Down With The Foodie

Yes, as this is a food blog in its essence, one could assign the oh-so-saccharine title of “foodie” to me and what I write about.  The “foodie” is commonly defined as “one who enjoys fine food”, or has an “expressed ardent or refined appreciation for food.” While my intention is not to engage in a blood-boiling diatribe against the abhorrently hollow title of foodie – only a mildly sardonic monologue – I do hope to outline why exactly the foodie/hipster/self-proclaimed epicure/charcuterie expert/home-brewed beer connoisseur is a disingenuous, haughty trend that expresses a disrespect of the food itself, contrary to what the plethora of Instagram posts may say.

Beyond the blatant, annoying rants and social media presence of their amuse-bouche of foie gras (simply diviiiiiiiine, but somewhat of an acquiiiiiired taste), or their recent musings of artisanal doughnuts (doughnuts, not donuts, you amateurs), is a driving force that presents a frightening look into not only what is wrong with the foodie, but the societal progressions of the millennial generation (another bloodcurdling buzzword): the inane emptiness of our interactions and our detachment from reality.

This is clearly an acerbic blanket statement, but I will bring it back into the food realm. Take the Mast Brothers chocolate scandal: bearded blokes from Brooklyn boasting “bean to bar” chocolate. Alliteration aside, this sounds like foodie heaven: Brooklyn hipster street cred mashed up with one of America’s favorite indulgences – sweet and decadent cacao (usually harvested unsustainably and unfairly pillaged from developing Latin American nations, robbing their local economies of the opportunity for any sort of growth – but that’s a different story altogether).

The Mast Brothers took it upon themselves to revolutionize and hipster-ize the chocolate bar. A simple, genius plan to make a pretty penny off of some regular ol chocolate enveloped in a “minimalist chic” wrapper, topped off with a not so minimalist price tag of $10. But this price was justified due to the feel-good, hipster delight of the “bean to bar” approach – “sustainable”, “farm to table” “artisanal” “house made” – the buzzwords flow faster than the line of flannelled Brooklynites in and out of their storefront. But that’s just the thing: these cool chocolate bros were faking it.

It’s funny how much you can get away with by melting down old chocolate bars and reforming them into new shapes and putting on a new wrapper; these boys did to chocolate what you did to your Christmas gift from Great-Aunt Beatrice: repackaged and re-gifted.

They did of course, get busted, and actually now have to sell the chocolate under the premise that they originally intended, and imagine that, it is perfectly mediocre. Looks like they had a sweet run in with the karma police.

This rather longwinded tale into the lumbersexual failure of hipster chocolate delineates PRECISELY what is wrong with hipster food. In our day and age, we are hyperfocused on the image of what we do – if it looks good, it’s good enough. We have even started to become our Twitter personas (hey, @lindsmeow is a lot funnier than the real me). We have time to perfect, arrange, edit, copy and paste precisely what we want to say and display to our peers.

This obsession and downright sickness has manifested itself quite comfortably into the food scene, with abhorrent hash tags like “#foodporn”, “#foodgasm”, #nomnomnom, #yummers, etc. (excuse me while my blood boils). We all go out to eat and see those people who just have to take ten minutes to snap the perfect photo of their meal, staging the dish and silverware just so, getting the best angle to highlight the simply heavenly kumquat relish on their delightfully poached eggs atop their deconstructed Latin fusion eggs Benedict during their #boozybrunch. Quite the mouthful, there, chap.

Hey, I do it. I have more photos of food on my phone than of anything else (except maybe cats and my frightening quadruple chin selfies), but that is beside the point. It is this approach to food that totally misses the point of the food itself, and it has got to stop.

The farm to table movement is wonderful, and I wish that we didn’t have to take a detour from the farm to Monsanto to Wal-Mart to make it to our table, so I am happy to see that there is a growing awareness of where food is sourced and how it is produced and (hopefully not very much) processed. But this is where we fail. Do we, in our own lives, make an effort to know where our groceries come from, aside from what is handed to us by restaurant chefs and the cheeky “Eat local!” sign at Whole Foods?

Even the trusty ol’ Whole Foods adds a middleman to our grocery shopping experience and diminishes the premise of farm to table. During my six months in South America, I marveled at the way my host mom took hours out of her day to buy groceries, and one day I had the pleasure of joining her. We started our day at the feria, an open-air fruit and vegetable market, kind of like our American farmers markets, minus all of the cold pressed juices and turmeric cleanses. We wandered around (well, I wandered around, she knew exactly what she was doing) as farmers from all over Chile yelled to us to buy their produce – fresh peaches, melons, corn, pumpkins, onions, herbs – you name it.

“Señorita, por favor, compra nuestras cebollas, no hay cebollas más baratas, ¡un kilo por 500 pesos!” A kilo of onions for less than one American dollar… you’ve got to be kidding me. But then there was the peaches man, one kilo of peaches for the equivalent of a dollar-fifty. These prices had to be a joke – how do these people make a decent living?

