by Phaedra Cook
Photos by Chuck Cook, unless otherwise noted
I feel sorry for my ex-husband. When I got married at age 20, I didn’t know how to cook. We were very broke and survived on ramen, spaghetti and frozen burritos. No wonder that marriage didn’t work out.
Things changed when I married a man with a limited, but delicious, repertoire. I’d had five years of practice by then on making a damn good spaghetti, and his was just as good as mine. He also had a remarkable potatoes and sausage dish that I still love after almost 17 years of marriage. He calls it “bachelor food”; I call it tasty.
I wanted to be able to do better by this man and my young children, and that’s where my path as a “foodie” began. Food Network’s Good Eats host Alton Brown convinced me that I could cook if I just learned the scientific principles that turned raw ingredients into delicious concoctions. Central Market arrived in Houston a few years later, and suddenly I had the world of food on my doorstep. Now I could try truffles instead of just wondering about them. Our thriving Asian markets enabled me to obtain what I needed to make some of our most-beloved restaurant dishes, like phở and Thai Beef Salad.
However, we were oddballs amongst our non-foodie friends and co-workers, until recently. The Internet enables people with common interests to find each other, and when foodies find each other locally, they break bread together. The communal event of sharing food binds people in friendship like no other.
Now our group is under scrutiny. We’re being called superficial, arrogant and insufferable. While those may be personality traits of some individuals, true foodies are not obnoxious and in fact serve some important roles.
Boy, that's a whole lot of foodies. Photo by Phaedra Cook
Everyone is a foodie in some way. Maybe your grandmother swears by a particular type of flour. Maybe she only uses homemade chicken stock and never canned, or if she does use canned, only a certain brand will do.
If you’re willing to drive an extra two miles to go to the “better” fried chicken place, then you’re something of a “fast foodie.”
Being a foodie is simply having curiosity about food, and being willing to make a little more effort to get what you want. We all have to eat, and we should care about what we put into our mouths, or the mouths of those we feed. Our health, and our waistlines, depend on it.
There are some people out there calling themselves foodies that are giving us a bad name. They are not in search of knowledge. They want to feel important, and find their outlets by demanding refunds from chefs for invented slights (after finishing their meal, of course) and posting their unfair perspective on restaurant review sites. These people are on a quest to prove that they have better taste and know more than everybody else. These are not foodies, these are douchebags who use food as their status symbol of choice. They are no different than the person who brags about their car or their cell phone.
Let’s consider actual foodies and the roles they serve in our community.
Support of Local Food and Chefs
At some point, most of us foodies figured out that the best food doesn’t usually come from a national chain restaurant or a factory. Many of us choose our ingredients from local sources when possible, and prefer restaurants that do the same as much as is reasonable. We go to the farmers’ markets, and our support—both word-of-mouth and financial—has helped make it possible for more of these to spring up all over Houston in the last few years.
When our chefs want to try something new, we are behind them all the way, even when the general public initially balks. While we might like steak frites, we sure don’t want them every week. Creative chefs plus foodies is a winning combination. The chef gets to stretch his or her wings, and we get to have new experiences.
Jamie Oliver isn’t the first person to care about what schools feed children at lunchtime, but him sticking his famous name on the cause doesn’t hurt one bit. If we work to put good food on our tables at home, why would it be acceptable for schools to do less for the one or even two meals our kids get there? Caring parents who happen to have a little foodie in them are pushing the better-food-in-schools movement. Whose kids benefit? Everyone’s do.
Foodies are anti-crap. We want food handled in a safe manner dictated by science and common sense. We know that processed food with lots of sugar and salt isn’t healthy, but we also aren’t above an occasional indulgence. (A burger with Cheetos and cheese sauce? Yes, please, but not every day.)
Because we care about food, we’re willing to do the homework and complain when something is not good from a health, quality or safety standpoint, and all consumers reap the rewards.
These people at the taco truck? Foodies. Photo by Chuck Cook
Foodies are an inclusive group. Are you from somewhere else? Great! What do you eat? Can you teach us how to make it? Where can we buy the ingredients? Being from somewhere else is not a liability; it’s a benefit when you’re hanging out with foodies.
Food is a doorway. What starts out as a journey for food can end with deeper cultural knowledge. Do you know about Indonesian lore? Check out the dances at the annual festival. How does a lady properly wear a sari? Go on a guided tour of Little India.
Go for the food; stay for the education. Make some new friends while you’re there.
It doesn’t require a lot of money to be a foodie. A group recently did hot wing comparisons amongst six different places over a series of evenings. (It turns out that guys probably don’t actually go to Hooters for the wings, as they ranked the lowest.)
I’m currently on a cupcake comparison mission, which costs me $2.50 to $5 each. That’s less than I used to spend per day at Starbucks. So, you can’t afford the fancy dish featuring the exotic ingredient at the pricey restaurant? Buy the ingredients (online if you can’t find it nearby) and make the dish yourself. Recipes for just about anything are available for free on the Internet.
“Foodies” are an easy bunch to make fun of. We’re nerds about the details, making much of the meaty chewiness of shitakes versus tree ears, or running all over town to acquire chocolate cupcakes from five different bakers to do side-by-side comparisons. Our friends who aren’t quite as “foodie” as we are just shake their heads and laugh, and don’t understand why we care about when to use Madagascar vanilla and when to use Mexican. We’re often referred to as the people who eat the “weird shit,” and we’re OK with that.
Yep, those foodies and their snobby Texas barbeque... Photo by Chuck Cook
Still, I think more of you will be joining us. Oh, you only like down-home food and none of that ethnic stuff? Well, you might enjoy our barbeque runs to places like Lockhart, Tyler and Austin, where we go in search of the best brisket in Texas.
Get used to us foodies, because we’re everywhere and we’re here to stay.