Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Apr 28, 2010 06:21 PM

"Foodies: Culinary democrats or cultural snobs? "

Interesting article, any thoughts?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. As with music and wine, there will always be some people that consider their opinion, preferences, and/or knowledge to be superior to others. I think "culinary snobs" are the same as people that stake their life's worth on whether they win Trivial Pursuit- if they can't be smarter or have a more refined palate than someone else- do they have a place in the world? I see countless posts on Chowhound from commenters that, it seems, cannot resist responding to posts where someone asks an unsophisticated question by explaining the err of the original posters way- if everyone knew everything there would be no Chowhound homecooking board. My kind of foodie isn't an expert- it's someone that educates themselves by trying everything, asking questions without judgment for the preference of others.

    1. Like anything else where opinions and beliefs are involved, conservatives and progressives will clash, the orthodox drive many to become unconventional , and oil and vinegar never mix unless properly emulsified. Laissez-faire are my thoughts, but I wish Sam could chime in on this one...

      1. There is competition in everything and when personal preferences are put into judgement people will put down anything else because they feel they have a strong connection to their preferences.

        1. I'm not sure their research amounts to much. Most of the immigrant population around where I live are foodies - Salvadorans are paying twice as much for their fix of rotisserie chicken at a Latino rotisserie than what they'd pay at Safeway. Strike up a conversation with a customer from Bolivia at a Bolivian cafe - and you'll probably find very strong food opinions. My neighbor across the street is from Costa Rica and she wouldn't be caught dead at a Taco Bell. I speak to people from all over - ask an Ethiopian taxicab driver about food - maybe you won't like what he has to say or the place he'll recommend - but he will talk about it like no tomorrow. And the beef here in North America is very disappointing to somebody from Kenya... My car ran out of gas the other day and a Peruvian guy offered me a lift - I started asking him about food and he immediately chimed in about what to order where.

          I think they are making assumptions about foodies based on self-nomination which is always a problem. I wonder how they selected their 30 people.

          24 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            "the dominant foodie culture is white and affluent."

            As soon as I read that I completely tuned out. Kind of hard to ignore the food obsession of the folks in China or Japan, as well as the examples you've cited. I guess the researchers are defining their target population narrowly not only in ethnicity as well as timeframe.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              >>A new book by two Toronto sociologists explores the world of the food-obsessed – and finds that status-hungry authenticity seekers can put bragging rights before ethics...<<

              This caption from the online photo as well as words like, "elitest," sum up who their view of the term, "Foodie." What is a foodie? Is it where some view fashion, homes and cars, i.e., are foodies trendy folks who must stay ahead or at least keep up with the latest fad, gimmick or hot place, or are foodies people who are really concerned about finding their own holy grail?

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Agreed, Melanie. The most food-conscious culture I have ever encountered is Singaporean society. Note that I did not say, "food obsessed" because they are not. They are interested in lots of other things, but they do have a passion for discussing and savoring food. But then, I've never been to France, another place where the books I read indicate that food is a passion.

                1. re: gfr1111

                  Singaporeans in general set a very high bar, but maybe to a fault. I find pushing the price points to the brink is great for the market working efficiently but I've personally felt a decline in the quality in general over the past decade or so - more so in Malaysia. This is not to say that quality food can't be had over there - just the opposite. I am impressed with the quality that has accompanied the breadth of cuisines that has become more available over this same period, and the prices are commensurate with the quality at these higher market eateries. Bottom line is you can't fool a Singaporean with hyped food, and they'd be damned to pay for food for more than it truly is worth.

                  1. re: gfr1111

                    It would be interesting to know what the French think of 'foodies' as so many people there are obsessed with food. Still, I do know people from Paris who are disheartened to receive a plate of food without "un peu de sauce."

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    No doubt the the article leaves out a lot of the detail. My guess is the define the term Foodie in the book in order to use it as a label. I suspect there will be a difference between a whole culture that has food as a important priority or cultural reference point and the sub-set of people within a culture who are focussed on food. Clearly there are many cultures that take food, and food quality very seriously, and where quality food is the heart of the overall culture (good examples from Steve and Melanie) but I think this is different to a sub-set of people within a culture who are, in relative terms, more obsessed about food (of which I am one).

                    I thought the article was quite interesting in its discussion of "authentic and exotic". I love both the exotic and authentic, but I observe that there are many that obsess about these and seem to lose sight of the big picture i.e. is it intrinsically good food. This post from the UK board is illustrative: Whilst I personally find it interesting to hear about these experiences and great to learn from these pioneers/explorers, I do recognise I am not motivated by the same things....maybe I am not a foodie!

