Stop Hating on Foodies
There’s nothing quite so amusing as watching the zealous foodie produce #foodporn.
When the meal arrives – some raw phenomenon, an artful smear – he cracks his knuckles, grips the smartphone and closes in swiftly for the shot, lest the food move and ruin the entire operation. Two edits and five hashtags later, consumption begins.
The term “foodie”, once used to define someone “very, very interested in food”, has transmuted into a movement of culinary obsession, a sub-culture of gourmands who, via blogs and Instagram, appraise every bite of food. The hashtag #foodporn has garnered over 300 million posts, and counting.
Like most mass-scale trends, foodiesm has its critics. Some denounce the “foodie” term as childish; others decry the sudden ubiquity and righteousness of the lot. One writer calls he who shares his eating habits online a “foodiot”.
What interests me about foodiesm, however, is its apparent lack of young people. Sure, nearly all the acai bowls in your feed hail from the 18 – 26 age group, but so many Matt Preston hopefuls I’ve encountered have been older, afforded diners for whom a $20 taco would be fair game.
Do young Australians ever hold place at the food lovers’ table? Do the Foodie Elite (high profile bloggers, fine wine experts, cold drip doyens) really know more about food than we do?
Various factors may contribute to the perception that young people don’t care for good food as much.
Despite the volume of research that links the consumption of unhealthy foods with poorer academic performance, “uni food culture” extends little further than mie goreng and Coles-brand sausage sizzles provided free on campus – anything calorific to bulwark a night on the cask wine.
Yet even if a young person wished to splash out on a foodie experience, their casual wage or Youth Allowance mightn’t withstand a $100 food truck hotdog or a $485 dinner at the 2016 Noma pop-up in Sydney. And so few are restaurant dinners priced below $25 nowadays. Mie goreng it is, then.
Or perhaps young people are merely foodie scene dissidents; such is their boredom with Instagram’s deluge of doughnuts (so hot in 2016), jarred juices, golden milk lattes and, invariably, acai bowls.
What’s the sad result of this? It’s the tendency for young people to underappreciate good food while travelling. I get the financial motive; my best friend once told me how, in Chicago, US, she’d hammer the hostel’s free pancake breakfast so she didn’t have to buy food later.
But as avid food lover, I’m imploring young people who travel to consider the role food plays in understanding people and place. Forget hashtags. Forget Masterchef jargon. Overlook the foodie pretension for a moment to realise that, trends aside, travelling is about as foodie as it gets.
First and most obviously, any national or regional cuisine tells a narrative about that place, its communities and its history. And though fine examples, this concept captures far more than pizza dough in Rome or a warm-butter croissant in Paris.
Eating a local dish can teach us about the region’s indigenous crops, generational cooking techniques and snippets of cohabitation of, or trade between, different nations.
For example, picture yourself in Goa, India, with a plate of Bombay potatoes: spicy, starchy and moreish, this side dish illustrates the bond between Goans, their Maharashtrian neighbours and Portuguese mariners who introduced the potato – or batata – to India in the late sixteenth century.
Similarly, that the UNESCO Creative Cities Network enlists cities based on their gastronomy goes a long way in explaining how important food is in exploring regional identity and culture.
Techniques of consumption subsume equal importance. After four months of practice in South Asia, I still lack the delicate finesse with which Indians and Sri Lankans use their hands to mix and eat their food. Some call it unsanitary, but I prefer Bengali-American food writer Chitrita Banerji’s description: “(savouring one’s) native cuisine through the coming together of hand and mouth.”
Willingness to try the technique won’t go unnoticed. While breakfasting on coconut curry, devilled chickpeas and pol sambol in central Sri Lanka, the waiter belatedly offered my boyfriend and me cutlery. Realising we’d begun with our hands, he nodded approvingly, smirking like a prosecutor resting his case.
To delve into the burbs of almost any South or South East Asian town is to find cheaper and arguably more authentic food than that found in the tourist beats. My most memorable tempeh fritters, samosas and string hoppers were served from the most modest, even dilapidated roadside carts.
Even transport snacks can be, if not exhilarating, at least interesting. On every long bus journey in Ecuador, I’d anticipate which incarnation of plantain – a savoury banana cultivar – I’d be offered by the rackety group of vendors who’d embark at each stop. Cheese-stuffed bolones, empanadas de verde or a paper bag of patacones, steaming and salty.
In food-crazed India, there’s little wonder foodstuffs feature in religious practice, from the dewy sweets placed before neighbourhood shrines, to Sikh langars (free food kitchens), to the auspicious fish head served in the Bengali Hindu Aiburobhaat – the final meal served to the bride-to-be under her father’s roof.
Finally, I’ll tell you what coffee culture is for young travellers: it’s sucking down saccharine black coffee at 2.00am in a 24-hour Chiang Mai café, after stumbling off a night bus. It’s steeping your own cold drip with local beans in a plastic bottle. It’s sipping caffeine by a chai stall with a dozen locals, enjoying the rare serenity that precedes an Indian morning.
You mightn’t find these experiences flashed across the cover of Gourmet Traveller, but they’re the kind you and your wallet will savour long after the travels are over. So, who’s the foodie now?