answer to the seemingly simple question: what is a foodie? The word has become somewhat of a buzzword, appearing casually in publications surrounding food like Bon Appétit Magazine, autobiographies by acclaimed chefs, or spoken effortlessly out of the mouth of a twenty-something who can’t stop posting photos of his or her food in Instagram.

 

Food has always been important to me, and over the past three years I have been able to turn this general liking into something that I am passionate about—maybe even something I will do as a permanent career. As confident as I am that food is something I am interested in and maybe even my “thing,” since I am often the go-to meal planner for my friends or always on top of the latest food trends, I can’t help but doubt in my potential status as a foodie. I know that my relationship with food is not the same as when I first discovered that I loved it for more than just the taste, but how, truly, has this relationship transformed? It also seems that simultaneous to my growth in connection to food, society as a whole experienced a shift as well. Food was not always as “cool” as it is today, and the majority of people did not care about it as much as they do now. Entire companies, organizations, and publications have been created that are based solely on a love for or interest in food, not to mention food’s heightened presence on social media with trending hashtags like #eatingfortheinsta or The Infatuation’s infamous #EEEEEATS hashtag. I can’t help but feel like my growth into a foodie occurred alongside our culture’s growing interest in food, and I believe that the latter may have influenced the former.

 

Appetizers: Where Every Meal Begins

 

Arguably the best part of any social gathering or organized meal, appetizers offer a little bit of everything. I can think of my early years as a food enthusiast as just this: a tasting. Although I didn’t know it at the time, food was one of the most central aspects to my life. But just as these small dishes are soon forgotten about by the time the waiter brings the check, it seems I have forgotten just how much my childhood did revolve around food—just in very different ways than it does now.

 

Ask me how I spent my Sundays growing up and I would tell you Bruegger’s Bagels for breakfast and Taco Bell for lunch, without fail. I might forget to mention that my two older brothers and I attended religious school in between these two meals, probably because that was the last thing on my mind at the time. Ask my mom what I inquired about every morning before middle school and high school, and (after a long sigh or maybe a reluctant smile) she would tell you she heard the words, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” each day before 8am. Maybe that’s why she eventually started telling me the meals for the entire week on Sunday nights, or why she would soon adopt the routine of asking me what she should cook and to then accompany her to the grocery store. Now that I am responsible for cooking my own meals nine months out of the year, I understand how annoying this probably was—sorry, Mom.      

 

What I’m trying to convey is that I could easily detail my entire childhood solely based on food. Did my dad ever make dinner instead of my mom? Of course, and he would always make rotisserie chicken. My memories of family vacations are marked with my dad handing me the Zagat guide book for that particular city and asking me to pick out a place that looked good to me. I lived for this. Reading through each restaurant’s description was like reading a new fairytale, as I learned about the “exquisite fine dining” or “sleek atmosphere” an establishment provided. Even when we were at home in Cincinnati, I looked forward to the Friday and Saturday nights when my family would go out to eat, which I now realizes were my mom’s favorite since she didn’t have to cook those nights. No wonder they quickly became part of our weekly routine.

 

First Course: I Could Get Used To This

 

When I was a sophomore in college I was struggling to find an extracurricular activity to be involved with. Looking back, it’s crazy to me that this is what brought me stress two years ago, as I have accumulated additional, not to mention much more legitimate, sources of stress ever since. Regardless, when I first opened an email from a member of my sorority and read the words “Write about food!” across my phone’s screen, I couldn’t keep my eyes away. Spoon University—a new online food publication for college students—was starting a chapter at The University of Michigan, and the email was informing us that they were looking for writers to join the staff. At this point, I probably liked food more than the average person. I enjoyed trying exquisite dishes and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, helping my mom cook, and browsing new recipes online in my free time. But for some reason, these actions did not feel cohesive, as I did not yet identify as being any sort of expert food-lover.

 

I applied to join Spoon—though reluctant of both my knowledge of food and writing skills—and ended up earning a spot as a staff writer. As the weeks went by I enjoyed the opportunity to write about things I was truly interested in, for example a review of a favorite restaurant on campus or the idea behind people wanting to always Instagram their meals. I was proud to share my published work, and with each approved article idea or complement from my editor, my foodie confidence started to grow. Being a part of Spoon offered a form of validation—my interest in food actually had a purpose, with articles and the resulting pageviews and praise to show for it.  

 

Writing for Spoon evoked a spark of passion that manifested in many other ways. I didn’t just produce content about food. I began seeking out other publications’ articles, looking up menus at restaurants in cities I had never been to, and effortlessly taking photos of every meal to add to the “Food” album I created on my phone. I jumped into any conversation surrounding food, arguing that yes, “sandwiches” is a legitimate favorite food to have and no, Zingerman’s Deli is not overrated. I loved my newfound identity as an official food-lover, and I know that I have Spoon to thank for helping me realize this initial zeal.

 

Second Course: The Real Deal

 

As much as Spoon helped me realize my passion for food, I am no match when it comes to some of the other foodies out there. The term “foodie” is often interchangeable with “food snob,” as the group of people who first pursued food as a legitimate cultural entity were often of a higher culture—older, white, and affluent (Idov). More recently, a food snob could be characterized by the need to always be eating the highest quality and most unique yet popular, or even elite, foods. They embody a high status and expect that same high status from the food they eat. Similar to this is what one food journalist calls “foodieism,” or “the need to belong to a special club, with a language all its own” (Miller). This club is based upon a fetishizing of food, and a “pissing contest” of who can know the most about food or eat better than everyone else (Miller). Essentially, there is a side of foodie-ness that revolves around the notion that eating well means eating expensively, therefore creating a sense of cockiness that leaves others feeling bitter toward this group of “experts.”