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I have to disagree with you, Melanie.

                      I think PhilD is closer to what the article is about when he says

                      "I observe that there are many that obsess about these and seem to lose sight of the big picture i.e. is it intrinsically good food."

                      it is not about a culture that is 'food-conscious', as someone says. It isn't about culture or tradition or even status. This is something different and I have to agree that in once sense "the dominant foodie culture is white and affluent." ... or to make this worse ... aspires to be that.

                      It steps out of one's own culture to attain trendy status.

                      It is definately based on the current timeframe.

                      Sorry for displaying my ignorance of another culture but it is not the sme thing as a Japanese friend of mine attainiing status by buying a special $2000 live fish to be prepared for dinner. . That isn't of the moment or outside of his culture.

                      But whatever you heritage, once you step out of it soley for highend status or food slumming ... well, that is sort of what it is about. No not everyone is white and affluent. However, a good portion are.

                      It sort of touches on my general unease with the foodie thing. On the good side, it has broken down food boundries. People whose parents thought Italian was ethnic are eating food from many of the nationalities mentioned in the article.

                      But there is just something wrong there I can't put my finger on.

                      Please forgive me Jim, I want to let you rest in peace but I think it is the same thing he says when referring to an article called The Foodiots.

                      I'm not interpretting anything cause Chwhound thinking has baffeled me. I never really got it. I'm just saying tot me this paragraph from that link seems to say the same thing as the article. this thread is about.

                      "But I also see untold thousands of giddily obsessive food crazies who've made chewing the very center of their existences, and who endlessly scamper after the usual spotlit shiny big things. And who need everyone to hear about it ad nauseum. I was hoping to galvanize intrepid, iconoclastic chowhounds, but what I mostly see out there are more and more materialistic, hype-following foodies"

                      I mean I don't agree with everything there, but it is sort of just about hype.

                      There was a person who once posted on Chowhound that I would chat with vial eamil. He was into this particular meat market. Then one day he tells me how he invited the guy home for lunch and his wife was not all that pleased.

                      It seems there is a certain lack of respect for the actual people built into all of this. Yes, let's go slumming and eat the food that is not on our side of the tracks. However, there's a certain lack of recognition of other cultures just as people like themselves.

                      On the orher end are people who worship the high end just for name appeal. I can only cite the Ferry Plaza Farmers market as an example. I liked it more originally when the people who went appreciated the quality of the produce not because of marketing hype ... not because they were "Frog Hollow" or whatever the designer lable of the day is.

                      The reality for me is ... to dump on poor old Frog Hollow ..., the Warren pears can be outstanding. The peaches for the most part are ove-hyped. Other vendors, those not as media-savyy, grow better ones. The people discussed in the article can't tell the difference between what is good or not. They buy anything at FH strictly for the label.

                      There are years when Frog Hollow Warren pears just aren't any good. In the old days, FG would turn these to chutney and not sell them. But with name recognition, they sell the pears good year or not ... because the people buying them have no clue as to the difference.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I have no idea what you are saying or what this has to do with Melanie's post (or mine, which she responded to).

                        The article does not explain at all how they determine that foodie culture is "white and predominantly affluent" which remains questionable. Most folks I run into from other countries seem intensely food-centric. That goes for Latino, Asian, African... I'm guessing they used some kind of highly skewed selection process to determine their research group.

                        1. re: Steve

                          Go back and read the article because you are not getting it. It is NOT about being food-centric.

                          It is not about buying expensive chickens because they taste better or rejecting chains because they don't serve good food.

                          It is about buying the expensive chicken because you read about it in some food column or newsletter. It is about avoiding chains because the herd mentality is to avoid chains. If some foodnetwork star raved about a dish at Olive Garden, these people would eat at Olive Garden.

                          The article is about people who define themselves by the term foodies and it is you who defined that as food centric. I have to say I haven't heard the word foodie used much outside of the predominately white communiry.

                          Or better yet tell me how many of the groups you mentioned are starring on the food network ... or even watch the food network. I'll cop to ignorance here, but I don't believe countries outside of Canda or the Western European countries even have a food network

                          as the article states

                          "the reason why is that foodie culture is largely disseminated through mass media channels. A lot of research shows that there is a reflection and a reinforcement of predominant cultural norms that are informed by a historically white majority."

