Foodies in Film and Media
July 27, 2007 1:44 PM   Subscribe

No Reservations marks the second foodie inspired movie out in the past couple months, after the charming Ratatouille. Slate pegs the animated movie as getting things right, with help from the well renowned Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. But at home and in professional kitchens, things aren't always so pristine. Is this foodie culture better for us, or just part of a greater problem?
posted by craven_morhead (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You seem as though you are setting up a stark dichotomy between "foodie culture" and eating locally a la the Barbara Kingsolver book.

This makes little sense to me, as most of the people whom I know to be concerned with things like eating locally are considered "foodies" by those who are less concerned.

Or perhaps I have missed your point?
posted by dersins at 1:49 PM on July 27, 2007

It is a bit of an aside, but I suppose the point I was driving at is that Thomas Keller and Barbara Kingsolver are both extremely consciencious of what they're putting in their mouths, but for different reasons. I'm interested in whether they can be easily reconciled, or is Keller always going to source his foods from wherever they're best, damn the costs of transport, etc.

Or framed another way, can Kingsolver, without much compromise in her mission, eat as well as Keller? Should we care?
posted by craven_morhead at 1:52 PM on July 27, 2007

Great post! Foodies can be a little bit pretentious and precious at times but given a choice between their vision of eating and the horrible processed stuff I ate back in my seventies childhood, the foodies win hands down.

I have just one little quibble, from the 'better' link:

Survey results also showed a greater interest in purchasing organic products across all categories:

People are good at figuring out the correct answers to survey questions. What they ultimately wind up doing after they finish answering the poll is another story altogether.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:55 PM on July 27, 2007

posted by Greg Nog at 1:56 PM on July 27, 2007

It's convienent shorthand for "private citizens interested in food."

What do you call 'em?
posted by craven_morhead at 1:57 PM on July 27, 2007

Suggestion: next time don't lead off with the two movie links, it makes your post look like a bad marketing post.
posted by Stan Chin at 1:57 PM on July 27, 2007

posted by craven_morhead It's convienent shorthand for "private citizens interested in food." What do you call 'em?

Pretentious twits.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2007

can Kingsolver, without much compromise in her mission, eat as well as Keller?

Go ask Alice (Waters).
posted by dersins at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2007

What dersins said. The philosophical differences between Keller and Kingsolver are miniscule in comparison to the philsophical differences between either of them and the industrialized food culture which is dominant in our culture. Neither is really a threat to other while the enormous mass-manufacturing model of food production remains in effect; both are alternatives that are concerned with quality. EVen if there were a thousand Kellers, the environmental impact of the number of dinners he serves annually is a teeny drop in the bucket compared to the number of, say, Subway sandwiches served in the U.S. daily. Foodies and localvores both care about quality, and they share very important values: attention to and respect for food and its preparation. They stand in contrast not to one another, but to the dominant and weird attitudes toward food that the rest of the culture embraces.

You pulled a whole lot of things together in one post; food in movies, food in pop culture, high-end restaurants, family food costs, food as a hobby, home cooking, and the localvore movement are all aspects offering plenty of meat for single discussions. It's kind of hard to discuss it all at once.
posted by Miko at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2007

or is Keller always going to source his foods from wherever they're best, damn the costs of transport, etc.

Keller is known for being a devotee of local ingredients, sourcing as much as he can from 'close-to-home' in Napa for the French Laundry and the tri-state area and New England for Per Se in New York.
posted by ericb at 2:06 PM on July 27, 2007

I prefer my twits with a side of humility.
posted by mnology at 2:07 PM on July 27, 2007


You prefer "gourmand"?
posted by smackfu at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2007

Pretentious twits.

Pretentious twits who eat better than you do, thank you very much.
posted by dersins at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2007

I kind of bristle at the term "foodies," too. I've been called a "foodie," but I'm not a pretentious twit; not everyone who's interested in food is trying to impress others. I actually really enjoy and am fascinated with food - its flavor, its history, its clues to culture, preparing it, sharing it, and knowing about it. Are there people who can take a personal interest and become a pretentious twit about it? Absolutely: music, fashion, design, cars, travel. Is everyone interested in that thing pretentious? No.

