Why I am not a foodie

Pub date December 27, 2007

› paulr@sfbg.com

As the year dwindles and we start to see our breath in the evening cold, we don our scarves and indulge in little sentimentalities and considerable amounts of alcohol. Also, it’s time to clean out the e-mail box. Now or never. I find a note, half buried in a drift of messages slowly composting into cybermulch, announcing a new foodie Web site, www.foodiebytes.com, which is there to assist you when you crave a particular dish and need to locate a restaurant that serves it. You just type in the name of the dish, and the Web site quickly returns a list of nearby places where you can find it and at what price. A Google Maps or MapQuest feature seems inevitable.

Even sheathed in a pun — an obvious one at that — the word foodie provokes a shiver, and I am a wearer of scarves. Some of my best friends are, or I suspect them of being, foodies; it is important to distinguish between the self-confessed types and the latents and cryptos. We are able to converse about food, these foodies and I, often to our mutual pleasure and benefit, but I am not one of them, and they know it.

Through some quirk of temperament, I am not able to go ice-skating over the smooth surfaces of foodie Web sites that cater to people’s cravings. It is my fate instead, as a wonderer and a ponderer, to find myself needing to know the history of a particular dish or technique. And how did it get here? And can I do it, or something like it, at home? All of this is part of my experience of buying, cooking, and eating food.

Food separated from the past, from the ligaments and other connective tissues of culture and custom — food flattened to one dimension — loses much of its power to nourish our souls, our whole human selves, in much the same way that nutrients packed into pills don’t do us the same kind of good as nutrients eaten as part of the foods in which they naturally occur.

We live in a culture that exalts monomania, pops pills for every ailment, and tirelessly resists the past, and in such a context a foodie obsession (got a craving? get a fix!) is hardly unusual. But like most other forms of monomania, it isn’t necessarily all that interesting either.