Getting Out Of The Foodie Bubble

Every girl should have a friend who’s witty, opinionated, drives really fast motorcycles and is equally comfortable cooking French food with hand-foraged mushrooms or drinking wine out of a half-pint canning jar. For me, that friend is chef and author Lisa Simpson. Lisa was kind enough to contribute her thoughts here on the perils of the Foodie Bubble.


Let’s clear this up right away: I am in the Foodie Bubble. It’s pretty awesome, too. But sometimes I hear my mouth making the Foodie Bubble talk and I squirm. Once I was with a group that was timidly ordering off a menu where the terms ‘lettuce cup’ and ‘Kurobuta pork’ provoked so much anxiety that the chef threw together a surf-n-turf option.

Into this crowd I almost griped, “I can’t believe the somme is pairing Napa Cab with Vietnamese?!”

There’s so much Foodie Bubble talk going on in that sentence, I’d need to diagram it and then be force-fed a Twinkie as punishment. (But that’s just more Foodie Bubble talk, am I right?)

Here in the Foodie Bubble, we forget that not everyone spends their free time chasing down raw milk producers or waiting for the perfect tomato. Most people grab a jar of spaghetti sauce off the grocery store shelf.

Yes, yes, in our ideal world, everyone would loooove to cook, we’d all make our own pickles from robust vegetables grown on our southern-facing wall, have pygmy goats that sleep in the garage so we could milk them for our coffee, no one would ever forget their reusable grocery bags, corporations would genuinely care about what they fed us, everything would have a positive environmental impact, and we’d all have reservations at 8 at Momofuku.

But listen up, Foodies. That will never happen. And it’s Foodie Bubble talk to think otherwise. When we forget that, that’s our failure.

Deep Fried Twinkies: The food politics vote you make with your ass.

Remember your own path to the Bubble? Your love of McRib sandwiches didn’t lead you to mistakenly pick up Fast Food Nation and then the next day decide how to preserve heirloom vegetables. How can we demand that of everyone else?

The first organic thing I bought was milk. I probably used it to rehydrate cheese powder. I wasn’t looking to change from someone who simply liked to eat into a Super Foodie. None of my foodways happened overnight, over the weekend or because nothing was the same after Omnivore’s Dilemma.

In fact, I don’t know a single person that read Omnivore’s Dilemma that had an epiphany. Everyone that read it already knew, since that’s the section of the bookstore we hang out in. It was like handing out free Bibles to a congregation that had already taken Jesus into their hearts.

And that, my fellow Foodies and illustrious Foodie Bubble people, is the problem with all of our salient, educated, erudite and passionate arguments. We are totally preaching to the choir.

An example of our passionate dialogue with ourselves is this pioneer program in LA to bring healthy, delicious food to inner city kids through the School Lunch program.

The program is failing because of quality control issues and because kids don’t like weird food. And in case you forget what it was like to be a 4th grader, “weird food” is anything that isn’t eaten in your own house. All these well-meaning people, good hearted, with a noble purpose, they overlooked the obvious.

So the challenge here isn’t to draw people into the bubble. The challenge is for us step out of it.

And we need to, because we are our own worst PR company. We’re hippies, liberals, PETA-sign waving blowhards that wanna take away soda, salt and bacon. Elitist 1%ers with obscene wine collections murmuring about heirloom tomatoes while half of America can’t pay their mortgage. We’re obsessed with the color of egg yolks and making corndogs fancy. We want people to think about overfed geese while there are two wars and taxes and kids getting lost in the foster care program.

When we’re not patting each other on the back about our superior sensibilities we’re shouting into an empty theater, having forgotten that no one wants to watch a bunch of self-satisfied jerks pat each other on the back. That’s called “The Oscars” and we all agree that it’s mostly awful to watch, right?

We need to remember: most people are not in the Foodie Bubble. They don’t know what Momofoku is, and if they did they’d probably not go anyway. The average person is not a culinary adventurer, and deep frying a Twinkie is as much a political act as a dessert option. It’s cheaper to buy 10 frozen dinners on sale with coupons than it is to buy kale at the Farmer’s Market. Kale is weird. Soccer moms do not want to be goat-milking hippies. A lot of them don’t want their kids around goat-milking hippies just in case goat-milking hippie is contagious.