Your favorite personal interests suck!
posted by Miko at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, and I'm not sure "foodie" has to be perjorative. But maybe it's taken on that sort of meaning, due partially to the big surge of popularity of caring about food. Take the food network, for instance.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2007

I like how "foodie" is easy to sort of semantically mash up with "feeder" and so if you're not really paying a whole lot of attention to the discussion end up thinking that you're listening to a bunch of weirdo fetishists.
posted by cortex at 2:11 PM on July 27, 2007

It's convienent shorthand for "private citizens interested in food." What do you call 'em?

I call them people. Every single person I know is interested in food.
posted by iconomy at 2:11 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Movies like No Reservations really turn me off because they are so obviously rushed through production so they can arrive in time to tap into what people are supposedly interested in right now.

I love food. I love eating, I love cooking. I do a lot of all three. But the idea of "food" as a pasttime seems totally pretentious to me. Then again, I come from a culture where up until recently women still slaved in kitchens all day, feeding their families and hired hands as well as working to preserve as much food as possible for the winter months so they wouldn't starve if weather cut them off from civilization for months.

My grandmother can make anything and do anything in the kitchen, having learned and passed on more of an education than anyone could ever receive from a few years at a culinary school. But if you asked her, I'm sure she'd have traded most of it for a chance to put up her feet now and then and read a good book.
posted by hermitosis at 2:25 PM on July 27, 2007

I'm with cortex. You say foodie, I hear feedee. Gourmand didn't stop being an appropriate term for this, though it is of course, as broadly applicable. "Foodie" only has the benefit of being in Idiot-American, not French. How ironic.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2007

I call them people. Every single person I know is interested in food.

Hurf durf I'm blind to the starkest differences in degree.
posted by grobstein at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hate the word foodie. In my experience, most "foodies" don't know what they're talking about, but think they do. Annoying, but there are lots of worse things in the world then people who love eating.
posted by cell divide at 2:28 PM on July 27, 2007

To echo ericb, I think the OP is mistaken in assumptions about what Keller does to source his ingredients. He is one of the biggest devotees to local ingredients out there. Keller even goes so far as to maintain a garden across the street from French Laundry for some of the produce. For Per Se in NY, he gets the table butter from 6 cows in Vermont. No one is saying that every single thing has to be sourced locally - I doubt Barbara Kingsolver is preaching to anyone to start their own shallow pools and farm their own salt. But it's worthwhile to make reasonable efforts to get local produce when possible for the sake of flavor, personal health, and the environment.

If by foodie culture you mean an otaku level of fanaticism, well I think certain people have a deeper interest in the food and dining world than others. But I think overall it would be beneficial for everyone to have some awareness of what they're putting in their mouth, where it might be coming from, and what effort is going into it's preparation. That's all anyone is asking -- to think and make informed choices.
posted by junesix at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2007

One of the recent episodes of the Food Network show Unwrapped was about the movie No Reservations. Usually Unwrapped is about visiting candy factories or seeing how Cheetos are made, so it was pretty unusual to see Marc Summers (of Double Dare fame) interviewing Catherine Zeta-Jones.

I wondered if the Food Network sponsored the movie or something.

And then I wondered if it was Marc Summers' biggest interview evar.
posted by TheClonusHorror at 2:33 PM on July 27, 2007

I call them people. Every single person I know is interested in food.

This is interesting. Everyone I know is interested in eating, but not all of them are interested in food (as it's discussed here, or among "foodies", which is a term I don't like, but I probably am one); some view it simply as fuel and nothing more.
posted by rtha at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2007

Gourmand didn't stop being an appropriate term for this, though it is of course, as broadly applicable. "Foodie" only has the benefit of being in Idiot-American, not French. How ironic.

Gourmand still has the connotation of gluttony, that is not just quality but also quantity. Foodie was supposed to focus on the origins, quality and so forth of the food. But thats not the same as food.

