Eating used to be so much fun before food snobs ruled – and ruined – the world.
For generations, down home cooking like pies and gravy (or pies WITH gravy) vied for buffet space next to burgers, fries, and an ice cold shake. Sure you always had your fancy types with their steamed salmon and yard grass passed off as salads, but you embraced them as eccentric and left them to gnaw on weeds while you tucked into a nice steak. To each his own.
Then along came the Food Network and ruined eating for everyone.
A food snob is someone who looks down upon others because of their culinary likes or dislikes. Unpronounceable French foods such as escargot (snails) = good. Anything commonly served at a ball game = bad.
I am convinced that food snobbery as a national pastime did not exist prior to the dawn of televised 24-hour food channels. Previously you had to be a world traveler, restaurateur, or French to really get any traction in your disdain for the pedestrian tastes of the masses. Our inaugural national meal – the first Thanksgiving – was basically a fish fry with good company.
Later, our national foods would be proudly declared as “hot dogs and apple pie.” Today, anyone with a remote control and access to a rice steamer can fancy himself a galloping gourmet.
There is nothing wrong with having strong beliefs about what you like or don’t like. It’s having strong beliefs about what everyone else likes and dislikes that will get you into hot water. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion and taste buds are such uniquely personal things.
I have no problem with discernment and taste. Basking in the art of fine dining does not, in and of itself, make one a food snob. No. You only become a snob when: a) you see a product or food as a status symbol rather than a pleasure; b) you refuse to try certain things because they’re not culinarily cool enough; and, c) you look down on people who don’t share your tastes. Life is too short to get stressed out because someone calls iceberg lettuce a “salad,” bakes with packaged cake mixes, or considers it perfectly appropriate to celebrate a special event at a nationally franchised chain restaurant relying heavily on deep frying.
We have all head the horror stories of the insufferable foodie who came to dinner. They sniff suspiciously at store-bought spaghetti sauce, disdain table salt as inedible, and pronounce anything less than extra-extra-extra-virgin-never-even-been-kissed olive oil as revolting to say the least.
It’s common these days to hear the lament of talented down-home cooks who are maligned and mistreated in the name of the home hostess version of “Iron Chef.” Suddenly roast beef and mashed potatoes are “beneath” many diners. They only eat braised leeks in a light fruit sauce. They come bearing Brie and Camembert casserole (with a caramelized onion glaze, naturally). The very notion of boxed macaroni and cheese gives them the vapors and you don’t even want to get them started on canned biscuits.
I once heard a college idiot, back from a visit home, regale her grad student friends with tales of saying, “get the lard out grandma!” as she “educated” (berated) her for serving unhealthy holiday fare. Mistreating your own grandmother at Christmas? That’s not food snobbery. That’s food fascism.
Here is my thinking: I love food. I love fresh food prepared simply with the best ingredients. I love creative dishes that infuse various flavors and textures. I also love take-out pizza. I get tired of food snobs insisting that a love for the finer things means you must shun all others. Me, I love a beautifully prepared chicken marsala, but I’ve been known to tuck away a few chicken nuggets too.
To me food snobbery is like any other form of snobbery. It is when the intrinsic value of the object (in this case food) is not of primary importance but is merely a vehicle to allow a person to express her/his superiority or knowledge in a certain area.
I think Julia Child, certainly a superior cook with a vast array of knowledge, had the best attitude about cooking and eating. Enjoy food but don’t be so fussy about it.
Granted, being from the Midwest may have unduly colored my eye toward effective culinary high-mindedness. Highbrow sushi and duck-under-glass types from either coast are naturally surprised to find that we have all our teeth and use utensils at all.