Getting out of the Foodie Bubble is not about quitting, it is about changing the way we take on the world. Foodie minions, we need to be a broom in this system. We have to be a little more self-aware and a lot less precious, and a helluva lot better at our own PR.

Lisa Simpson - moving away from the Foodie Bubble, but never food.


What do you think – are you in the Foodie Bubble or do you just like to eat? Perhaps most importantly, how can those of us who do care about food politics and food sovereignty issues engage others on these topics without coming across like a pretentious foodie ass?

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Comments

  1. I think I’m sitting right on the edge of that circle.

    As a teen, I spent my allowance in the food court looking for something I hadn’t heard of before (gyros come to mind; I let a sheltered childhood). I remember the only time my family went to a “fancy” restaurant. I was 9 or 10 and wanted to order crab, but was dissuaded because my parents were afraid I wouldn’t like it. I don’t remember what I ended up getting, but I do remember I didn’t get to try crab that day.

    So, I’m something of an adventurous eater in my family, willing to try just about any food or restaurant at least once. Holidays, family gatherings, vacations…the food is always the focus for me. I enjoy cooking, but I have little interest in gourmet cooking. I’m just now coming to food politics, after years of apathy or even disdain for it. In the past, politics and nutrition weren’t my concern; flavor was the goal. Lucky for me, I loved veggies and whole grain bread just as much as I did fried-on-a-stick fair food. (I’ll admit it. I still do…)

    So am I in the foodie circle? Not quite, I guess; but my life is very foodcentric all the same. Preaching the foodie gospel? That’s not me. I just try to set an example and stay open to questions, if and when they are asked.

  2. ARgh! So remember that *Organic* People post you wrote? I wrote this whole long post about how I AM one of them and I don’t mean to come off as some elitist ass but somehow manage to do so anyway. But it is not published yet because it is just too rough still. Anyway, this post is along those same lines.

    Going to the in-law’s for dinner is always special. Last time they spread a vat of garlic flavored margarine over every single piece of bread and then toasted it in the oven. There was no bread without any. And my husband, not realizing what had happened, gave some to our kids and put a piece on my plate while I was in the bathroom. Just typing this makes my skin crawl. What am I supposed to do – snatch the bread off of their plates? So I sit there seething inside and praying they fill up on conventionally grown salad topped with Kraft dressing so they don’t have room for the poison garlic bread. Sigh.

    When did I get so… snooty? I don’t want to be that person. But I don’t want my kids eating margarine at Grandma’s house either.

    I wonder how to step out of the bubble without compromising what you really believe in. It is really challenging and I don’t usually pull it off well. If you figure out a better way, let me know! ;)

    • Ok, so I must be in the bubble. I read this and think “You let your kids eat bread? But the wheat is ripping holes in their intestines!” My point is that it goes on and on and you never get to your goal, but you can try not to be an ass about it. Because sometimes you just need to shut up and eat the beignet, and enjoy it, at least till your blood sugar spikes.
      Having sat through that meal, with my parents, I sympathize but you do have to live in the world, which means an occasional stop at mcdonalds, even when you would rather have chipolte.

      • You won’t be able to watch them forever, you need to teach them to make good choices, not be the “food police.” I was the kid with carob “M&Ms” colored with beet juice in my lunch in elementary school, by the time I was in middle school, I’d walk to the store with friends and buy bits of junk mom wouldn’t let me eat. For about three years in high school I ate Skittles, Lance Dunkin’ Sticks and Dr. Pepper for breakfast… pretty sure it was just because I COULD, I was free of restrictions.

        My kids know why we grow and butcher our own food, bake our bread, etc. They know where it comes from and how much work it takes. They are also aware of WHY… the dangers of processed foods, GMO’s and commercially grown veggies. I will, however allow treats and exceptions occasionally and in moderation.

        Honestly, if you are that worried about it, you should move far enough away that you won’t be invited to family dinners, homeschool them and make sure they never visit friends houses. However, this will cause resentment and they will be considerably less likely to follow your values once they get out from under your wing.

  3. I’m in the bubble, but in a bubble within the bubble titled “broke”. So, while I love good and healthy whole foods, it’s all about choices for me. My (mostly) organic (somewhat) local food budget is $325 a month. Most times I do pretty well, but other times I’m serving quesadillas for the third time that week. At least the tortillas are somewhat local…you know made at Central Market.