Unfortunately, the word "foodie" has quickly gotten a bad reputation because many people who just spend a lot of money at restaurants call themselves this. They can talk ably about new restaurant openings, which chef is where and so forth.

To me its about food knowledge was well as finding quality whatever its trappings. The Freshest markets even if they are in the worst part of town. That dirty diner which is actually dishing out amazing food. And so on... Its not about snobbery but about truly loving food.

Sometimes it can appear as snobbery I suppose when a friend confuses some place with waiters in vests who brings flaming things to the table with being the best restaurant in town. Its hard sometimes in cases like that, to hide your dismay.
posted by vacapinta at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2007

hermitosis, by your reasoning, food as a pastime is no more pretentious than woodworking as a pastime, pottery as a pastime, gardening as a pastime, sailing or kayaking as a pastime, working out as a pastime, sewing or knitting or quilting as a pastime, boatbuilding as a pastime, or any other activity that once constituted necessary daily work for someone and is now engaged in as a choice, at leisure, and for its own inherently rewarding qualities.

Whatever culture you come from, like all cultures, it undoubtedly has a tradition of high/festival cuisine for the wealthy or those who were just celebrating something. Chances are it wasn't all just fuel. It never has been. Even in the most deprived conditions, people have exercised their creativity upon food in the most fascinating ways. They didn't just prepare cornmeal mush and a hunk of meat every day if there was any way to vary it - people seem to have a drive to consume a variety of flavors and textures, perhaps because those who did consume a variety of foods throughout human history were healthier than those who didn't. The knowledge of which local items are edible and how to process and prepare them so as to be palatable is a foundation of culture. The experience won through generations of experimentation with food - fermentations, flavor combinations, curing and pickling - is scientifically, anthropoligically, and anecdotally fascinating. People use food to express things - who they are, where they come from, what they believe, what they think the 'good life' is, what they see as a reward, how gender roles should be divided up, what times of day and rituals should be marked with a meal.

Your grandmother might be happy to have a break if she doesn't really enjoy cooking, and has found it a lifetime of monotony. But my grandmother was a homemaker, as well, and considered it her job to put the food on the table. She didn't feel she was 'slaving' in the kitchen. She was visibly enthused when my grandfather came home with a string of catfish, excited when he brought home brown paper bags full of fresh berries in the spring, and took a lot of pleasure in preparing and serving a fantastic Sunday supper for company. Her sheer enjoyment of food, its seasonality and its optimal preparation, was a huge influence on me - and it sure as hell wasn't because she was rich or pretentious. She was a child of the Depression South who had raised her seven brothers and sisters while her mother ran a business, and had been cooking for others since very young. She and my grandfather fed generations on his resourceful bartering, fishing, and foraging and a steady modest income from his trade. Neither the poverty nor the consistency of the cooking labor ever seemed to rob her or us of the pleasure of a delicious, well cooked, fresh meal.

They were not pretentious people, but they knew good food, I tell you what. And sitting on the front porch shelling fresh peas in the evening, or making a jewel-like row of fruit jams, seemed to be a pleasant enough pastime for her and for us while we were with her. She enjoyed reading romances, kicking ass at cards, shopping, visiting, and putting her feet up in the AC as much as anybody, too, but her example and that of many other women like her that I've known is all I need to assert that enjoyment of food is not at all dependent of having wealth and leisure.
posted by Miko at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

vacapinta: I overlooked that meaning somehow. I think I fall prey to using Gourmand as a less strident form of Gourmet, when that obviously isn't correct. But why not Gourmet, then?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:45 PM on July 27, 2007

I don't like "gourmet" or "gourmand" because they both connote an interest in fine food (as in fancy, expensive food). Personally, I'm kind of interested in all food.
posted by Miko at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2007

I like PopTarts and Tuna Helper, but I draw the line at Funyuns.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

hermitosis, by your reasoning, food as a pastime is no more pretentious than woodworking as a pastime, pottery as a pastime, gardening as a pastime, sailing or kayaking as a pastime, working out as a pastime, sewing or knitting or quilting as a pastime, boatbuilding as a pastime, or any other activity that once constituted necessary daily work for someone and is now engaged in as a choice, at leisure, and for its own inherently rewarding qualities.