 

But there is another side to foodies that is worth mentioning. The millennial generation has become especially accustomed to food culture, and food has transformed from something only for the elite—like the opera or golf—into a legitimate hobby that is often marked as hip or cool (Idov). There is now a sense that finding the most obscure restaurant or dish is the mark of ultimate success for a foodie, which is perfectly exemplified in the sushirrito (a sushi and burrito hybrid) and ramen burger (a hamburger with a bun made of ramen noodles) that have exploded in popularity. Being well-versed in food does not necessarily mean you are eating the most expensive or exquisite dish. It may very well be that you are eating at a run-down hole in the wall—but man, do they serve the best fried chicken and cocktails. Technology has played an important role in millennials’ relationship with food, in that we are a generation of constant digital connectivity, leaving plenty of opportunities and endless outlets in which we can share our latest food-related endeavor.

 

These two sides of foodie culture share plenty of similarities. Most foodies tend to know a thing or two about food, and are not shy about voicing these facts as well as opinions. A foodie lives to eat, and does not just eat to live. So whether you wake up in the morning already thinking about what you want to make for dinner that night, or can’t pass up an opportunity to document your delicious and beautiful meal, you could easily be categorized as a foodie. This seemingly strict identity comes in many shapes and forms and ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide whether or not they believe they are a foodie.

 

Third Course: A Little Too Full

 

After two years of writing for Spoon I transitioned into the Editorial Director position, which is just a fancy term for editor-in-chief. I stepped into this role amidst a minor downturn in our chapter’s success—think low involvement from members, a lack of new content, and a mediocre-at-best presence on campus. The entire first semester of my senior year was spent brainstorming, implementing new ideas, talking with our advisor at Spoon HQ in New York, canceling those new plans, and then it was back to the drawing board. We spent this time trying out a lot of different tactics, for example accepting over 100 members although in the past we’ve had around thirty. To put it nicely, I was not a fan of this idea and I voiced this to our advisor many times.

 

At this point in the meal, I’m full—I’m over this. As much as I hate to admit it, my love for food somehow had become a job that I resented. The idea of being in charge of Spoon was always my dream, but this reality was not what I imagined it to be. My days were often spent struggling to think of a way to make our meetings efficient or increase member involvement, and my nights were sometimes spent on the phone with my brother in tears, asking him what he thinks I should do. He kindly reminded me that such is life, and I will probably have to deal with similar if not the same type of struggle with an authority figure when I graduate and enter the “real world.” Regardless, it seemed the one thing that enabled me to discover my love for food in a serious way was now one giant to-do list, and a constant source of stress in my life. Forget the food aspect, all I could focus on was running a successful publication.

 

Dessert: Finding The Sweetness Again

 

There are over 150 chapters of Spoon, and throughout first semester Michigan reached a ranking of around #25, at best. It is now mid-April, and our chapter stands at a solid #2 across all other Spoon chapters. To say I am thrilled would be an understatement, but it would also be an understatement to say that this was a small feat. Yes, our chapter is extremely successful and even being recognized nationally for the articles we have produced and pageviews that went with them. But the sweetest part for me was that I am no longer blinded by the drive to make everything the best—one way or another our members have stepped up and I can truly say it was their creative ideas and unique articles that brought us to this position. Throughout the stressful meetings and minor breakdowns, I lost my passion.

 

I now realize that I love food for more than just the fact that its interesting or “cool.” Identifying as a foodie gives me a place, a community in which I can exist and feel like I belong—surrounded by others who feel exactly the same. I know that I love food, but the simple act of calling it my passion and truly believing in this fact is very rewarding. From there, I think there is a cyclical effect. I consider myself a foodie, therefore I seek out more “foodie-like” opportunities and knowledge, thus adding confidence to my identity claim. The fact that food is a legitimate entity within our culture adds to this cycle, in that I am constantly exposed to books, photos, articles, objects, and events that are all geared toward the one thing I love. As I make my way through the struggle that is the job search, I can’t help but gravitate toward food-related companies. The idea of working within food culture for the rest of my life has sparked probably the highest level of excitement I’ve felt in a long time, and that is something I just can’t ignore.

 

Leftovers: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

 

Some people claim leftovers are the best part of the meal. And me? Well, my love for food will always be a part of my life. Whether or not I continue to incessantly take photos of my food or Google search “best restaurants in Portland,” I know that my passion for food will still manifest in one way or another. That’s the thing about this distinct group of people: what makes a foodie isn’t just the fact that they like certain things or act in a certain way. Believing in your identity as a foodie can take you a long way, and I believe it is how you connect with food—in one way or another—and thus love it that makes you a foodie. I can’t wait to see where this meal, arguably the best meal of my life, will take me. But I know the left over feelings of excitement and passion that I have acquired over the past three years will never cease to exist inside of me. It’s amazing what one Spoon can do, isn’t it?

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

“Foodie.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 11 April 2016.

 

Idov, Michael. “When Did Young People Start Spending 25% of Their Paychecks on Pickled Lamb’s Tongues?” New York Magazine. New York Magazine, 25 March 2012. Web. 11 April 2016.

 

Miller, Laurel. “Dropping the F-Bomb: Why ‘Foodie’ Needs to Be Struck From Our Lexicon.” The Huffington Post. HPMG News, 25 January 2014. Web. 11 April 2016.

 

“Simple Definition of Foodie.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 April 2016.