Friday, October 15, 2010

Foodie For a Day

 original pancake house
Iknow, it looks snobby.  But the Original Pancake House is just good.

I probably should take some time and consider carefully what I want to say in response to today’s Oregonian piece ‘Non-Foodies Food Guide’, by Lee Williams.  On the other hand, I’m so disgusted I could spit.  And what the heck—who doesn’t like occasionally reading a temper tantrum?  I hate linking to it, but I will (it has three sections): You Might Be a Foodie If…; The Non-Foodies Food Guide; and Four Foodie Fallacies Busted

First off, a disclaimer.  I’ve never liked the term ‘foodie’, and never called or thought of myself as one.  It just sounds goofy and superficial.  But I’ll go ahead and be a foodie for one day, in solidarity.

 And now the rant.  Williams starts off with these lines:
“I am not a foodie.  To me, food is what you eat, not what you pray to.  Call them gourmands, connoisseurs, picky eaters, or just plain old snobs.  They leave little room on their plates or in their hearts for fast food, family dining, and the untrendy.  And they can be pretty mean to some places we love.”
Little room on their plate for family dining?  Foodies (think Jamie Oliver) have made it their mission to encourage family dining.  I suspect if you polled the nation, you might just find that there’s a higher percentage of foodies sitting down to family meals than non-foodies.
And I resent having ‘fast food’ used to denote cheap, corporate food.  I eat fast food all the time.  A piece of toast with butter.  Pasta boiled while I quickly make tomato sauce.  An apple from the fruit bowl.

Then Williams goes on to highlight (they’re not calling it a review—the Oregonian is sinking to have highlighters instead of reviewers) a few local chains and restaurants: Shari’s, Dutch Bros. Coffee, Taco Time, Sayler’s Old Country Kitchen, and the Old Spaghetti Factory.  The highlights sound a bit like press releases to me.

Amusingly, the Oregonian also notes the website for The Dussin Group, which owns Old Spaghetti Factory.  They neglect to mention that the Dussin Group also owns Fenouil and Lucier, restaurants some might consider, well, foodie spots.  Maybe even snobby.  Certainly expensive.

(whoops...they actually do mention this...and go on to note that while they've gotten 'foodie chatter' foodies have ignored the Old Spaghetti Factory.  I wonder why that would be?)

Chris Dussin is quoted in Four Foodie Fallacies Busted as being sick of foodie buzzwords such as ‘local’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘fresh’.  Meanwhile, though Fenouil’s menu avoids the actual buzzwords, I suspect the non-foodie (who’s supposedly being addressed in the article) might find these items from the restaurant’s tea list snobby: ‘Caffeine free peppermint leaves from Oregon with notes of chocolate’ or ‘Spring harvested full leaf China green tea with perfect alignment’.  Or how about the dinner menu: ‘Cattail Creek Lamb Tartare vadouvan, cauliflower, brioche croutons’ (I had to look up ‘vadouvan’—it’s an Indian spice mix).

Back to my rant.  Each of the five restaurant highlights follows a set format.  They start with three or four paragraphs about the restaurant.  These paragraphs celebrate such things as availability (Shari’s is open 24 hours), and serving size (Sayler’s is home of the 72-ounce steak challenge).  The fact that Taco Time and The Spaghetti Factory make their sauces onsite is mentioned. 

What’s missing?  Not a single highlight says anything about what the food tastes or looks like.   Something I kind of like to hear about if I’m choosing a place for lunch.  I guess that makes me snobby.
After the short highlight, Williams offers one more tidbit: ‘For the foodies’.  For example, about Shari’s, we’re given “Remember pie? It might be the ultimate comfort food.”  Yeah, I remember pie.  The Oregonian just published an article about pies in Portland. The seven spots they covered included two carts, one local ‘artisan' bakery, two cafe-bakeries, and one local old-school bakery.  No mention of Shari’s, even if they do sell pie-on-demand. 

The odd thing is that while the piece is called the ‘non-foodie guide to food’, Williams just can’t keep away from foodies.  The Taco Time highlight, for example, starts with “Did you hear about the latest foodie craze? Gourmet taco trucks.”  Do the non-foodies the article is ostensibly directed towards really care? 

Another thing that bothers me (but tell us how you really feel, Giovanna) is the idea that these places warrant newspaper coverage.  I don’t care if people eat at them.  I happily had coffee this summer at a Dutch Brothers in Grants Pass, where I watched the end of the Netherlands-Brazil World Cup semi-final.  But it's not a place that needs to be profiled.

I also don’t need a guide to the elevators in town with the best muzak (because all that classical music is so elite, and jazz is just snobby).  This is probably the place where the non-foodie would say something about food not being art.  Of course, people said that about rock and roll as well as about jazz once upon a time.  And food certainly is culture.  If I’m going to spend money and time reading a newspaper piece, I’d kind of like to have it informative and thoughtful.  Not flip and mean.

Then there’s the whole idea of allowing people (foodies or non-foodies) to decide that good food and the people that make good food are somehow elitist.  People! Do not fall for this! 
So if the piece was meant as light-hearted and entertaining coverage of places many people—non-foodies—like to eat, why not stick to that?  If it was meant to be informative, why not include some non-foodie spots like the Original Pancake House

The Portland location of this non-snobby local chain is the Original Original Pancake House.  It’s the kind of place that is full of regulars: 90-year-old guys out for their morning walk, groups of businessmen combining breakfast and meetings, 20-somethings nursing hangovers, and soccer moms treating their kids.  And oh.  They also serve pancakes and waffles that live up to the hype—fluffy Dutch Babies, pecan waffles studded with nuts, and even the ever elusive buckwheat pancake.  And if you go in the summer, if you can stand being a snob, you might also enjoy their local peaches and blackberries, served in a huge dish with a bowl of whipped cream and another bowl of confectioners sugar.