I think you misunderstand who I'm talking about. What you (and I) are both saying is that these activities are worthwhile for their own sake; ostentatiously adopting such past-times out of a preponderance of wealth or boredom, or worse, to seem interesting, is a far different thing. I suspect that if you and I took our grandmothers into the knitting store in the East Village to show them how much a fancy ball of yarn costs, they'd both turn right purple with either amusement or dismay.
posted by hermitosis at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2007

The term 'foodie' sounds like something that has been fetishized, and is sexual in nature. Think: 'furries', but with food.

That's is what I'm imagining when you are all talking about this particular enthusiasm.
posted by quin at 2:58 PM on July 27, 2007

So? You can still buy yarn at a discount store. Let people pay what they feel is worth it for the materials they want to use. I make fantastic stuff with food from the chain grocery. What's the point here? Does how much the materials cost determine whether or not a hobby is 'pretentious'?

However, I think my grandmother might be shocked at the price, but would probably really be pleased if I bought her a few skeins of $35 hand-dyed superfancy yarn, for an indulgent splurgy gift.

I think doing anything to "seem interesting" is indeed pretentious; in fact, it's the very definition of pretentious. What bothers me is the assumption that anyone who enjoys buying, preparing, and enjoying food is necessarily pretentious. I think there are people who claim to like certain bands to 'seem interesting.' However, there are also a lot of people who may genuinely like that band. For some reason, an out-and-out condemnation of people interested in food always seems to be okay. It comes up every single time there's a thread like this. It's all right to take food seriously and to be interested in it, and to enjoy it for its intrinsic qualities. There are plenty of people who care about food because they really do dig it. Honestly and without pretention.
posted by Miko at 2:59 PM on July 27, 2007

I prefer gourmand or epicure. Foodie just sounds dumb.
I prefer the country air to the city smog, but I wouldn't call myself a breathie (At least not until I saw a cable network/lifestyle channel personality use the term).
TheClonusHorror: Mark Summers vs. Burt Reynolds [4:00]. It's like irritation squared to the power of insufferable.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:00 PM on July 27, 2007

For Pete's sake, just eat the plate of beans!
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:06 PM on July 27, 2007

So? You can still buy yarn at a discount store.

They should call knitters "yarnies".
posted by smackfu at 3:12 PM on July 27, 2007

For Per Se in NY, he gets the table butter from 6 cows in Vermont...

He helps keep local farmers in business and growing. He deals directly with them, as much as he can.

What Lulu Has and Thomas Keller Wants
"...Ms. St. Clair started making butter in 1999 when she and her husband, Kevin, a journalist, moved with their son to the farm from Burlington, Vt., where she had worked for the state health department. Originally she sold the butter only to the nearby Middlebury Natural Food Co-op. But after reading about Mr. Keller, she wrote to ask if he would taste it. His response startled her.

‘He wanted all the butter I could send him,’ Ms. St. Clair said. Every Monday she sends his restaurants about 50 pounds of the 60 she makes each week...

…Each year she has added a Jersey cow to her tiny herd. Mr. Keller asked her to add an extra one when he opened Per Se in 2004, so Lulu joined Pansy, Petra, Scooter, Lightning and Dyedee.

‘When you're small you can have a relationship with the people who buy your food,’ Ms. St. Clair said. ‘The reason I'm not big is because I'm a perfectionist. I've got to sell to someone who is the same way.’’’
'Better Butter ... From Happy Cows'
"St. Clair's butter costs $15.00 a pound. But it's still harder to get than a reservation at one of Keller's restaurants, where dinner for four can easily cost $1,000. People who have tasted St. Clair's butter at Per Se or the French Laundry have shown up at her farm to get butter, or just to photograph her cows. Others deluge her with e-mails and phone calls begging her for butter."
posted by ericb at 3:19 PM on July 27, 2007

And then I wondered if it was Marc Summers' biggest interview evar.