    But I’ve been the person who talks too much and turns people off. I’ve moved to the tact of “feed someone good food and THEN tell them that it is healthy/local/or organic”. Afterall, you catch more flies with local raw honey then homemade vinegar.

  4. Deborah Aldridge says:

    I think that the organic, foodie and gardening bubbles must all intersect at some point, right? So we can all be friends. :)

  5. These are what we call first world problems.

    I vacillate between being completely disgusted with my over inflated grocery “budget” which buys 2 healthy weight people local, humane, whole foods and feeling incredibly lucky that we are fortunate enough to have that option. Thinking wtf would I do without so much disposable income? How can we expect anyone else to eat this way, when I myself who believe in it fiercely, can be so disgusted by the cost.

    And yes, food should cost more. We are spoiled by our subsidies and processed crap and double coupons. Deluded into thinking everything should go on special for .99 eventually. But when the bulk of your societies whole life is based around that food system, when a whole generation (at least) has grown up with that food, that a big fundamental shift. Big, huge, monstrous. How do you get them to value food, they aren’t even going to like eating at first?

    Anyway, digression… I both love and hate my foodie bubble, like smeagol.

    I think I’ll go work on that birthday reservation for the Herb Farm.

  6. I also think it’s important not to make people feel that it’s all or nothing. It’s important that people realize there are a number of roles to play in a sustainable food system – not everyone has to be the farmer. When we’re talking about food security in low-income areas, the most important first step is increasing access to and interest in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s all good to increase the access, but is folks don’t want it, don’t know how to cook it and/or don’t have the time – then it’s all for not.

    • i agree. more up, i think it’s important to be honest about our own failings. I buy bananas. And I know that’s environmentally and socially irresponsible. But at the same time, I do a lot of other good too… It’s about finding a balance that works for you. If it’s all or nothing, most people will do nothing. It’s about making the information and the choices and the OPTIONS and OPPORTUNITIES to choose to buy, grow, make, preserve, etc… accessible.

      • +1 – agreed. The overall post hits home too. Often I feel like I’m placing myself in an echo chamber, and am amazing when I venture out and eat with those who were me a year or two ago…
        We all start somewhere. The point is that we’re ready to learn, and do our best with what we’ve got.

  7. I’m probably a little of both. I like Cheetos and I like raw milk. I think it all comes down to balance. I try to serve my family as much whole, local food as I can. Since I do that, I’m not going to freak out if we go to someone’s house and they serve us Hamburger Helper and store bought cake. I will enjoy the meal and the conversation.

    I just try to make it all look as normal as possible for my friends so they don’t think I’m a crazy lady.

    • I agree, Sarah. I do what I can at home…with varying degrees of success…but I’d never criticize what I was served in someone else’s home. I’d eat a small portion of it and take comfort in the fact it’s not part of my daily diet, or depending on how many other foods were offered, I might just skip it all together.

      I see healthy food choices as a continuum, not an all or nothing choice.

  8. Tres fantastique. This is right up there with “Don’t Be an Urban Homesteading Asshole”!

  9. Last night, as my boyfriend and I ate homemade biscuits (he made them) with homemade butter (I made it) and local honey (the bees made it) he commented, “Oh my god, we’re THOSE people!”. We’re lucky to be those people, though really we’re pretty relaxed about our food choices. As the primary shopper and cooker I try to keep us away from too much processed food and to cook delicious complete meals while sourcing at least some of ingredients locally, but we both love snacks and junk food and can’t afford a totally local and/or organic items (and no time or sunny spot at our house to grow more than a few herbs).

    As for what other people are making me, I’ve adopted a friend’s philosophy. If someone has bothered to take the time and effort to prepare food for me, if they are doing it out of friendship or love or care, then it’s good enough for me to eat. It may not be something I’d pick out or make at home but I appreciate the work and attention that went into that meal.

