It’s been a month since I’ve written here. I’ve been off having adventures, seeing friends, and finishing the first half of my English Master’s exams (that would be the question writing portion, now I’m onto preparing to answer the questions). In the time I’ve been gone I’ve had a lot of really wonderful experiences with food and friends, although I realized about halfway through my adventure that I was recording more food than friends. This is an unfortunate oversight which I have attempted to correct since coming back from Seattle. John, Ruth, Maria, Lauren, I’m so sorry we didn’t take a pic together while eating those amazing meals. On the other hand, I did put down my camera immediately after snapping some food shots and spent the rest of my time catching up and enjoying conversation. While the dinners we ate were good, even more so was the time spent together. Looking back over more recent photos of Ash and Rob, Olivia and Alex, I’m glad we snapped those pics of all of us, though I’m sorry it might have detracted from catching up.
There’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck when it comes to writing and thinking about and photographing food, and it’s the search for that balance that may have resulted in so much foodie backlash this month. One Houston Press article asks “Has the ‘Foodie’ Backlash Begun?” and debates whether we should begin an “anti-foodie” movement or simply tell them “Suck It, Foodies.” This conversation is part of the larger debate over how, where, when, what food should be and can be enjoyed and relished or vilified and condemned. Certainly the elitist aspects of being food-obsessed should be taken into account. Questions about how big the carbon-footprint of your Chilean strawberries is and how much is too much to spend on a meal have a place in the debate. I think Katharine Shilcutt, author of the “Foodie Backlash” article says it quite well:
“What was once the domain of a passionate, geeky few has suddenly mushroomed into a hobby for many: eating for sport. In the same way that it’s now “cool” to be a computer nerd or a comic book aficionado, it’s lately become cool to be a foodie. And as that hobby becomes more mainstream, it also becomes more self-aggrandizing, a pompous satire of itself.”
Shilcutt goes on to describe recent decadent obsessions with foods like bacon and truffles as symptomatic of “foodie” indulgences. I can’t argue with her about the ridiculous extremes some eaters and cooks go to. I myself am guilty of trying out a recipe for tomatoes stuffed with breadcrumbs and bacon–it looks great, but it was greasy and heavy and too much. But I’m glad people have something constructive to get excited about. I know food seems like a very transient thing in our lives, on the plate and then gone, but it can also be the tangible embodiment of culture, family, art, and spirituality. I think it’s important that food has a renewed place in our discourse about health and pleasure and family and relationships. This may sound like a lot of talk for spaghetti squash casserole or BBQ chicken and corn, but 4 or 5 nights a week at our home, it’s also a welcome respite from a long day, a symbol of love and care, a meal for connection or quiet reflection. Cooking can be a meditation or a loving act or a moment of experimentation. I don’t think that going into raptures over pizza or ice cream by themselves is very thrilling, but thinking about who the food feeds and how it feeds body and soul can be a revelation.
Note: Phaedra Cook wrote a really thoughtful response to this debate, “In Defense of Foodies.”
One of the nicest meals I ate this month has no photo. While in Washington my husband and I bought cheap wine, cheese, crackers, and fruit, found a park, and had a picnic on some hotel sheets I swiped. We barely spoke, just read our books, ate, enjoyed the cool Washington weather, and dog watched. The beast cheese was a Triple Cream from Trader Joes. The grapes were moldy. The wine was delicious. It was a little bit of heaven.
All of this is to say, my meals this last month have been eaten and made in wonderful company. I cooked for friends who just had a baby, I ate sushi with old friends from high school, I went to a relative’s home for steak and laughter, I introduced other friends to the best Italian restaurant in Washington, I ate several quiet, restorative meals with my husband, I adventured with college friends to some great new places in Houston, I was welcomed into someone’s home by a surprise brunch with new friends, and I made ice cream for my husband while he worked hard. I have had a great month in which food played a big part, which is surprising when I look back on it. While I was busy taking photos and jotting notes, I was also creating memories and savoring the moment. I think that’s probably the best an amateur foodie can hope for.