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    Sunday
    Feb062011

    why there are no foodies in europe

    A recent article on CNN's Eatocracy begs, I believe, further consideration. The CNN article was at its most basic about the very different view that eating laypeople and chefs have of the word FOODIE. And it deserves more thought, an expounding upon.

    Do you think of foodie as a dirty word?

    I do.

    Why? Well...I recall that in my time before working in a kitchen, I was reluctant to let that term pass my lips. Something about it seemed gross. Like some kind of commercialization or trendifying of the love I felt for food. Because for me, and for many many people, the love for food has no relation to, and in fact is often completely in opposition to what goes on in food magazines, on food TV, and in the gastronomic blogosphere.

    Then, when I started in my professional kitchen, I felt both surprised and validified when I learned that the word foodie only passes cooks lips with derision, at best.  This could be a need for the hugemongous egos of cooks to differentiate themselves from the 'untrained' and the 'uninitiated', but I think it has more to do with the utterly and entirely different relationship they develop with food. For them, it's normalized; it's a job...it's not a luxury or caprice. And it's not something that is a cute little fun little hobby. Food is something that must be done, must be done right, but with the reward being that you have earned a certain rapport with said food. You know each other. That mussel knows you hate cleaning it, but it knows you're going to do it, and do it right.  The rabbit you're about to butcher doesn't necessarily like your knife, but he knows you're going to use it quickly, sparingly, and correctly.  There's something inside of you that changes when you work in a professional kitchen, and that something hardwired me against foodies, and against the term.

    And I just want to say something. When I got here, to San Sebastián, Spain, all of a sudden

    I could breathe.

    It was hardly perceivable...going out to eat with friends just changed. Suddenly.  The sense of competition, the sense of guarding a good food thing or a bit of knowledge for the right, most impressive moment disappeared.  I've spoken with several people from here about this...people born and raised in this region, a British food lover and tour guide, and people who would possibly be 'foodies' if they were from the USA.

    And there is a common consensus:

    • the word 'foodie' does not exist here, nor is it translatable
    • the concept of 'foodie' is foreign
    • food is pure, something to be enjoyed and not a means to end

     I have a few theories about why this is.

    The first is the shared base of culinary knowledge. Case in point? I asked several 18 year olds to write down directions to cook their favorite dish. The average level of culinary complexity was impressive.  One boy wrote about fried eggs, and proceeded to receive a dressing down from his peers for its simplicity. I couldn't help but think about how, in the USA, you'd be hardish-pressed to find an 18-year-old that was frying eggs.  These people grow up turning raw ingredients into meals. It's not an impressive, cute, exciting, trendy, luxurious, navel-gazing activity. It's life. And it happens everyday at 1:30pm and again at 9.

    Another reason has to be the abundance of quality ingredients and artisanal food products. There's absolutely no way you can get smug about the amazing cheese you found elaborated in the mountains above your town, because you know what? Your friend's grandma makes her cheese, and he will never think yours is as good because he grew up with the abuela's. But the moral of the story? We're all eating excellent cheese. So let's just open some wine and be happy.

    A third is the low price of food here. McDonald's is expensive. Fresh produce is cheap. Period. And there goes the underlying socio-economic power of the foodie label. Because, believe it or not, there are people that use it to identify themself as members an upper class. Which makes me feel sicker than if I ate a Big Mac.

    So...for all you foodie-haters, foodies who want to renounce the label, those who want to see the light...Europe is a paradise for more reasons than the ones that you would blog about, like the food and the awesome new place you just found that is yet to be discovered or the simply to die for cheese or the special VIP tour you got of that a-mah-zing bodega.....its a paradise because no one around you is going to be that impressed.

    So shut up and eat.  Isn't that what it's all about, anyway?

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    Reader Comments (12)

    The only term I think of when I understand that many non-europeans, or perhaps replaced with urbanpeans? is the term I hate the most - industrialization. Great post. I think we all should shut up and eat real food. Tre Bon!

    February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

    "McDonald's is expensive. Fresh produce is cheap. Period."

    Oh, how I wish that were true here.

    February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarla Jean

    I don't know the economic climate in San Sebastian, but also in Southeast Asia preparing food and eating it is a basic fact of life, not a hobby or statement. They think we are funny for storing things in tupperware for later...when the locals buy or making something it is meant to be consummed communally a la minute.
    I realized a long time ago that issues taken with food are a luxury of the idle upper crusters of the world...people with a lot of money, time, and not enough sense, if you will.

    February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCanCan

    Great article! I must say I am proud of Americans for finally reaching out, tasting more, and striving to get fresh, seasonal ingredients on a normal basis. It's a start - but there is still a long way to go. This so called "foodie" who expects to be commended for his/her great taste and judgement on the current "gastro-fads" is no one to be respected. They are not truly about the food, they are about themselves, they are "faux-foodies." In my mind, a real foodie is someone with an "enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food." To simplify... someone who is about the food, for the food. These chefs who hate their client foodies, are in fact the true foodies themselves. These Europeans who have not had to learn the basic aspects of great food but rather have it in their blood, instilled from generations surrounding a culture based upon fresh, home-made food - are "superfoodies." An unspoken title I hope future American generations will also hold.

