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October 7, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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A Foodie By Any Other Name

At one point in my early teenage years, my parents were certain that I was an emo. My taste in music at the time certainly suggested so, as did my pair of black skinny jeans (only worn once, I might add). Indeed, my family have never been shy about mocking me; gently of course, and usually with good reason. And so it was that several years ago, while we were planning a trip to California, I expressed a desire to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown. In response to my foodie-ish pretensions, one family member declared (these probably aren’t the exact words they used, but it was ages ago, okay?): “There’s no point travelling somewhere just for the food: you just shit it out anyway.”

They had an interesting point. At a fundamental level, what is the point of being a ‘foodie’? The existentialist in me wants to say that there’s no point at all; like all existence, it’s meaningless, pointless. The act of eating leads only to temporary, physical pleasure as the food is mashed up by our teeth, and fulfils a desire which must be sated again and again, every day for the rest of our lives. In that sense, eating is much like its fellow pleasure of the flesh, sex: fulfilling a never-ending, ultimately futile urge, but nonetheless an essential activity for the survival of the human race. However, we don’t describe enjoying good sex as “pointless”, because you just orgasm (or don’t, as the case may be) at the end anyway, or because you may have to clean up afterwards, so why should enjoying good food be any different? Fleeting, sensual pleasures are the most satisfying, and certainly the most poetic—“At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth, / Like to bubbles when rain pelteth,” as Keats would say. (Don’t worry—I’ve never read any Keats either.)

Sadly, literary airs aside, Urban Dictionary’s top definition of ‘foodie’—“A douchebag who likes food”—isn’t too far off, a lot of the time. Consider the person who seems to instagram their every meal, no matter how mundane it is; or the food-and-travel-bore who will loudly complain, of a perfectly good bowl of phở, for example, that it’s ‘just not the same’ as it was on the street in Hanoi. You may know someone like this. No one likes these people. These connotations are part of the reason why the term is so reviled by many. In addition, there is the ghastly word itself: the ‘ie’ at the end so infantilising, so cutesy, so goddamn twee. But what other catchy name is there for people who really care about good food? I remember the Stuff.co.nz food blog, The Omnivore, once suggesting ‘foodster’ as a less “cringy” alternative. Slightly better, I suppose, but it doesn’t exactly seem to have caught on in the real world.

Arguably, ‘foodie’ is merely a subset of ‘hipster’. They share a desire for ‘authenticity’, a certain snobbishness in their tastes, and an aversion to the ‘mainstream’. Many people belong under both labels. But, much like ‘hipster’, no self-respecting foodie would ever actually call themselves one. I certainly wouldn’t, despite displaying many of the traits that might suggest foodie status. Walking for half an hour from Law School to the distant, ne’er-visited end of Willis St to find the ‘best’ baguette in Wellington? Desperately trying to scrape the crumbly purple marrow out of halved chicken bones, because that’s totally what Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern would do? Walking home at 4 am from town on an empty stomach because Tommy Millions wasn’t open?  All things I’ve done in the last month or so.

But regardless of what we call them, and leaving aside all the pretentious bullshit that so often surrounds foodie-ism, we should all be foodies: people who care about what they eat. Because you know what? It was worth the walk down Willis St to get what did actually turn out to be a seriously delicious baguette. And while the marrow-scraping was a complete waste of time (mainly because blunt plastic cutlery were the only available implements), it is worth taking a stand against the prevailing orthodoxy that shit food is the only post-town food worth eating. Why should being a bit drunk make you venture into fast-food places you wouldn’t be seen dead in sober? Or is that just me? If indeed you are what you eat, then why would you want to be cheap, low-quality and nasty?

You don’t have to start watching Gordon Ramsay’s every show (I find the leathery-faced old git as tiresome as everyone else does); nor Junior Celebrity MasterChef All-Stars, or whatever it’s called these days (yawn). You don’t have to start spending hundreds of dollars a week on Wagyu beef, white truffles, and sea-urchin roe. You don’t even have to be able to cook particularly well—anything more complicated than pasta, and, at best, I can just about follow the recipe. All you have to do is be curious. Explore the rich and varied culinary delights that Wellington has to offer, on your own if you have to. Then shit it all out and start again the next day, ‘cos that’s what life’s all about. Better eating, everyone.

——

Nick is in his second year of studying Law, International Relations and French. In his spare time, and when he’s not stuffing his face, he puts the macrons on ‘Pākehā’ and the extra ‘s’ in ‘focussed’ as Salient’s Chief Sub-Editor and Web Editor.

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