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Freshly Baked: I Eat At Restaurants That Don’t Even Exist Yet

When I saw a piece in The Guardian on the similarities between foodie-ism and indie rock, I did a double-take — somehow they’d stolen my idea! Well…I guess it’s not actually that hard to see the parallels. Indie fans like discovering new bands (or even listening to bands that don’t even exist yet); foodies like discovering ethnic hole-in-the-walls and being the first to post about them on Yelp. Indie fans pooh-pooh Top 40 pop music produced by the big labels, perhaps admitting to liking J. Bieber in an ironic or “hey look, I’m not that snobby” way. Foodies talk all sorts of smack about Olive Garden and other chains, perhaps admitting a weakness for McDonald’s fries (you can say what you want about McDonald’s, but those fries are perfect). Indie fans are all about “authenticity” and turn their backs on bands that “sell out”; while foodies compete to find the “most authentic” dining experiences and denigrate Food Network “sellouts” like Bobby Flay and Emeril.

And like indie fans, foodies can be really annoying. I should say that I’m probably a bit of a foodie myself, although it’s not a term that I like to associate myself with. When you think of a foodie, you probably imagine food-obsessed crazies who lug DSLRs into restaurants and let their food get cold while they snap photos for their blog, culinary snobs who insist on knowing the provenance of everything they’re eating and can never just enjoy a meal for what it is, or people who waste too much time hunting around for their next meal and who are attracted like flies to buzzwords like “artisanal,” “house-made,” “local,” “seasonal.” Sometimes, I come across a blog written by one of these über-foodies and wonder how surreal it must be to be at one of these dinners where all the guests are other bloggers, showing each other their cameras and using phrases like “upon mastication” to describe their eating. (I’m not even joking about that last one — it’s a catchphrase of sorts for one particularly pompous food warrior.)

Just as Arcade Fire’s Grammy win shows how indie music has been moving slowly into the mainstream, a lot of the attitudes embraced by foodies have been embraced by non-foodies. Chains like Chipotle are moving toward using naturally raised meats and local produce, big bad Wal-Mart is stocking more organics and more and more people are discovering new restaurants and recipes through online communities like Yelp. At the same time, there’s a contingent of foodies who mock these small steps, either having a very indie-like fear of McNugget-scarfing proles entering the foodie ranks or being dissatisfied with anything that’s not authentic/local/seasonal enough for them. Snooty foodies, we’ll call them, the equivalent of “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet” indie fans.

This makes no sense! What exactly is the problem with having more people appreciate good food? I mean, sure, having more people know about your favorite restaurants might mean that you have to wait longer, but that’s certainly preferable to having it go out of business. And so what if it’s a big chain that’s pushing its way into local and organic? If foodies want people to eat more local and organic food, having the support of a big chain that a lot of non-foodies like is certainly going to be more helpful than another blog post about how Americans need to get their act together.

There’s also a (completely understandable) growing backlash against foodie-ism, driven in a large part by people’s dislike of the somewhat ridiculous heights that foodie-ism has been reaching and of the snooty foodies that embody these worst traits. This is really too bad, because while there’s a lot about foodie-ism that probably can’t be integrated into the mainstream, there’s also a lot that can, and that can really benefit everyone. Things like eating locally and seasonally, eating humanely raised animals, supporting local restaurants over chains, trying food from different cultures, making food something to think about and take pleasure from rather than just something to shovel into our mouths.

So, you know, think about food. But not too much.

Tim is trying his best not to become a snooty foodie. Tell him what not to do at timmoon@stanford.edu.

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