Umm...with his extensive career as a television producer, actor and talk show host and appearances on Oprah, etc., I think he's "rubbed up" against many a celebrity shoulder from the A through D-lists.
posted by ericb at 3:27 PM on July 27, 2007

I don't know why I'm being dressed down for stating that such-and-such thing is totally obnoxious, especially when you seem to agree to a point. I suspect that the big difference is that I'm in New York City and completely surrounded by people striving to cultivate authenticity in their lives, as opposed to being authentic, and being a product of a culture that does the opposite makes me sensitive to the difference. It's hardly shocking that I don't speak for everyone.
posted by hermitosis at 3:56 PM on July 27, 2007

You know what pretentious is? There's a high-end grocery store on top of Queen Anne Hill that sells French bread.

From France. They have it flown in on Thursday and sell it all weekend. $10/loaf.

That's pretentious.

Making a nice meal out of good produce and quality meat? That's not pretentious. That's a luxury of living in a country where we can afford to eat like that.
posted by dw at 4:25 PM on July 27, 2007

Everyone has a passing interest in food, but lately there has been this outbreak of reality TV and food TV, with Top Chef, Iron Chef, Hell's Kitchen, Rachael Ray, the Bam Guy, innumerable dessert-making competitions, and now this movie... and the enthralled fascination with all this stuff doesn't always make it from the couch to the kitchen.

I guess I always thought of "foodies" as people like to watch food being prepared on TV, and epicures as those with a higher interest in preparing or eating more varied/better foods.
posted by kurumi at 4:34 PM on July 27, 2007

I'm pretty annoyed that "No Reservations" is a remake of a truly superb German film, Bella Martha (Mostly Martha), and won't go to see it because of that.

I mean, for eff's sake, the original movie came out in 2001.
posted by scrump at 5:21 PM on July 27, 2007

I was watching Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations last night and they ran commercials for the movie No Reservations almost continuously during the breaks. It was like Chitos Foie Gras: An curious combination that made me slightly nauseous.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:55 PM on July 27, 2007

Wait a minute...they're making a food movie called "No Reservations," and there's no Anthony Bourdain??
posted by gueneverey at 6:29 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Self identifying as a "foodie" is like calling yourself a douchebag. It may have once meant something else, but today "foodies" are the people you find on Yelp.

This is an actual conversation I've overheard at one of the more worthwhile restaurants in town:
Douchebag: Have you been here before?
Poor Girl: Yes, my friend celebrated her birthday here.
Douchebag: (To rest of party) I love that we go to places every day that other people only go to on special occasions!
I nearly punched someone in the mouth when they called me a foodie.

Personally, I prefer chowhound. (And there's a website for that, too.)
posted by danny the boy at 6:49 PM on July 27, 2007

I second scrump's love for Mostly Martha - instead of going to this new abomination people should just rent MM instead.
posted by rfs at 6:53 PM on July 27, 2007

What irritates me about Chowhound (the site) is that the site's founder definitely is chowhoundish - that is, interested in good humble food found anywhere, found at an array of off-the-beaten-path locations, at low price points. But the message board users always seem to focus on reviewing restaurants in the middle to high range. There's a disturbing preponderance of recommendations for really middle-of-the-road places with overpriced and boring food.

A food forum that's pretty fun and honestly chowhound-y - full of food enthusiasts of all stripes - is the Roadfood board. I also love eGullet, though they don't let you jump aboard - you have to cultivate your membership before you can post. It does cut down on asshattery. People there are extremely well informed about food history and technique. Some would probably call eGullet pretentious. It's kind of a food Metafilter.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I prefer the term, "dude who just had two lobsters."
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:40 PM on July 27, 2007

Me? Oh, I'm an eater. Are you going to finish that?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:46 PM on July 27, 2007

