Ask Todd, Answer Gansie: Who Is a Foodie?
What used to be a semi-regular feature, where I would pretend to know as much about dining as the Washington Post restaurant critic, has trailed off. Tom Sietsema‘s food chats became either big bitch fests (yes, children eat at restaurants, shut up about it already) or intricate critiques of not so exciting DC dining establishments, so I haven’t kept up in relating the interesting questions back to you.
The Washingtonian retains its own restaurant critic and hosts its own food chat. I don’t read Todd Kliman‘s chats, save for the snipet I get emailed to me every week. I’m usually entertained, but never was I so intrigued until I read this question.
Washington, DC: Can a vegetarian/vegan be a “foodie”?
Todd Kliman: It’s a good question.
But maybe we first need to define our terms a little. I usually think of “foodie” in a few different ways. There are the foodies who can’t wait to tell you what city they have just returned from (often somewhere in Europe), and what they know about a top chef, and how they’ve eaten 75 times at Patrick O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington, and how all of this — all of these things, together — qualifies them to expound at length on a particular restaurant, or a particular dining scene, or the worth of a person to express a view about something as essential and vital as, oh, a dish.
If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Not even close. That line about having eaten 75 times at the Inn, that came from an email correspondent of mine some months back.
This, of course, is an extreme example — although extreme examples abound in the food world.
There are also the foodies who care about where they shop, and what they buy, and what their choices say about them and the world, and who can muse upon the various meanings of a chicken for hours upon hours. These foodies are not big restaurant goers, necessarily, but they care a great deal about what they eat and where and why.
The person who loves to eat and drink and who lives to eat, as they say — this person is a foodie too. Someone who spends free time thinking about food, and keeping up with restaurants, and trying out new restaurants, and sharing news of discoveries with friends and family.
A subset of this last description is the food-adventurer, which is a little different. This is a person who doesn’t need to be told what is good — who would rather find out for himself. Who loves the seeking as much as the finding. Who sees restaurants as portals into cultures. Who loves the idea of armchair travel. Who doesn’t care about drapery or fixtures or carpets — only deliciousness.
So … to answer the question. I think, yes, a vegetarian or vegan can be a foodie. At least, one kind of foodie.
I have to say, though, I haven’t meat a lot of vegetarians and vegans who I would think of as food-adventurers. Nor do they tend to be the sorts of people who frequent big, expensive restaurants to the point that they love the game of it, and love to make pompous pronouncements about their importance. I don’t even know a lot of vegetarians and vegans who keep up with the food scene, or who make the rounds of new openings, etc.
Gansie: First, and most obviously, the term foodie needs to die. It means nothing at this point, or everything, as Todd noted.
Can someone that watches the Food Network every day, but never cooks and and always eat fast food call themselves a foodie: sure.
Can a food blogger be a foodie: of course.
Can someone that loves eating, eats mindlessly, consuming animals grown like chemicals be a foodie: yes, yes, yes.
But can someone that has taken the time to vigilantly decide what they will and will not eat be a foodie: maaaaybe.
I call bullshit.
I used to fucking hate vegans. I thought: why would anyone want to limit all of the deliciousness that could be flying around their mouth. But then I realized that maybe taste isn’t everything. Maybe morals and ethics and the environment could be involved in the eating equation. Shit, I grew up separating my dairy and meat for reasons that I’m pretty sure were totally made up.
Now I’m not defending religion, especially those that do not question what they blindly follow. But really thinking about and discovering where food — chickens, pigs, cows, eggs, corn, tomatoes, asparagus — comes from isn’t such a bad thing.
And Todd, hi, I’d like to welcome you to the world of food morals, which includes some pretty seriously dedicated vegetarian and vegan foodies. And you know why vegetarians and vegans don’t go out to the big, trendy, expensive dinners – BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING THERE THEY CAN EAT.
Can I get an amen?
Having just decided to give up meat (and booze) for lent…AMEN. I have no intention of eating nothing but salad and peanut butter and jelly for the next 40 days.
“I don’t even know a lot of vegetarians and vegans who keep up with the food scene, or who make the rounds of new openings, etc.”
That is pretty ridiculous. might have been true 20 years ago, but I’d say half the “foodies” I know are vegetarians, or at least flexis. The mere existence of Hezbollah Tofu (see http://www.endlesssimmer.com/hall-of-fame/) should pretty much disprove this statement.