                          For the people cited in the article, it has nothing to do with food really. That's where you misread it. It has as noted at the top ... to do with bragging rights.

                          1. re: rworange

                            "For the people cited in the article"
                            So how did they determine who to cite in the article? DId they stand outside one of the taco trucks at the Red Hook Ballfields and start asking questions in Spanish? Did they hang out at an Ethiopian restaurant as the cab drivers pull up for their lunch? Or maybe they went to the SGV and surveyed the folks chowing down on baozi and whipped out their questionnaire printed in Cantonese?

                            1. re: Steve

                              ¿Es usted un foodie?
                              您是否是foodie ?

                              The problem with the word foodie is it has many meanings to many people. I assume you associate it with being food-centric, so the research doesn't mean much to you.

                              As the authors discuss in this article on some of the critisism of their book

                              " In terms of methodology, it is worth restating that ours is an analysis of foodie discourse, not a survey of foodie behavior .... To be clear, we argue that contemporary foodie discourse is culturally omnivorous and can be juxtaposed against the univore snobbery of traditional gourmet culture. At the same time, it incorporates some of the political themes of the 1960s countercuisine into a new cultural hybrid ...

                              comparing historic gourmets with today’s foodies is not intended to venerate one and demonize the other. Instead, our point is to make a contrast between traditional gourmets’ focus on French food as a culinary yardstick, and the contemporary foodie preoccupation with a multiplicity of different cuisines, recognizing that cultural exclusion continues to exist, and that not all foods or cuisines are legitimated as worthy. "

                              So going back to my original comment it is timeframe dependant and abut a specific group. I don't see why that makes it not worth reading.

                              I loved the part about Alinea in Chicago ... so true, so true.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Thanks for clarifying.

                                From the article:
                                "Yet you mention that the dominant foodie culture is white and affluent."
                                And the response: "foodie culture is largely disseminated through mass media channels"

                                So for the purpose of the book, the authors are
                                1) defining what a foodie and/or foodie discourse is
                                2) then picking out a group of people that fits their own description
                                3) then asking them about their attitudes about food

                                Do I understand correctly?

                                And from the link you gave me:
                                "we believe it is essential to detail the nuances of foodie discourse, with all of its possibilities and limitations."

                                They are making grand statements and not taking account the way foodie info is passsed along in the Asian, Latino, and African communities: word of mouth.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  No. Again you are using semantics and your definition of the word.

                                  Because it is not about what you want it to be about, you discount the book.

                                  And for this book, no ... the people speaking Spanish and eating at a taco truck because that is where they eat don't count.

                                  It is a sociological study about a group that came into existances about the time the word 'foodie" was coined. ... and yes ... your last sentence is true.

                                  However, that article hit the nail on the head for me in terms of why I am uncomfortable about the word 'foodie' and haven't been able to figure out why

                                  The word 'ethics' clarified it for me

                                  The article I provided states "our goal was to shed light on the complexity of a discourse where food choices can simultaneously articulate one’s politics and signal social status"

                                  foodies may use laughter and ironic distance to position themselves apart from both their bourgeoisie impulses, and the lofty environmental and social ambitions of food choices

                                  I look at food differently, I think.

                                  I like it and use it as a tool to learn about different cultures. I'll go get something like a Bolivan dish and then go off and learn about Bolivia. I'll chat it up with people making the food to gain a better understanding of their life in general.

                                  Even farm and farmers markets are about understanding different lifestyles. Food is something we all have in common and can start a conversation that can go beyond that. It is uniting.

                                  It was what attracted me to Chowhound which for me is almost as much about the people as it is about the food. It let me virtually enter the kitchens of so many different groups ... to celebrate their holidays with them ... to participate in food events from birth to death.

                                  What I don't like about certain foodies is that in the adventure of trying new cuisines for mainly bragging rights ... I ate a worm ... the people behind that cuisine are irrelevant

                                  There is a certain disrespect for the culture that remains ... look at me ... I ate at this scary taco truck ... I had this really weird dish at ... I'm so cool ... a fear factor type of thing.

                                  Stilll, the willingness to try something different is good for whatever reason and people do find out that there are tasty foods out there that they would not imagine.

                                  The article did make me think in its focus of neither prasing or demonizing foodies.

                                  Anyway, the article helped me figure out my own unease and, for me, I can put the foodie topic to rest, stop harping about it and sweep it out of my own thoughts.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    You have misunderstood: I don't want the book to be about anything other than their research, and I have no objection whatsoever to their research.