I give Hermitosis a break because he lives in NYC. It'll make the most honest eater a bitter old...well, see above. People here are freekin' nuts about "the next big opening" "ooh, I ate there, you know they source their wagyu beef from an old japanese guy in Nevada who's cows are genetic replica's of the kind in kobe !" "all their food is grown on the rooftop with wind-power, man" kind of shit. They actually think Babbo makes good food. Just that thought makes my soul quiver. Blech. PAINFUL. Miko makes great points, and I bet you two would actually agree in real life more than you are here. Julia Child was amazing to watch on PBS when I was a kid, but I absolutely cannot stomach the food channel in it's entirety and "Top Chef" makes me want to poke my eyes out. Especially because Tom Colicchio's Craft made me want to run out the door screaming profanities.

This is a far-reaching, but, ultimately interesting post, craven_morhead (i can't believe i just typed that.) Ericb then made it even more interesting with his links and insight. Thomas Keller does not have a restaurant where he expects to have regulars. Some people go sight-seeing in Paris for a week, and call it vacation. Some people eat at The French Laundry once in their lives, and are never the same. It is a "last meal" type of experience. (I, sadly have never done either, but I don't judge either!)Keller is tremendously playful and humble and thoughtful about the origins of food, when it truly boils down to it's simplest.

Food MATTERS. It is necessity, sustenance, life. I think that The Food Network has done more of a disservice to what it's all supposed to be about than anything ever could. I'll take my mac and cheese WITH the chopped up hot dogs, thank you very much. BAM!!!

I have more stories I could ever tell about asshole rubes who have come into my restaurants at various points in my life and made me hate everything foodie at a level so deep I thought I'd never emerge. Just thinking about examples makes me blush. You've heard it, too. There is actually a group of people who (it started as a joke, but ) call themselves Gastronauts. I mean, how awful is that!!!!

I call myself a "food dork" because dork seems to explain that I understand how strange it is that I love each and every one of Mark Kurlansky's saline-obsessed books, Tampopo is my favorite movie of all time, and i would never make it through winter without the almighty blood orange (And yes, you could say I'm lucky. I buy a case of them for about 20 bucks wholesale every year...) AND, I don't give a crap what you eat. As long as you don't give a crap what I eat.

The flip-side, i have very little patience for foams, airs, tall food, edible menus, and gets it's own circle of hell for all the whiny baby ignorant asshats that post to it.

And locally sourced food is getting more and more important as it nearly goes extinct. Though importing truffles seems worth the effort. Importing water seems asinine to the Nth.

Sorry for the ramble, It's my life, you see. Call it what you will.
posted by metasav at 11:04 PM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I just watch. And then, I go eat.
posted by Xere at 12:23 AM on July 28, 2007

posted by trip and a half at 12:52 AM on July 28, 2007

The Food Network is crap. Though it used to offer some programs which had interesting and useful content, over the last several years most have gradually been replaced with formulaic crap. This New Yorker piece by Bill Buford (who does a great job writing about food) gives an excellent account of what happened to the Food Network and why.

I have my own theories, in addition to these, about the startling success of food TV. It has attributes which work better than almost any other program format in today's world. Each episode is self-standing - you don't need to know characters, backstory, or even the setting. Each show welcomes the viewer directly and explains its premise in the first minute: "Welcome to 30-minute meals, where we show you how to make easy and delicious meals in under half an hour. How cool is that?" Or "Food Finds travels the nation to track down long-lost favorites and delicious speciality foods." Whether or not you've ever seen the show before, you can jump right in and understand what's going on. You won't see any violence, you won't be confronted with any serious news, and you won't have to follow a complicated plot. Everything is positive, upbeat, can-do, and friendly. All that's needed is a pleasant enough host that you aren't driven to change the channel. All that, and you get a vicarious sense of satisfaction out of feeling that you have been a part of a meal preparation, travel experience, or food discovery. What more perfect television format for a stressed, distracted, rushed, consumer-oriented, and nervous world?
posted by Miko at 9:21 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

That NY article was great Miko, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:05 AM on July 28, 2007

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