Foodie Culture: An Elitist Culture Gaining Popularity Among Young Generation in America

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(photo from theworlds50best.com)

There was never a time when food did not exist in the history of human kind. Food was consumed mainly for the purpose of survival, but soon after, it wasn’t just a method of survival. It has developed a new purpose–pleasure. People didn’t want just food. The demand for good food increased dramatically in the last few years. People who like food have always existed, but this new term called “foodie,” and the foodie culture, are, definitely new, and they seem to be influencing today’s society greatly. Foodies are a subculture according to Gelder, the author of the book Subcultures, because they refuse the banalities of ordinary life and massification, and also possess the stylistic ties to excess and exaggeration(Gelder). They refuse banalities of ordinary life and massification by refusing to consume mainstream food products or fast food chains. They prefer purchasing organic and local products compared to mass produced commodities. Also, they tend to have a distinct style of personality such as getting overly excited when talking about food or chefs, or worshipping food dishes or chefs.

Because foodie culture is such a new and uprising culture, it seemed most fitting and interesting to create a documentary about it. Foodie culture being a new trend, it is more than possible to interview the people who are deeply involved with foodie culture, such as famous food bloggers, star chefs, people who are against the whole foodie movement, and so on. Creating a documentary for a subculture that passed its peak would require more of the collecting the old interviews rather than interviewing people right now.

The fact that foodie culture is a new movement that is continuously becoming bigger and bigger is the main reason why documentary would be the best form of artifact to create. As mentioned in the earlier paragraph, creating a documentary for a subculture or a movement that already reached its peak and is far died down doesn’t interest the audience. People already know what those groups or movements are, what they did, what they looked like, what they represented, and more.

Documentaries are unique, because they are “real,” and present the audience with what they didn’t know before. As Nichols, the author of Representing Reality, says, documentaries are fictions with “plots, characters, situations, and events like any other,” but what makes documentaries unique is the “reality” component that other fictions films do not have(Nichols 107).That is what makes the documentary exciting and interesting, and that is why it is best appropriate to create a documentary for foodies. Foodies are new, and people are still learning about who they are. And it is most interesting when people who are actually influencing the current society talk just as they are without pretending, and by pretending, I mean seem apart from the public and in their professional environment. So it attracts people’s attention when those professionals talk just as normal human beings, and it also attracts the audience when they get to see the aspect of those professionals’ lives that people usually don’t get to see—for example, what the world’s most renown chefs eat when they come home from cooking all day.

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*A fun documentary for sushi lovers, or anyone who is interested in Japanese culture-watch this documentary!

For trailer, click here: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

He is still alive, and is considered the master of sushi. His apprentice Daisuke Nazakawa, who also appears in this documentary, opened up a restaurant in New York City. So I thought this would be a good example of why creating a documentary suits my topic.

(From imdb webpage for Jiro Dreams of Sushi)

So, what are foodies? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a foodie is “a person who enjoys and cares about food very much”(“Foodie”). This, however, is only a half of foodie’s definition. In today’s society, foodie isn’t just someone who enjoys and cares about food only. A foodie cares about where the ingredients come from, when the new restaurant by this famous chef opens or closes, the strategies that are involved in preparing the dish, etc. And this foodie culture tends to be affecting the young population, when traditionally, it was the “older, white, and affluent”(Idov). Even until the late nineties, it was the norm for the people in their twenties or thirties to have “a steady diet of burritos and takeout Chinese”(Idov) rather than dining out at a fancy place. An abiding interest in food was considered as something luxurious for “old people or snobs, like golf or opera”(Idov).

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Foodies tend to be a young group of people in today’s society

(photo from google.com)

However, foodie culture is becoming more than just a hobby among the young and urbane. The statistics from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NAFST), Package Facts and the 2012 Culinary Visions Panel Survey show that “three-quarters (76 percent) of U.S. adults enjoy talking about new or interesting foods and 53 percent of U.S. adults regularly watch cooking show”(Weinstein). Also, “two-thirds (68 percent) of adults purchase specialty foods for everyday home meals,” and these statistics show the popularity of foodie culture that is rising at a very fast speed in the United States(Weinstein).