                                    I don't like that, in the newspaper article, they are not clarfiying the limitations of their research. Plus they get carried away in the article you linked as well, but that is another thread.

                                    To the statement by the interviewer "the dominant foodie culture is white and affluent," an honest response should have cautioned:

                                    "We only studied foodie discourse as disseminated through mass media. It may not take into account the way the majority of poor or non-white foodies communicate."

                                    Or do you truly believe they researched foodie discourse "with all of its possibilities and limitations"?

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Or do you truly believe they researched foodie discourse "with all of its possibilities and limitations"?


                                      I seriously can't say as I haven't read the book only the interviews.

                                      But they say even for the group they studied they haven't covered everything.

                                      My own personal experience from foodie central in SF is that foodies for the most part are neither poor nor non-white.

                                      I do know a lot of people in the groups that you mentioned who are interested in and seek out delicous food. I would never insult them by labeling them foodies.

                                      I would not insult many affluent or middle-class white people either by calling them foodies.

                                      I guess it boils down to me the old Chowhound def of foodie ... Foodies eat where they're told.

                                      And the article extends that to Foodies eat what is politcally and socially correct to eat.

                                      You define foodie as someone who has an interest in good food. It is not the same thing.

                                      There's an event that started last year called EatReal. Basically it is middle and upper class white folk who have assembled food trucks. There are cherry-picked 'ethnic' vendors that are included.

                                      The food might be great but the premise and name really, really ... really pisses me off.

                                      These people aren't eating real. They are slumming in a safe way. Taking over the the territory for people who DO eat real .. who go to the taco trucks because it is good, affordable food..

                                      Eating real is eating in Fruitvale or the Mission, not at an organized middle-class, socially correct food fest ... the food has to be sustainable and organic to qualify.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        i agree with the Chowhound Manifesto- but when the word 'foodie' is being used by someone else, I can't assume they've read it.

                                        So I read the newspaper article with a kind of baseline definition.- one who is passionate about food. When the interviewer says that "(people who are passionate about food) are predominantly white and affluent" it made me gag.

                                        I do agree with everything else you said.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          I can see if you apply that definition why that would make you gag.

                                          The actual quote is " the dominant foodie culture is white and affluent"

                                          The word passionate is not in there.

                                          food-obsessed , status-hungry , populist, elitist, food snob those are all in there. They are defined as looking for food bsed on the criteria of it being authentic and/or exotic. There's no mention of these people even liking food.

                                          So if you wwant to tag people who are Chowhund types be they white or not, rich or poor ... go ahead. Personally I think it is an insulting way to tag people.

                                          As I said, foodie is too broad a word. If you go to the dictionary you get

                                          - . a person keenly interested in food, esp. in eating or cooking .Origin:
                                          food + -ie, perh. in part extracted from junkie

                                          - A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet: "in the culinary fast lane, where surprises are expected and foodies beg to be thrilled" (Boston Globe).

                                          - someone who is interested in foods, cooking, and the latest food and restaurant fads. : The foodies are all clamoring for fried sweet potatoes with salmon.



                                          Definition: lover of food

                                          Synonyms: bon vivant, bon viveur, connoisseur, gastronome, glutton, gourmand, gourmet, hedonist, sensualist

                                          So you can pick and choose what you want to put in the parenthesis. It could just as easily be

                                          "(gluttons) are predominantly white and affluent"

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        I think your point has more to do with word choice than the substance of the article. The authors define "foodie culture" as one that is "largely disseminated through [North American] mass media channels" where it is typical to find "a reflection and a reinforcement of predominant cultural norms that are informed by a historically white majority."

                        In other words, it's isolated from traditional foodways and the simple enjoyment of good food for its own sake. You may not agree with this (fairly specific) definition, but surely you recognize the type - those who see their eating habits as a source of social status, who pride themselves on eating "ethnic" food (whatever that means), who are fixated on "authenticity" (ditto), who are interested in trying unusual foods primarily for bragging rights, and who condescend to those who make food choices different than their own.

                        There's no doubt that there are people from a variety of cultures who are as interested in food as these "foodies," and who may have a deeper and/or more diverse knowledge of and appreciation for food. But those people aren't "foodies" in the worship-at-The-Food-Network-altar sense the authors used. And that's good; the world has plenty of those drones already.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          It is unclear from the article how they selected their 'foodie' group.

