Sunday Snippet: Timothy Taylor on Foodie Culture

“Food. Food. You have to step back and ask: How and why did we all get so hepped up about food? When I flash back to my childhood cuisine–and I mean flash, just grabbing the first image of food my memory will serve–I get a Safeway bag of frozen mixed vegetables. Diced carrots with peas and corn kernels that you boiled, and when you bit into them you got the flavor of poached cardboard. That was food to me and I was more or less unaware of any alternatives.”

I like to eat. It could be the quiet comfort food of a great greasy dinner or could it be something particularly unique at the hottest new place in town. It could be my latest #KwansCreativeCatering experiment or it could be an amazing piece of toro sashimi. I like to eat. I’ve been accused of being a foodie and, yes, I may have even used the term to describe myself too.

Indeed, many of my fellow Vancouver area residents have come to view our home as quite the food city. We have a great variety of international cuisine, a growing “farm to table” and “nose to tail” movement, and plenty of people who are moving food in bold new directions. And this has all happened in the last couple of decades.

The other day, my good friend Joseph gave me a copy of Foodville: Biting Dispatches from a Food-Obsessed City, a book by Canadian novelist Timothy Taylor that explores this concept of food culture and the rise of the so-called foodie. That’s where I found the choice excerpt quoted above.

When we stop to consider the actual purpose of food, we realize that it’s really just about sustenance. It’s really just about fuel. Military rations and freeze-dried astronaut food can offer that nutrition, albeit in a less than exciting manner. The same can be said about that bag of frozen vegetables. It’ll fulfill many of your needs for sustenance, even if it doesn’t fulfill much else.

When asked if he himself were a foodie, Timothy Taylor responded thusly:

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, a foodie.”

And perhaps that’s one of the greatest ironies of foodie culture. The people who are the most excited, most knowledgable and most enthusiastic about food rarely refer to themselves as foodies. There’s no way that Eddie Huang or Anthony Bourdain would ever include themselves as part of this newfound group.

“Food was a tribe that had newly formed. In it, people were finding some kind of intense comfort they’d been missing elsewhere. Who was I not to join?”

But really, is there anything wrong with being dubbed a foodie? Is it simply a matter of semantics, one that associates foodies with hipster jeans, artisanal obsession, valuing plating over quality, and seeking the increasingly rare and obscure ingredient?

I don’t know, but I can tell you that I like to eat and, given the option, I’d much rather eat good food.