    February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSS

    I also think one of the things that happens in Spain is that the 'competition' is to have a good time not to eat something or somewhere first.
    I often find in the UK, especially in London, people are not gourmets they are competitive trains spotters who have taken up the wrong hobby.
    And yes I hate the word foodie as well.

    February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel at Catalan Cooking

    It's very American of you to act as if Europe is a monolith. I'm a recent expat from Northern California to Stuttgart, Germany, and while there are many "foodie"/anti-foodie (i.e.a foodie too cool to identify oneself as a foodie) things to love here, there are also many things that show no sort of romanticized intrinsic knowledge or love of food and food culture that you seem to imply exists across Europe.

    Aside from eating at some spectacular restaurants that focus on local Swabian cuisine that specializes in using locally-sourced ingredients and game, most of the food I've had here has been frozen or imported and mediocre at best. Which is no huge deal - we're living here as guests. It's freaking February in a northern latitude, after all. I enjoy what is good here and lament what is not but it's far from a disaster for this "foodie" because it's part of a new experience.

    But even without that, the "everyone cooks amazing meals with fresh produce for practically nothing" way of life in your Spanish town is not translatable to Europe as a whole and that idea itself is over-romanticizing and patronizing of the diverse food cultures that exist on this large continent. Some food here is cheaper than in the U.S. A lot is not. It varies, and these kind of sweeping statements that privileged Americans living in Europe love to relate to their friends back in the states are often over-generalized to the point of absurdity. I have not met anyone here so far who makes their own cheese. Or grew up eating homemade cheese.

    The fact is, bad food exists in Europe - all over Europe. There is no overreaching "food culture" in Europe.

    Americans who get pretentious and preachy about the "Euro" way of life (as if there was one) compared to the US are far more sickening than any fast food hamburger. It's trite, reductionist, and silly. The "foodie" culture in the US exists because not all people had the privilege of growing up eating fresh, well-prepared food. And that's true in many places all over the world. You're decrying elitism while being elitist, so how is that different from what you detest in "foodie" culture?

    February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArmchairshrink

    @CanCan-yes…having the time and full stomach required to debate food issues is indeed a luxury!
    @SS-you’re right in that the original, innocuous concept of the word ‘foodie’ as someone who likes food for food and not for trends or status still exists. I suppose it is just no longer attached to the physical word ‘foodie’. Superfoodies. I like it :D
    @ armchairshrink-thank you SO much for such a thoughtful post. A discussion that deserves to be had; just a shame that it is relegated to the lowly comments section of a random blog, no? You couldn’t be more right when you said there are things not to love in Europe and Basque Country. There are pesticides, there are GM foods, and there are people who keep crappy fast-ish food restaurants in business.
    I do, however, stick to the two statements I made applying specifically to Europe: that (what I know of it--France, England, Ireland, Spain—ie, not too much) it is a paradise for eaters. Whether for discovering the new, discovering the old, or simply a change of pace. And, secondly, that there are no *foodies* in Europe. And this is a bit of an etymological bone to pick. YES there are people who fit the foodie bill. I simply mean to say that the word ‘foodie’ as such is an unknown term, that it doesn't translate. The rest of the post, when I say ‘here’ I mean to refer to San Sebastián, or, at the broadest, the Basque Country. Where food prices are the highest of all Spain, but (in regards to non-processed and non-exotic goods) virtually always cheaper than in the US. Where there must be something in the water. Because yes! my friends’ families make their own _____<-fill in awesomely delicious food product. I think you’re absolutely right when you say the foodie culture exists because we don’t have the shared culinary tradition, which is the thought I was trying to get across but didn’t succeed in doing quite as succinctly as you.
    Didn’t mean to imply that my ‘foodie’ luck here in Donosti (which I give thanks for daily) is Europe-wide. And while I can’t deny that some of the things I say can be taken as elitist…I wish they would be taken as childish joy instead.
    Someday soon I will touch on the whole local produce issue and how it is reflected in the kitchens (residential and commercial) here…but definitely not what I meant to do in this lil post. Enjoy Germany!

    February 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermarti

    Great article. Very well written and readable. Your arguments are logical and, I believe, correct. Good food doesn't have to come from a 3-Star kitchen and doesn't even have to be visually appealing (the famous Kentucky Hot Brown looks sort of bad but tastes great for instance).

    I enjoy dining out but to be pleasurable the experience as a whole needs to be considered. The quality and appearance of the food, the ambiance of the setting, the background music, the temperature of the restaurant, even down to the weight and feel of the fork, all contribute to the experience.

    February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Thickstun

    Navel gazing, huh?

    February 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjro

    o jro...guilty.

    February 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermarti

    You need to publish this, Marti! This is a fantastic piece!

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    October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjohnreber

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