  10. i’ve found most of the people i associate with ask questions in their own time. “Where can I get happy meat”? “Are mangos in season?” “Where can we find local eggs”? …such questions end up being great conversation starters to get into something more meaningful (ie local eggs do not necessarily equal happy eggs)… Generally, my loved ones have come to accept my eating/buying/growing/cooking/preserving habits – and if they’re open to discussion I’m more than stoked to talk WITH them about food politics. But I try to wait for them to bring it up, or at least until I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer as one of my friend’s mates keeps going on and on and on about the sale at Walmart on avocados… then I’m definitely in the foodie bubble. And I blow that shit up all over the place…

    …obviously i’m still working on it…

  11. I was *in* one of the wars, pay an obscene level of income tax (I’m Canadian), have had periods of my life where I was beyond broke (and may be there yet again, as I’m now jobless), and still I’m in the Foodie Bubble. Jussayin’. ;)

    Just kidding…actually, I wasn’t really, but I *do* get the gist of what you were saying. Like Anisa said above, it’s hard to find the balance, between not annoying everyone else, but without compromising what you really believe in.

  12. This reminds me of a very awkward food conversation I was recently part of… The other two involved in it were on opposite ends of the food politics spectrum. Both are friends and both strong and opinionated chicks ;)

  13. Mama Turtle says:

    Definitely in the foodie bubble here. I try not to nitpick others about what they make, but I have dietary restrictions that make it necessary to tell them they have to read labels before cooking a meal they’ve invited me to. I can’t eat soy of any sort and aspartame causes a migraine. I didn’t choose not to eat soy, I CAN’T. I have hypothyroidism and it basically negates my medicine, makes me sick, and throws my bloodwork all out of whack. Which sucks, because I freaking love miso. As a result, most boxed food is not an option. Thankfully most of my friends know my cooking skills, so when they throw a dinner, I always ask if they’d like me to bring a dish, and I always get a resounding YES because they know it will be organic, and they know it will be delicious. As a bonus, I always have something to eat in case the main meal is tofu-something. Mysterious boxes of organic foods have been known to show up on their porch when they’re broke too ;) I try not to be a foodie a*hole, but I do happily recommend organic brands when somebody asks which (example) strawberries are better. I’ll say “Blah blah brand is absolutely delicious. They taste like the ones grandma used to grow. Those cheap ones are kind of bland…” and it will be the truth. Slowly people decide that conventional tastes like “generic” once they’ve had a taste of the organic stuff. You can’t really sell very many ordinary people on “well it’s all natural and chemical free” or “the plants are happier” when the price tag is higher, but you CAN sell them on “it tastes better” or “it’s juicier”. They’ll later decide for themselves that the pesticide free stuff must be better because it’s tastier. It’s all about easing them into it at their pace. Eventually, you can tell them “they have strawberries like this at the farmer’s market for $1 less, they are open every Friday night” and maybe someday they’ll ask you how to grow their own.

  14. Very interesting post. As a teacher, I definitely see both sides of the issue. My in-laws, yeah, they’re way outside the food bubble. I beg to have something green at the table at every family gathering. Still, I don’t think people are as far removed from sustainable healthy food as we might think. It’s really related to the words that we use. When I talk about gardening and farming with my students, the relate because their families are farmers. When I talk about how farmers should see more of the money for the produce they create, they definitely agree. When I say we should remove the junk food from the school cafeteria, and have a soup and salad bar, they cheer. It’s really about finding common ground; I like to think it’s always possible. :)

  15. I’m not in the foodie bubble. I AM, however, part of a local, organic coop that receives a lovely box of fresh produce once a week and is run by a lovely naturopath. We can and sometimes do, source everything through her (except meat, which I get from the local, organic, free range butcher, because I DID have an epiphany when I saw Food, inc). That said, I dress mainstream (albeit secondhand), I listen to triple j radio, and my kids aren’t homeschooled or in montessori or stiener (not anymore, anyway). Oh, and I birthed with a caesarian and I didn’t breastfeed my second child for more than 8 weeks.

    So the problem I have, is that when I am standing in the school yard, and the mainstream mums are giving their kids tiny teddies in mini packets, and letting them drink pop top drinks, my skin is crawling (because my kids are adventurous eaters, and that is both mass-produced food AND home made food), but at the same time the food bubble mums with the hippy goat milking tendencies don’t know about my efforts, or think they aren’t earnest enough, so their skin crawls when they’re watching me!

    So where do I fit, exactly? I don’t know, and I often don’t care. We each do what we can, when we can, and if that isn’t good enough for folks who don’t know me, hell, why should I care?!!!!

