Ditzy Food Yapping

I suppose I’m as guilty as anyone else.

No, I take that back, I’m not.

I’ve loved everything to do with food and cooking since I was a young thing (see user pic), but I’d like to think that I’ve never bent anyone’s ear about it, that I haven’t bored anyone to death with minute details of a dish I’ve cooked, or eaten. Or that, to the outsider, all I seem interested in is food.

That’s hard, as someone who is a food writer and has worked in restaurants and done catering. It’s my job to be obsessed with food.

But there’s a line where it becomes obnoxious and ruins the fun for everyone else.

Maybe it’s some kind of early-adopter elitism, the idea that those of us who have been involved in something for a long time know more, do more, deserve more than the newbies. Or maybe I’m just too much of a cool-ass curmudgeon to enjoy someone else’s enthusiasm over discovering something new.

But the keeners (aka “foodies” [said with a derisive sneer], or “foodiots” according to The New York Observer) are ruining it for the rest of us.

Permit me a non-food-related parallel. I once taught a friend to knit. I’ve been knitting since I was 5 years old; had even considered a career as a knitwear designer. So sharing the joy of knitting with this friend, teaching her the techniques, was a delight. But once she got the hang of it, she became obsessed. Knitting was all she talked about. She’d email me at least once a day to talk about some new yarn, wood versus plastic needles, how to draft a pattern… She joined and eventually became the moderator of a knitting usenet group. When she learned to knit on circular needles she made everyone in her family – including her father – arm warmers. It got to the point when I began avoiding her because all we ever talked about was knitting; yarn, her latest project, knitting books. It began to suck my own enjoyment out of the hobby and I put my own needles away for many years because this girl had ruined the experience for me.

Foodiots have done the same thing.

The Observer piece alleges the fault lies with Facebook and Twitter – technologies that allow us to instantly tell the world what we’re doing. But since most of us live boring little lives, what we’re having for dinner quickly becomes the most exciting thing we have to tell the world. Blogs certainly contributed to this as well, but at least with blogs there was some expectation of effort – actual writing, hopefully a nicely shot and edited photo.

(To offer full disclosure, at TasteTO we often tweet pics of food from events we’re attending, but this is usually at the request of the event organizers to help promotion – ie. as media sponsors of Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel, part of the deal is that we mention the events on Twitter and the TasteTO Facebook page.)

Most interesting about the Observer piece is the reaction from the original ChowHound, Jim Leff.

Leff points out that his original intention with ChowHound was not to bring attention to what he calls “Big Shiny Things” but to promote little hole in the wall finds with really great food. ChowHound was never meant to be about top chef artisanal this, or super expensive imported that. It wasn’t supposed to be all about the dick-waving of who could hit a hot new restaurant first, who who could sport their “foodie” credentials by comparing a locally-made product with the original – on the Ontario and Toronto Chowhound board there is a never-ending line of dickheads who try out every new bakery that offers macarons and insist that they’re not as good as the ones at Laduree in Paris. (Of course they’re not, you bunch of numbnuts – it’s different almonds, different eggs, different sugar, even different weather… shut up and eat them already!)

Which is where the foodiot part comes in. Listen up people – just because you LIKE food, just because you EAT food, doesn’t mean you KNOW food. I’ve seen more misinformation spouted by the foodiots on Chowhound than I can believe. I don’t know a single food writer, chef or thinking and coherent person who would take advice from anyone on that forum, and those that do usually end up ruing the day they did. Hell, most chefs, food writers and thinking and coherent people I know of don’t even bother to read the Chowhound forums anymore because it’s become overrun with wankers who consider themselves experts.

Even worse is the expectation that all food lovers have something in common. Everyone in the world has to eat – hopefully 3 times a day. Which means that a shared interest in food really isn’t a true basis to build a friendship on. We may both love strawberries, but the likelihood of us also sharing the same politics, taste in music, or interest in 1950s pin-up girl art… may not be there. It’s fine to be able to share a table and break bread with other people who are really into food (in my job, I do it regularly), but I’m not going to call up that elderly wine merchant I met the other night and see if he wants to join my husband and I at a rock concert. So the idea that I’m supposed to be friends with other people who are online and are into food (ie. food bloggers) is disconcerting, particularly when they’re obviously “foodies” or foodiots (of the “Big Shiny Thing, dick-waving, gotta be the first to try a new place” variety).

As a food lover (not a “foodie”), I enjoy Swiss Chalet as much as a dish of pasta with lobster and truffles. I prefer hole in the wall places where the food is cooked up by someone’s mother over some glitzy restaurant where it takes weeks to get a reservation. Today, instead of attending the Slow Food picnic and fighting my way through 1200 potential foodiots to try samples by local top chefs, I went to the health food expo and tried amazing new products that will soon hit health food store shelves. Because I’m truly interested in all of it, not just the high-end, local, pedigreed stuff.

There’s no question that food is important, fun and interesting. And our culture’s obsession with food isn’t a completely bad thing – at the very least, it means we have the opportunity to eat better than we did only a few years ago. But all this endless discussion about what we’re eating has to stop. It’s tedious, it’s boring and it sucks the fun out of the process for everyone (even, I suspect, the foodiots themselves).

As a final observation – think about what we’d be like if we spent as much time obsessing about the food coming out of our bodies as we do about the food going in. No, really, think about if you had a friend or co-worker who, instead of vividly describing, photographing and writing about his every meal, did the same for his every bowel movement. And think about how much of a turn-off that would be.

Kind of puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

It’s just food, people. Yes, you do it three times a day, and yes, whenever possible it should be a sensual, even spiritual experience. But the rest of us don’t necessarily need to hear all about it.