                          By the simplest definition - it is a group of people who care keenly about food. I'm leaving any personal definition out of it.

                          Their other statements you have quoted are made to seem as the results of the research group, a group which they perhaps thought was representative of all 'people who care keenly about food.'

                          I see now from the other article rworange linked that the research was VERY limited in scope.

                          Their study is like a minor car crash.... nothing of interest here, folks, move on.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Steve, I wonder if the selection was carried out to get a group of people with specific traits i.e. those who pursue the authentic and exotic, rather than a broad study to look at all the sub-types of foodie. Thus it is a very specific piece of research to see what motivates people who exhibit this behaviour rather than a scan of everyone who loves food.

                            The study was then to analyse the motivations of this specific group and the authors found that their behaviour wasn't motivated by a broad love of food but by the underlying need to get bragging rights for something. Their belief in their "love of food " being an unconscious psychological disguise to mask the need for bragging rights.

                            A "normal" person makes rationale decisions about food the dining experience, but this sub-set of foodies exhibit irrational behaviour with the "authentic and exotic" nature of the experience being more important than the relative quality of the dining experience....i.e. it can't be good unless it is grungy and edgy, and not mainstream.

                            I wonder if a key difference between between "the dominant foodie culture is white and affluent," and food cultures in other groups is that the other groups have an aspirational culture that pursues better food in better surroundings i.e. moving upmarket. But the foodie culture examined in this study is the opposite. Instead of heading upmarket it deliberately heads downmarket. I believe it is also a modern attribute, I know my Mum could never understand why I enjoyed seeking out the places I did. She had worked all her life to get away from them and enjoy the things in life she couldn't have when she was younger.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              >>"it is a very specific piece of research to see what motivates people who exhibit this behaviour rather than a scan of everyone who loves food."<<

                              Thanks. You said it better than I did.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                Yes, I see now that - not evident in the article - they were looking only at people who exhibited very specific traits. Which means I don't really care about their research.

                                My own belief is that, just like an ambitious professional food critic nowadays must be more knowledgeable about different kinds of food than in the past, the average foodie blogging or posting to a website also feels compelled to know more about the food around them.

                                It doesn't necessarily change their opinion of the food or anything else really, but it does make them more aware - which is a good thing.

                                If they become aware of the little taqueria down the street that before they passed by a hundred times without noticing - then maybe now there is access to change their opinions about the food. After that, who knows.....

                                1. re: Steve

                                  My own unscientific study is no ... it will not change their options of food.

                                  Some of the food bloggers out there only care for the exotic for the sake of bragging rights and to exhibit a psuedo-expertise. I have a very limited number I'll read because the rest ... bleh.

                                  I know you want to claim the word 'foodie' as a positive thing ... and that is fine. However, I think of it exculsively as the group surveyed.

                                  When people started branching out and gaining an larger interest in food, I thought that was a good thing ... until ...

                                  There is a restaurant called Jai Yun in SF. The local paper reviewed it, possibly due to Chowhound buzz about it.

                                  At a dinner, it was being discussed ... and it all boiled down to the exoticsm of the place AND the authentiicity. It was the first time I started to question the whole foodie thing and step away from ti. \

                                  Anyway ... years later ... still positive Chowhound reports ... and unfortunatly those reports always mention that there are only one or two tables of customers.

                                  The foodies had their adventure and moved on to the next exotic / authentic thing. That includes upscale joints as well where some of the menus are just throwing ingredients together for the shock and awe factor.

                                  Why use the word foodie at all? Just say people who appreciate good food. Don't mix that group with the suckers covered in the story.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    "I know you want to claim the word 'foodie' as a positive thing"

                                    I wasn't using it as a positive thing - simply saying that foodies are being compelled (pushed?) into being more aware of the food that's around them.
                                    Let's say they show up at the latest taco truck because they don't want other foodies to one-up them... or because it's fashionable... well at least they show up. Other people follow. It's a first step. Used to be that foodies wouldn't show up at all.

                                    In the DC area, I've seen real change come about, but it does take time.

                      3. My friend and I consider ourselves foodies. We're both white but also economically lower middle class. Politically I am liberal and conservative, so we talk about food a lot. Interestingly, she is a more adventurous eater than I. I don't think either of us is really a food snob. I have to watch my weight, so I don't waste calories on things like packaged cookies. I don't think that makes me a snob.

                        Thirty people and a bunch of articles doesn't seem like deeply serious research to me.