  16. I actually *did* have a bit of an epiphany after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s not that the injustices in the food system were new information for me, but rather that it was the first book I’d read about the industrial food system that spent time exploring the alternatives. Five years later we have 400+ sf of garden, nearly 40 fruit trees, chickens, ducks, bees, and I’m starting a Master Food Preserver course at the end of the month. I know I’m in the foodie bubble.

    I grew up with small house gardens, but also with Prego and Poptarts. I’ve converted my parents (okay, mostly my mom) to our backyard eggs, but it is only at my insistence that they keep real butter at their house (or I go out and buy it for them) because the margarine they happily use to fry those eggs and spread on their real (white flour) sourdough makes me nauseous. I am already having palpitations about leaving our future children with them because I see the junk they (okay, mostly my dad) gives my niece.

    I try to keep my “how the hell can you not see this!!!” attitude bottled up around others, but it does have an unfortunate habit of leaking out. My husband is helpful in keeping me from getting too snotty, he likes my food (mostly) and is on board with almost all my crazy hippie shenanigans, but he also still loves american cheese-like food product and almost anything in a box. We eat very little of either, but he thinks it a high compliment to tell me what I’ve made for dinner tastes just like “XYZ-in-a-box”.

    I’m working on being less of a foodie-ass. But I also have a subversive plot to bring them over to the dark side by feeding them delicious food. Because I think fantastic food (not pretentious or expensive food, just really delicious food) is about the best PR we have.

  17. Man, I love this conversation. I am absolutely in the Foodie Bubble, but I try desperately not to inflict it upon others who are not. I really have to restrain myself when I’m with my (very conservative, Evangelical Christian, Republican) parents. Thankfully they only gave a slight eye-roll when I insisted on bringing veggies from my CSA box to help make Christmas dinner. My Bleeding Heart Liberal side can be difficult to keep in. ;) What I try to do is remind myself that I love FOOD, more than anything, and it’s something that we humans all have in common, in some way. (even if I shudder when you’re holding that Twinkie.) Thanks for touching on this in such an honest, open-minded way.

    • I’m a conservative, Evangelical Christian and I’m in the Foodie Bubble. We do exist.
      If you want to explain to your parents why CSA/organic/local is better, try something like “caring for the Earth is an important way to be good stewards of God’s creation” or “loving our neighbor (our fellow man) means doing what we can to be sure that farmers make a living and that food workers don’t have health problems from working with concentrated chemicals” or even: “1 Corinthians says that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that we should care for them accordingly (1 Cor. 6:12-13, 19-20). Isn’t eating healthy food just another way of caring for your body, like not drinking excessively and not smoking?”. If they show any interest, have them take a look at blogs like “Keeper of the Home” or “A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa” (I read the latter myself).
      Actually, spreading the word about the greatness of the foodie bubble is not that different from spreading the word about a religion… it’s all about finding common ground! :)

  18. This is absolutely right but you haven’t offered advice. So what do we do? Keep giving those corporations money? I would argue that at least half of the eaters outside the foodie bubble would like to be inside the foodie bubble but can’t afford to. So in my mind the answer is to take action on behalf of food justice. What have you done to help make food affordable lately?

    This is the reason I spend five months of every year organizing local food buys direct from farmers. I sit back and watch all the other bloggers blog about what they are putting up with this great inexpensive produce and meanwhile I don’t have time to blog because I’m busy making it inexpensive. That is my labor of love. Right now I’m forming a legal entity to make these food buys a true cooperative that will service the greater Seattle are and not just the few food buying clubs that I have started. We all could put time into community service like this that helps local food resiliency and lowers prices for the those outside the food bubble. And Erica, we could really use you and your passion to do it. :)

  19. I think I am defining a “Foodie” differently than you. I eat local, organic, home grown, etc, but it isn’t about the food. It’s about environmental impact. A Foodie, as I’ve always understood it, is about any kind of fancy food, no matter how it’s produced. Foodies love veal, after all, when it’s got some chi chi coolie swirled on the plate below it. As long as the food is made into little towers and has sprigs of stuff on top of it and a matching wine, a foodie is happy. :) I love cheese-slathered fried things, sooo not Foodie, but I like them to come from my own backyard or the farm down the street. And I am not above a Fluffernutter, which almost sent a chef boyfriend into convulsions once. mmmmm Fluffernutter…. oh wait, where was I?