And that’s when it hit me: this, this right here, is the farm to table paradigm that we drool over in the States, our version dripping in pretention and vacuity. We trust that our esteemed chef has taken the time to source their food so we can feel good about ourselves. We have this rosy imagine of some sweet looking farmer man fondling some perfectly round tomatoes and blissfully red strawberries.  “Yes, yes, of course I know precisely where my food hails from,” one might say. But do we actually know?  Better yet, do we truly and deeply care? I’m sure the majority will answer “no.” It usually suffice it to say “it’s organic” or “it’s from Whole Foods.”

The farmers in the Chilean market, fighting for a mere dollar for their crops, exemplify the harsh reality behind the farm to table dream that we ogle at here in the States. These are the people, with their dirt laden hands, with their 6 kids sitting behind their stand, with their wives fanning themselves in the summer heat, selling their onions for mere centavos.  It is these people that need the farm to table, not the angsty wannabe “epicureans” (more on this later).

Sure, there is the Jumbo (yes, it is called Jumbo) supermarket down the street, casting its boastfully ominous shadow over the campesinos, a visible symbol of capitalism looming in the distance. Many people, like most of us, sell out and go here for what else, convenience, but there is a very strong backlash and support of local business from the mamás: the farm to table guerrilla OGs.

After securing kilos upon kilos of the freshest and most delicious produce I have ever consumed in my life (all for under $15!!!!), we head to the panadería to buy the most delightful, still warm (**tingles**) bread that you will ever eat. (Fun fact, Chile consumes almost as much bread per capita per year as European nations like Italy and France). Next, we run to the fishmonger. And then to the butcher. And then to the florist. We finally arrive home, four hours later. Where is the damn Whole Foods when you need one? We could have been home in one hour, tops. Come on, mamá.

But this notion right here is the holy grail: being a foodie is not supposed to be easy. Not everyone who owns an iPhone and posts a photo of their mimosa on Instagram qualifies as a foodie. Not everyone who hashtags #eatlocal and #locavore (kill me) actually eats local! Being a foodie is seemingly easy; you must simply enjoy food, enjoy talking about it (preferably loudly and with an air of arrogance in your voice), and have nicely edited feng-shui social media posts of all of your eating endeavors.

WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong – all wrong. Being a foodie (please don’t use this word, each time I’ve typed it a fairy and a piece of my soul has died) – rather, an appreciator of food, requires a commitment to food. It requires an undying love for the art of food, the craftsmanship behind food and an understanding of complex flavors, textures and combinations. It goes beyond this as well – you must understand and love your food from the moment it was sprouted or birthed; it is a dedication to the life story of what you are consuming.

Often, food appreciation is seen as an entitled existence, and fine food is only for the wealthy.  While saffron and kobe beef may come at a price tag that edges out a large demographic, the beauty of food is its humility: food is a centralizing force that every single human being has to consume. Take it from our wonderful Chilean farmers; there is nothing Instagrammable about the earth underneath their fingernails, or their leathery sun-beaten shoulders. Their tomatoes and cucumbers and onions and apples could be considered “heirloom” to be more sexy, but they are just vegetables as the were intended to be; unabashedly unadulterated by GMOs and idiotic hashtags. They are simply what they are, grown from the earth, offered up to nourish us.

Instead of phony chocolate wrapped up into gaudy and overpriced boxes or our X-Pro filter laid upon our goat cheese bruschetta (bru-SKETTA, not bru-SHETTA, mind you), let us think what it truly means to appreciate food. We need food; it is our basic sustenance, so let us treat it with the respect it deserves. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the hackneyed adage that we are all taught in our childhood. As trite as it may seem, let’s love our food and treat it right, and not give into this hipster/foodie/artisanal marketing ploy disguised under the guise of its wholesome, sunshine-filled, warm and fuzzy shroud.  It is pure bogus and marketing schemes and many of us are dialed in.

Love what you eat, but understand what you eat. We have a right and a privilege to vote with our forks three times a day, as remarked by Michael Pollan, renowned journalist, activist and author of books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, so it begs us to be intentional with how we eat. Food is humble yet noble; we need it to survive, but it also needs us back. We are responsible for the persistence of an honest, wholesome food system and treatment of food. Simply dolloping truffle oil atop a dish is not enough to deem yourself a foodie, much less a defender of fine food.We must make conscience choices to vote for those who labor hours a day to provide us with the food we eat, and not for deceptive mustachioed Brooklynites who sell us empty promises and buzzwords. After adopting this consciousness about our relationship with food, then we can post our shameless food truck selfies.

For more information on the Mast Bros. chocolate scandal and hipster food, please refer to this lovely New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear HERE

For a wonderful podcast featuring Michael Pollan, please go check out “Here’s The Thing” with Alec Baldwin HERE

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