So annoying, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
1. He clarifies that ‘food adventurer’ is only one definition, but then speculates that most vegetarians aren’t ‘adventurers’, ergo not foodies, even though they could fall into the other definitions. The second definition describes me and many vegetarians that I know.
2. By the other definitions, foodie has nothing inherently to do with cooking. Fine, we are a culture of critics and consumers – that was already known and nothing to be proud of.
3. I’m not a foodie, and pleased to declare it. I’m a cook, and I love learning from my sublimely talented mother about Indian, specifically vegetarian Gujarati and Jain, food. My mother is NOT a foodie. She’s a chef and magician.
Who would you rather be?
Isn’t a foodie ultimately just someone for whom food is a hobby, not just a need or a chore? Someone who enjoys thinking about food, as well as eating it?
A lot of us have restricted diets for varying reasons. Maybe it’s religion, maybe it’s morals, maybe it’s medical reasons, maybe it’s to lose weight, maybe it’s just plain weirdness. But once you restrict your diet, you have to spend a lot more time thinking about food. You can’t just mindlessly put anything into your mouth, or pop into any random restaurant and order blindly off the menu. But you have a choice about how you think about food and your restricted diet: are you concerned only about finding something you can eat, or do you enjoy the challenge of finding things that you can eat that you WANT to eat?
I also find it ridiculous that he hasn’t “meat” vegetarians he’d describe as food-adventurers. Just about every vegetarian I’ve ever met is someone who is more likely than the average American to try new ethnic cuisines (since there are usually more vegetarian options on the menu!) and exotic ingredients.
I think it’s funny that this question even comes up in this day and age. Are you telling me that people like Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks are not foodies? I think people would be surprised to find out many of the foodies they know and love are vegetarian. Watch your backs meat eating foodies we are right on your tails.
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This post was mentioned on Twitter by EndlessSimmer: @gansie takes on @toddkliman – vegetarians can be foodies http://bit.ly/9KDV8q…
strangely enough, i never looked at a food blog in my life until i cut dairy out of my diet. then the food obsession happens because you have to figure out what the hell to eat, and you discover there are things out there besides cheese sandwiches and pizza… and… the rest is history.
also, i’d say that most meat eaters i know are way less adventurous about food than those who don’t eat meat. for example, i say i had tofu last night, and someone says “oh we don’t eat tofu at my house, we’re meat eaters”. um… way to be adventurous!
I believe finding really amazing vegetarian or vegan food at any restaurant is an adventure. There are restaurants in DC that are touted as being the best vegetarian spots, but honestly, just serving vegetarian or vegan food doesn’t win you that honor. [I hope you are listening Vegetate.] Santa Monica, for instance, has a thriving and competitive vegan food scene. There’s really inventive and amazing food and pastry there. Some of the best meals of my life have been vegetarian or vegan dinners (CityZen’s veggie tasting in DC and Millennium for vegan food in San Francisco).
People, including food writers, often proclaim they’re foodies. Yet I, a vegan, has had to explain to some of them what “ceviche” is (“no, it is not a species of fish, but marinated in…”), has had “adventurous eaters” express I must have had no taste to have consumed bugs (I did, before going vegan, and they were tasty…apparently some foodies think other cultures lack taste and define “adventurous” as eating non-TX or non-NC BBQ or fried butter sticks), and hear some foodies praise tough or stringy meat to the skies when all they’re really experiencing is the sugary sauce used to make the said meat palatable. I come from a family of butchers, raised to define good meat (flesh) as that which comes from places we could visit and to which you need add only a pinch of salt (instead of what’s common now, having to soak, sauce, smoke, sugar, overseason, oversalt and overproduce the flesh to suit modern diners’ tastes). I’ve seen them reach for salt shakers as a prerequisite for eating. So it’s odd that anyone would think a vegan or vegetarian must lack a refined palates, or is not adventurous, just because he or she chooses not to eat flesh and products from the reproductive systems of animals. There is a whole world of great foods beyond flesh and milk, folks. Am enjoying a feast of luscious avocado (not the big bland ones so popular in DC), peppers stuffed with wild rice, garden toms and yellow lentils with fresh rosemary and basil, and spinach drizzled with hemp oil and dusted with ground flax right now. Def not craving that hamburger made from the ground flesh from dozens (you do realize it’s not from one, right?) cattle, turkey, and/or whatever else