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?