Why we need to stop using the word 'foodie'

Everyone needs to eat well to survive, so why have we created a food hierarchy? 

Kashmira Gander
Friday 22 September 2017 14:45 BST

We need to reclaim the word foodie. And while we’re at it, food snob, too.

It all comes down to one simply fact: everyone needs food to survive. And we all deserve to eat affordable, delicious, nourishing food every single day.

The term foodie first emerged in the 1980s with The Official Foodie Handbook, which documents people who enjoy everything from fine dining to comfort food. In it, the authors defined a “foodie” as “a person who is very, very, very interested in food.” So far, so innocuous.

Fast forward three decades, and this term conjures up the image of the most insufferable person. They turn their nose up at anything that isn’t superlative. They demand the best coffee, the highest quality meat, and to know exactly where their food is procured from. Has it been sprayed with pesticides? Did the people making it earn a fair wage? Does it set their tastebuds alight?

And what’s wrong with that? Why pretend to enjoy a boxed sandwich filled with cheap processed ham, and anaemic slices of tomato that somehow suck all the flavour out? Or terrible restaurants that rip off families with huge markups on poor quality food? Or grin and bear pizza dripping in oil and preservatives that barely resembles the real deal?

Hating on “food snobs” ties in with the strange political climate. It’s another way to blame “liberal elites” for lecturing normal folk on what to do. This was cleverly used by Donald Trump, who earlier this year said he’d rather eat fast food because at least he knows what’s in it. (Sorry, what?)

Let’s be clear. High quality food isn’t the same as expensive food. Having money doesn’t buy taste, and nowhere is that truer than with grub. Overpriced food markets, bizarre products like asparagus water, and bamboozling fad diets are just as much the enemy as the junk that rots your insides.

It’s not about only eating “artisanal” food – whatever that is – or making sure your dinner is Instagrammable, or falling for the latest trend (although all of those things can be fun). Nor is it about feeling bad for eating a packet of crisps, or having a kebab to soak up the booze after a night out.

It’s about a food culture in the UK, where millions of people can’t identify vegetables, and where people on tight budgets have little choice but to eat poor quality food.

While obesity is slowly killing us, and chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease are on the rise, caring about what you put in your body as well as the impact of industrial food on the environment and workers isn’t something to be ashamed of. And we should be demanding even better.

In the UK, we consume four times as much packaged food as fresh produce, with similar trends in western Europe and north America. And figures recently released by Cancer Research UK show that adults eat 79 million ready meals and 22 million fast-food meals or takeaways weekly.

Those aged between 18 to 25 are more likely to eat ready meals, and seven times more likely to order in food once a week.

“I’m forever defending myself as a food snob to friends when we eat out, but really, all I want as a customer is for food to taste great,” says Elizabeth Cottam, Masterchef 2016 semi-finalist, and executive chef and co-creator of fine dining restaurant Home, in Leeds city centre.

“I have high expectations – and why not? I know how things should and can taste. It drives me mad that we get short changed in the UK because as a nation we are used to substandard-tasting produce.

“I’m not sure these so called ‘food snobs’ are rubbishing the simple approach to food – no one can really ever argue with a fantastic tasting dish, no matter how little the ingredients cost. I think we get labelled snobs as a way of defining poor standards.”

Hanan Kattan, the owner of award winning Palestinian Soho restaurant Tabun Kitchen, who moved to the UK from Palestine three decades ago, grew up in a polar-opposite food culture. “Local markets are a lot more used in Palestinian homes than here, I think. I remember using olives and oil from my grandfather’s farm in Bethlehem.

“The old market in East Jerusalem is a cornucopia: everything from sesame ka’ak bread straight out of the oven, falafel fried in front of you, piles and piles of coriander and Arabic cucumbers.

“It’s a culture of sharing and abundance that is reflected by the slightly haphazard presentation and overwhelming choice. The artisanship of small street stalls in making the perfect manaeesh pizza with za’atar topping, or a hot salty-sweet kanafeh dessert, is amazing. Locals will travel to find the best quality and freshness or the particular ingredient they want.” Similar sights can be found in the food markets of France, Italy and Spain.

Chris Smith, researcher and senior lecturer in health and social care at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) says that people need to be better educated with regards to what they eat.

“There are three main questions people need to ask themselves: how food is produced; where is it produced and when it was produced. These questions can help us to consider a number of key factors around the ethical production of food, the seasonality of it and the transportation and storage of the food we eat. These can then help us understand more about nutritional value.”

He looks to Japan as an example if a country that promotes and incentivises citizens to have a choice, and to consider what they are eating and how it is produced.

“On some levels, the Japanese diet, which is based on a large variety of vegetables, tofu and fish, has been shown to have a positive impact on life expectancy, but equally so have Mediterranean diets, which include a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil as well as a moderate consumption of protein.

“The way different groups of people have evolved has an impact on what foods we can eat and how we process them, and we should try to consume a diet that is right for us, rather than basing our habits on fads or cultures that have evolved differently.”

So in the name of celebrating food that is delicious and doesn’t slowly kill you, the next time someone accuses you of being a food snob you should just say “thanks”.

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