    I would warn against always pairing the environmental stuff with the culinary aspects. I think you lose a lot of people on the local, environmental food movement when you bring Foodie-ism (fancy food if you will) into it. If you can talk to people about regular food (spaghetti sauce and grilled cheese *without* fontina) created in a more sustainable way, you will have more success. Talking to non-Foodie people about their wine pairings for a panko-encrusted anything and you bring on those feelings of “all enviros are elitists” in a lot of people.

  20. Great post. We don’t like the word foodie, but still love food

    http://wearenotfoodies.com

  21. Can something be a bubble and a continuum? Because I know that to some–with my supermarket-bought pasta, my generic Pop-Tarts–it may seem I haven’t even been introduced to the mere idea of a foodie bubble; while, to others–with my homemade yoghurt and bread and beer, my capers and saffron, my precious canisters of dried beans–I am exactly that person they don’t want to talk to about food because everything I say is “so easy!” has steps and requires time and space.

    Honestly, I wish I could be more in the foodie bubble. I wish my partner bought into the idea of a CSA, I wish I had space in the budget for more sustainable and kinder meats–but, at the same time, I know that my family unit making more money doesn’t actually solve the large problems of food access and quality.

    The food that makes it into our pantries and onto our plates are a complex set of decisions–personal, political, spiritual and financial–and it feels good to read some empathy about that instead of judgement and elitism.

  22. I just saw this, thanks to a late comment. You are a wise woman. As for me, I was in a way born in the foodie bubble. My mother cooked daily, as did all mothers in that time and place. She cooked produce that was in season locally because that’s what was available unless you were rich. As young adults we expanded the repertoire and cooked a lot of brown rice with stir-fry. Next came the seventies back-to-the-land hippie thing, and at some point my lifelong interest in natural health got me reading labels. As time went by and more information became available we became ever more fanatic. Nevertheless, I will indulge in Doritos or Timbits on a long car trip and snap up Delissio pizza when it is on special. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

  23. Stephanie says:

    I know this is an old post but it really made me think. I may be in the bubble without realizing it. I have jars of beans and ferments going on my countertops. We eat fresh veggies, grass-beef, pastured chicken, and local eggs. We like non homogenized milk. BUT. We also buy boxed pasta, bananas, pineapples, and avocados from the grocery store. My kids like take out pizza but every time I eat it I cringe and it really takes restraint not to yank it out of their greasy fingers. I need to find balance. For my own sanity. It’s making me crazy. I over analyze every little bite my kids eat. I stress over the commercialism and over saturation of candy at school Valentine’s and Halloween parties. My husband says I need to chill but now that I have learned of food dyes, preservatives, and chemicals in processed foods I get physically ill at the thought of eating it or giving it to my children. I think I may have have a problem with no solution. I have no idea how to deal without making my children rebel with store bought foods.

  24. Sort of OT….I think this thread is about compromise. I’ve come to abhor ‘true believers’, of every stripe, i.e., food, religious, political, etc (as right/accurate as they often are). There seems to be a whiff (at least) of “I HAVE to be right’ desperation about the ‘my way or the highway’ approach … often almost unrelated to the subject matter. And the conversion attempt so often backfires into revulsion, as relayed here. But, more importantly, I think it is inimical to the one true solution to all the worlds problems… poverty, war, racism, sexism, health, etc… which is ‘understanding’ (an outrageous generalization, I know, but possibly true). Stepping out of ourselves, attempting to understand, shutting up and listening, typically leads (done long enough :) to stumbling onto a patch of common ground, which seems to be the only place from which we can appreciate one another, and our various innocuous (even if mistaken :) viewpoints…. possibly the only place where we can learn anything, and defuse defensiveness, and realize how big the important choir really is :)

    I’m rambling, I know, but I just wanted to also add my hope that more of us can soften our internal stance, as well as our external presentations. I’m working on mine, and am so heartened to see it here with the ‘natural’ folk :) I also loved Erica’s observations on opposites at the Fair, and homesteaders’ superioritis, and probably others I haven’t found yet ;)

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