People are starting to view the foodie culture as something cool, and it is becoming a lifestyle that seems to give people who are in that group “a badge of honor,” or “bragging rights”(Idov). This is where the elitist idea among foodies comes in. According to Stuart Hall, the author of Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, the new way of interpreting media representations has emerged, so the external meaning of foodies is created not only by chefs and gourmet food product ads, but also by the society’s practices that value the foodie movement(Hall). Some of the tools that foodies use include social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Blogs, Yelp, and so on. Another thing that distinguishes the foodies from the rest of the population is their knowledge. They have a knowledge about everything related to food, whether it be where the good restaurants are, which places have the best lunch deals, which chefs are leaving which restaurants and which chefs are opening a new restaurant, and so on. This knowledge is powerful, because having more knowledge gives the foodie more “power.” By power, I mean more credibility and recognition, because people aren’t going to listen to someone who has no idea what they are talking about. People want to listen to someone who actually knows the best, has tried the best, and has the taste bud for the best.

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SNS + Knowledge = Tools/Power for Foodies

(photos from google images)

However, often, “the best food” can only come from the “best ingredients,” and “the best ingredients” are often very expensive, limiting the accessibility to a lot of people who can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for a meal. Being a true foodie requires “knowledge and connoisseurship, which are themselves costly to develop”(Deresiewcz). Not only that, but there is also “a badge of membership in the higher classes, an ideal example of what Thorstein Veblen, the great social critic of the Gilded Age, called conspicuous consumption,” which also motivates people to desire to become a part of this foodie community(Deresiewcz). Dick Hebdige, the author of Subculture: The Meaning of Style, discusses the relationship between media and subcultural formations, and also how subcultures identify themselves not only by what they are about, but also by what they are against. This is another way how foodies as a subculture define themselves, and this code shows what they are against, and it is ignorance. Again, it also goes back to the elitist idea, because one who does not have the money to spend on all these “cool” foods cannot gain knowledge nor experience, thereby remaining as the “ignorant ones”.

So why are foodies becoming bigger and bigger despite the sense of elitism? The rise of “social networks and camera phones” contributed greatly to this movement. The younger generations basically do not let go of their smartphones unless they are doing something really important, such as taking exams or going in for a job interview. At other times, even during classes or while working in a professional environment, our generation always has the smartphone right next to them, so if a notification comes up, they can check immediately, and also, if they want to use it for whatever reasons, they can do that immediately as well. Because of this wide usage of smart phones, which also directly relates to the usage of social networks such as Facebook or Instagram, more and more people started to share photos and “check-ins,” which show where they are at that moment with whom. Another “code” that foodies share is high quality photos of food. A food picture of a foodie does not look just okay. It looks amazing, mouth-watering, and desirable. They are usually never the original photos. They are usually edited to emphasize the colors and the ambiance of the restaurant or the bar. Instagram makes it much easier for the users to make the photos look more dramatic and cool by providing them with the filters. Users just have to tap on different effects to make the photos look cooler—they don’t need to know how to use photoshop or anything like that.

*Two pictures below are taken from the same restaurant called Per Se, a place with 3 michelin stars in Columbus Circle, NYC.

rp-per-se-1 An example of a great picture for foodies

001374-large An example of a bad picture for foodies

(photos from google images)

The fact that the young generation these days are always on their smart phones also means that not only the ones who are uploading these photos or checking in at different places are on the phone, but it also means that people who are not uploading these photos nor going to these places are on their phones, looking at where the rest of the world is eating, doing, and going.  This is very important, because the foodies are not just informing their fellow foodies via social networking sites. They are doing so to inform everyone they know. They want the world to know what they ate, with whom, and where. Again, this relates back to the elitist idea of foodies. They enjoy being the only ones to know and experience the luxury that others can only see and experience through them. They enjoy being the source for other people’s indirect experience. Of course, it is bad to generalize and stereotype. However, the things that I am mentioning is true for the majority of these “foodies,” because some might categorize myself as a “foodie,” and I can see why some would say that, even though I think otherwise.