But what bothers me the most, I think, is the idea that the way to write a fun piece is by tearing down something or somebody else.  The attempt to put a wedge between people, to make people draw lines (which I’m guilty of today, as I call myself a ‘foodie’).  Sadly, this seems to be the way this country operates these days.  If you’re not with us, you’re against us.  Who does this remind you of?  Consider this bit from You Might Be a Foodie If:   ‘You hate American cheese.  And, honestly, America.’

I read this as ‘you hate American cheeses.’  And I thought to myself, what are they talking about?  Us foodies love American cheese.  But I was thinking of places like Cowgirl Creamery.  My son explained to me they meant American Cheese.  As in processed cheese, cheese food, or, my favorite, cheese analog.

Less amusing is the bottom line here.  Us foodies apparently hate America.

The foodie community in Portland is full of people who care deeply about what they do.  People who are concerned about natural resources, education, immigration, animals, and getting food to the hungry.  People who are generous and have a sense of humor.  People who eat good food, but also enjoy the occasional candy bar from a gas station.  But they aren’t dogmatic about it.  They are also concerned with beauty and deliciousness.  What’s wrong with that?


Thérèse said...

Wonderful post. Bah, Oregonian! I am not going to go read the Williams piece.

Romi said...

Awesome. Just awesome.

Giovanna said...


Anonymous said...

the local 'snpb' businesses are ..... uh.... also businesses, and local. they create jobs, buy products. the 'o' system doesn't seem to value that.

Jan said...

I believe you wrote a diatribe; or is that too snobby a term to use? Loved it!

Rural Eating said...

Thank you for saying all this, especially pointing out that foodie and non-foodie is a false dichotomy. How pointless (and offensive) to make divisions where they don't really exist (it doesn't just happen in politics)! What and where you choose to eat is a personal expression of aesthetics.

You're on quite a roll!

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Wonderful post, Giovanna.

This is not the first foodie-hatred episode this week. Read the comments to the article The Perils of Raising a Foodie, by E. Minchilli on The Atlantic. The reactions are violent and just plain scary!

I dislike the term foodie for the same reasons you do, but today–and in light of what I just learned by this sadly informative post–I stand a proud foodie.

E xx

Giovanna said...

Oh, dear, anonymous...I feel as if I'm missing something very obvious. I'm afraid I don't know what 'snpb' is. I suspect you're not talking about the things I found on the internet: SnPb (tin-lead) or the Swedish National Police Board. I hope you'll enlighten me (or I wake up in the middle of the night with a 'duh' moment!).

Eleonora, I just read through those comments. Scary indeed. And why is it that to spend money (though of course plenty of 'foodie' options are NOT expensive) or time on eating is elitist, whereas spending it on consumer items is All-American?

Spending a day shopping at the mall(in spite of the fact that people are jobless or fighting overseas or hungry)is lauded as patriotic. This Oregonian article, meanwhile, makes a joke that preferring a product crafted by an artisan cheesemaker to one that legally can't even be called cheese means you hate America.


sarah gilbert , cafemama said...

Giovanna, as usual, I agree with you wholly. it's really that these are poorly-written articles, and as most media-invented culture wars are, this one has at its core a grain of truth. but there are many problems with the non-foodie "side" Lee Williams (who is, as I remember after having spoken with her some years ago on another topic, a woman) has painted, not the least of which is the very central issue of the love, hard hard work, and passion the creators-of-foodie-goodness have sunk into the truly wonderful food culture Portland knows.

a big problem is pooh-poohing "freshness," not only because the pooh-pooher has clearly staked millions of dollars on local/sustainable/fresh but why? are we supposed to desire frozen processed food? fresh is a BUZZWORD?

I think there is a conceit that local/handcrafted/"artisan"/fresh/environmentally conscious is anti-American whereas corporate manufactured shipped-from-China is patriotic, and this is a conceit created by the very corporations who own our politicians and, as it seems, our newspapers. the conceit is, at its heart, obviously boneheaded and false but: it remains, and this is one more example of why.

Unknown said...

Ai ai ai! When they remade the Oregonian food writing staff they forgot to retain any 1) real writers, and 2) real eaters. I also loathe the term "foodie", but of course, I love food. Great rant, Giovanna!

Giovanna said...

Sarah, thanks for your comments. It seems like only yesterday that newspapers like the NY Times were striking a blow at snobbism in the food world by starting to review ethnic restaurants and non-white tablecloth joints. I always thought small businesses were the very epitome of the American Dream. And those ethnic restaurants started by new immigrants? Ah well. Apparently we don't want ethnic places.

Unless you count 'Taco Time'. True, it started in Eugene, and was therefore once local-ish. But now its headquarters is in Arizona. And it's part of the Kahala Corporation, which holds 11 other "good-for-you branded concepts in step with today's trend toward low-fat, nutritious eating". You know, like Cold Stone Creamery, home to the 'Oh Fudge' milkshake (1,920 calories).

Oh dear, I'm ranting again. I'm going to go have some lunch at Tastebud at the downtown Farmers Market. Guess that makes me a foodie. It also makes me well-fed.

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