Comment of the Day: Suck It, Foodies

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The best a parent can hope for is that their child ends up healthy, happy and slightly more well-off than they are. The best most environmentalists can hope for is to leave the world slightly less fucked up than when they came into it. A politician hopes for change (for the better or the worse, depending), an artist for a little more beauty. Most writers would say that they'd be happy to know that they enlightened or entertained just one person with their work. And journalists? Well, with the state of the dead tree business these days, most of us are just happy to wake up and find that we still have jobs, but we also labor daily in the hope of bringing a little more light and a little more understanding to a world that often seems woefully short of both.

But screw that. I've never been happy with the soft-and-cuddly notion of inspiring just one person or moving the needle one degree away from Doomsday. Because I am an idiot, a fool, a self-obsessed egomaniac in love with the sound of my own voice and an ardent believer in the idea of smart people in small groups being able to fundamentally change the course of history and the nature of reality (think Apple computers, the Founding Fathers or the guys involved in the Manhattan Project), I aim not for the small change or the minor epiphany, but for full-scale revolution. Not every day. Not even once a week. But every once in a while, it's nice to feel the rumble of troops mobilizing, you know? It's exhilarating to sense a thrum of change in the air.

Granted, working in the world of food would seem a strange place to try an incite rebellion. But the restaurant scene is where I've found myself, so food people are who I speak to. Lucky for me, lots of food people have the same kind of yen for earth-shaking and trouble-making that I do. They're a contentious lot, always agitating for or against something (animal rights on the one hand, bacon explosions on the other), and this week, it seems that I gained a convert and a strong lieutenant in Patrick Dominguez.

See, Patrick has a blog where he writes about San Francisco, Seattle, the Giants, beer and food. It's not a big thing--just one of the million, billion personal blogs out there that serve as a catch-all for the random musings of regular people. But Patrick was moved by the review I wrote this week about Mama's Mexican Kitchen. In particular, his thinker got hung up on the line: "But sometimes people turn up their noses at Mama's because of its staunch refusal to behave like a Mexican restaurant of the sort that lock-jawed foodies respect--to go all traditional and peasant-simple with the hog-face tacos and huitlacoche and strange moles with 10 generations' worth of backstory. What the snobs are incapable of realizing, though, is that the food that Mama's does is traditional and historic in its own right." It made him think a little about his own views on food (burritos specifically, what with his roots in the Bay Area where the Mexi-merican big-ass burrito is its own food group) and the prattling of self-proclaimed foodies who would never be caught dead in a place like Mama's.

Patrick wrote a post, collecting his thoughts about Mexican food, quote-unquote traditional cuisine and foodies. In it, he decided that what was needed was a movement--a revolution, albeit a small one. He wrote:

"At the core, a strong belief in local ingredients, deconstructed classics, or authentic flavors scores a win for most restaurant-goers. It's tempting to take the foodie philosophy and expand it to all restaurants and markets. As review sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon expand, diners have become more critical (myself included) and more resistant to eateries that go against the grain of New American, French styled, locally grown/caught/farmed cuisine...Traditional has become a euphemism for unchanging, which in the context of the foodie fight for authenticity, seems contradictory. Do foodies want locally produced goods or authentic spices found only in Mexico? Should a restaurant try a French technique on an Irish dish or only boil down vegetables into a stew? Should we deconstruct meatloaf?"

Preach it, brother. Bring it on home...

"Therefore, I put out a call to all open-minded eaters. Join me in the anti-foodie movement. Rather than project our vision of food onto the restaurants, take food on its own terms. We are in America-nothing we produce here can be completely of another place. Even the most "authentic" Mexican food in California is from California...Anti-foodie is not about hating on the foodies. We are all still foodies-this is a foodie post if there has ever been. I will still go to Chez Shea and love the carefully constructed courses. I will continue to marvel at Art of the Table's ability to improvise based on the daily catch and kitchen leftovers. Of course I would still thoroughly enjoy an evening at Crush, sitting in modern chairs I would never have in my house, but are surprisingly comfortable and the perfect spot to enjoy a dish.

But that doesn't mean stepping away from the Tex-Mex, Teriyakis, and fried chickens of the world. We live in Seattle, one of the best food cities in the country. The restaurants here have a history all their own and their unique styles provide the variety we crave (it's the spice of life, right?). It might be a good time to step back and see the context in which we eat food.

Time to take food on its own terms. Become an anti-foodie."

And I'm with him, like 95%. My only quibble is the part about not hating the foodies. I do, always have, and will continue to vilify all those for whom the term "foodie" was invented--those coup-counting, lock-jawed, cake-eating, nose-in-the-air dimwits who, with sticks planted firmly in their flabby asses will make their weekly cruise out to the hottest addresses in town, get weak little culinary boners over year-dead trends, focused-grouped Frog-humping menus and anyone doing New American comfort food or French-Asian fusion in million-dollar spaces; who will swoon after "discovering" restaurants with 200 Yelp reviews, dismiss cheeseburgers and chicken-fried steak and sloppy tacos and Americanized Chinese food as beneath their notice, but go fucking bonkers for any restaurant that name-checks a farm on its menu. That dirt in your arugula-and-goat-cheese salad? That's not proof of a loving link between farm and table, you tools. That's just proof of a prep cook too lazy, dumb or hungover to wash the goddamn greens before service.

Foodies are the enemy. They are the antithesis of the opinionated, passionate, educated and open-minded grubnik and gastronaut. Give me the freaks, the weirdos, the obsessive and the crazed. Give me those running around with blood on their teeth and barbecue sauce in their hair, never satisfied with the conventional wisdom, never happy with the status quo, never content with simply enough. Herd-followers and bandwagon-jumpers are the bane of any live and vital restaurant scene--are agents only of homogeneity, nothing more--and I, for one (or two, I guess), have had enough of them for the rest of my life.

Patrick is onto something with his anti-foodie movement, and certainly has his heart in the right place. My argument with him is purely a matter of semantics--of terminology--but beyond that, I like his call-to-arms mentality. "Food on its own terms" is a great way to frame the debate. And I think the idea of returning some honor to the scorned, the small, the base and common and unloved is just brilliant. The "foodies" and all their star-fucking and faddish ilk have had the run of the place for long enough. Now it's time for the rest of us to rise up and take back the plate.

Patrick is making an army. I'm his very first recruit. And now it's down to all of you. So who's with us?

 
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