Yes, it is true that one who can’t necessarily afford to eat the “best stuff” might truly enjoy eating good food and might even do a lot of research online and gain extensive knowledge about food and its industry. Can that person become a foodie? Some will say yes, and some will say no. It is true that not everything foodies eat has to be expensive, but it is true that one cannot become a true foodie without knowing what is good, and knowing what is good comes from experience, and experience requires money. Also, it is possible for one to save up for a long time so that he or she will experience the “good food,” but for real foodies, it is more of a lifestyle than just a one-time thing. This goes same for the so-called fashionistas. One can’t be a fashionista without the trendiest items, and in the fashion world, it is hard to become recognized or become credible without owning those trendy items that are usually very expensive.

Women having dinner, selective focus, canon 1Ds mark III

In fact, food is becoming the new fashion, according to Martha Stewart—a professional cook, cookbook author, and teacher. What she is saying is more than true, because food is not just a pleasure anymore. The notion that “you are what you eat” became “you are what you eat eats,” and nowadays, “it often seems that you are what you purchase in the supermarket or at the farmer’s market; your grocery list is a reflection of your values and your identity”(Stewart). Just like how people celebrate designers such as Giorgio Armani or Karl Ragerfeld, people are now celebrating the chefs such as Mario Batali or Jean-Georges Vongerichten. This isn’t just a notion that people feel, but the numbers prove it. In 2010, “restaurants and celebrity-chef inspired food brands experienced double-digit growth” according to the recent research from The Nielsen Company, and there was also an increase in cookbook sales, “which are up 5 percent at a time when overall book sales have declined”(Stewart). Martha Stewart seems very pleased by this trend, because these numbers not only show the growth in people’s interest in food, but also their interest in home-cooked meals, which is deeply related to the thirst for knowledge about the origin of their ingredients. As in fashion, what we have in our pantries and what we eat “have become a form of self-expression much like a fabulous pair of Christian Louboutins”(Stewart).

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(from http://www.reykjavikboulevard.com/food-is-fashion/)

As TV shows about fashion boomed with shows such as Project Runway and The Rachel Zoe Project, TV shows about food also boomed. There are Master Chef, Top Chef,, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation, Man vs. Food, and so much more. This significant increase in numbers of food TV shows also reflects the popularity of the foodie culture. Master Chef is probably the best example of all, because compared to Top Chef, only the amateur chefs can participate to become the master chef(“MasterChef”). The contestants have jobs that are not chefs. Some are writers, computer programmers, or moms. A program like this shows how the enthusiasm for food has spread throughout the nation, not only because the participants are just normal people who have a passion for food, but also because this TV show can exist because there are many viewers who watch this show. And those many viewers indicate the popularity of foodie culture. However, there are also the three famous chefs as judges, Gordon Ramsey, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot. They are some of the most respected across the globe in the world, and their culinary creations are of course, very pricey. So my point is, even though this TV show provides the normal people the opportunity to create “good food,” it is up to the judges who are these star chefs with multiple restaurants that sell very expensive dishes, to decide who’s food is good and who’s food is bad(“MasterChef”).  And the chefs’ standards and expectations are set on the “good food” that only the ones who have acquired the taste that are similar or close to the chefs, and again, that can be acquired only by being exposed to the foods that are only accessible to the rich. For the documentary that I would be creating, it would be interesting to interview the contestants for Master Chef and also the judges. The judges can show their everyday life to the audience, and it will make it more clear how the elements of being a foodie requires vast amount of knowledge—because these chefs have tremendous amount of knowledge they have gained throughout their career as a chef and also while growing up in homes where their family values food greatly. This would be great, because one of the many purposes of documentaries is to show the lives of real people, and these chefs are not only star chefs, but also real people that are living in this world now, with us.

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Graham Elliot                              Gordon Ramsey                        Joe Bastianich

(from wbez.org)                                 (from the glutton.net)              (from grubstreet.com)

Another great example of a media representation about foodies is a food blog Kosmose’s Gourmet Circle by a Korean man who has lived in both Seoul and Hong Kong and who now lives in New York City. He goes by his nickname Kosmose, and he does not reveal his identity. No one knows his real name, his face, his age, his occupation, or anything. The followers of his blog only know that he is Korean, because he writes in Korean, and that he now lives in New York City. He posts photos and descriptions along with his opinions on the food. Most of the places that he goes to are high-end places such as Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernadin, Ai Fiori, etc., that most people can’t afford to go to on regular basis, but it is very obvious that he is more than capable of going to those places, because he does. Also, it is evident that he not only goes to those places as just customer, but he has good relationships with those famous chefs, the managers at the restaurants, and other influential people in the food industry. He does not explain how or why he has those relationships with them, but he often writes about how the manager or the chef just made him a reservation despite the fact that the restaurant is already fully committed for a few weeks. He also gets treated differently, because those restaurants know who he is, so he often gets complimentary dishes from the chef.

However, we must realize that he is one of the very few people who go to those restaurants regularly and spend that much money on food without hesitating. He gets treated the way he is treated, because he spends so much money at the restaurant. They treat him specially, because he helps them make profit, not only by spending money at the restaurant, but also by advertising their restaurant on his blog and to his friends by word of mouth. He is a great example of a “foodie,” because he not only enjoys eating good food, but also has a lot of knowledge, and also has connections with the powerful people in the food industry. He fits perfectly to the definition of a foodie, and he is even better of an example, because of the fact that he has lived in three different countries. He lived in Seoul and Hong Kong, two cities where culinary experience is highly celebrated, and as someone who has lived in Seoul for the majority of my life, I think it is safe to say that Seoul has everything and sometimes even more than New York City in terms of food. He had more chances to be exposed to different cuisines, not only because he lived in different countries, but also because he travelled extensively throughout the world. Also, I actually had a personal encounter with him when I was working at Davey’s Ice Cream, a handmade ice cream place in the east village. I found out about this ice cream shop opening in the near future through his blog, which was also a characteristic of a foodie(knowing about openings and closings of places). He had already known about this place opening, because this was the only ice cream place is Manhattan that makes the ice cream from scratch in the store. He came on the opening day, and I know it was him that came, because he talked about how he loves that we don’t use stabilizers when making ice cream(what people wouldn’t talk about usually unless they were a serious foodie), so the ice cream isn’t as thick. Also, he took pictures of the store and the ice cream and posted them on the blog, and that is how I confirmed it was him who came. Even by my encounter with him, I could tell that he was an avid foodie.

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If one were to read this paper or watch the documentary if I were to create a documentary, one would probably view foodies in a negative light. In the documentary, the chefs, Martha Stewart, and the Korean food blogger would be seen in the light of “elitists” to most people even if I don’t intend to do so. Living in Manhattan, surrounded by so many wealthy people, it may be hard to realize that the average American usually does not go out to dine every single day, paying $15 or a lot more per meal. However, the reality is that people who can afford to become “foodies” are most likely more than well off, therefore participating in this foodie movement unavoidably separates people by their economic status. It is up to the readers to decide whether it is a bad thing or a good thing that this foodie culture is becoming increasingly popular. However, it is clear that not everyone can be a foodie, and America as a society is putting pressure on everyone to become one.

Works Cited

Deresiewicz, William. “A Matter of Taste?” New York Times. N.p., 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 29 Nov.             2013.

“Foodie.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

Gelder, Ken. Subcultures. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage       in Association with the Open University, 1997. Print.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge, 1988. Print.

Kosmose Gourmet Circle. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

“MasterChef.” MasterChef. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. Print.

Stewart, Martha. “Food Is the New Fashion.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Weinstein, Mindy. “The “Foodie” Movement Gains Momentum.” IFT. N.p., 13 Feb. 2013. Web.            28 Nov. 2013.

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