A New Future for Foodie Culture?

When you hear the words “foodie culture,” what comes to mind? Connoisseurs of all things delectable? Elaborate multi-course meals? Diabetes, obesity, and heart disease? Turns out an increasing number in the upper echelon of foodie culture are changing their indulgent ways and shaking up the foodie landscape. A New York Times article this week follows the story of eGullet forum founder and current blog author for “OffTheBroiler.” Mr. Perlow tipped the scale at 400 pounds and had a watershed moment in the doctor’s office when a physician told him he’d be dead in five years.

If 1960s Las Vegas had its Rat Pack and 1980s cinema its Brat Pack, early 21st century food has its Fat Pack. Mr. Perlow was a charter member. Now, like some of his fellow travelers, he is learning what happens when the Fat Pack’s philosophy of excess meets the body’s limits of endurance. The journalists, bloggers, chefs and others who make up the Fat Pack combine an epicure’s appreciation for skillful cooking with a glutton’s bottomless-pit approach. Cramming more than three meals into a day, once the last resort of a food critic on deadline, has become a way of life.

via New York Times

In giving up the “excessive” approach of their former foodie approach, Mr. Perlow and others now find themselves blogging about vegetables and tofu (O.K., so there’s still room for improvement.) as well as ways to strike a balance between eating healthily and enjoying truly good food. We’d take issue with much of what the group still supports as “good food” (e.g. pastries, etc.), but it seems even basic moderation is a step in the right direction for many of these folks. Perlow comments on his own transition and that of the foodie culture by saying, “I think you can still keep the food very interesting, but do it in moderation. That’s what the food community of the future is going to have to be.”

Still, many in the old order are still holding out. As the Times article explains, “Among a certain slice of the food-possessed, to suggest that indulgence might put one’s health in peril is to invite ridicule.” Mr. Shaw, the current blogger for eGullet and one such stalwart, refuses to give up “the cause” of unrestrained gluttony. At 5’ 10” and 270 pounds and with a father who died of heart disease, “he believes the genetic component of weight and health matter more than moderation and exercise.” He also says that “the state of medical knowledge on the relationship of diet to health changes so frequently that it can’t be trusted.” (Although he might have a point about the inconsistency, it’s clearly an easy and flimsy excuse.) Finally, he doesn’t believe in the diabetes epidemic, instead insisting it’s “overdiagnosed.”

It’s unfortunate that some people, including those with public and influential voices, persist in deluding themselves this way. The longer we put off taking control of our choices, the less time we give ourselves to live life to the fullest. Short term gluttony, while it may seem satisfying at the time, endangers our future health. Yet it also hinders us from enjoying other elements of life in the here and now: more daily energy, better sleep, increased mental clarity, better emotional balance, even an inspiring sense of self-empowerment. We believe it’s worth a few momentary sacrifices.

Yet, we talk a lot about plateaus – in weight loss, muscle development, dietary shift, etc. In some small regard, maybe these foodies have something to teach us after all: that in the pursuit of health there’s no reason to let enjoyment stagnate either. Call it a plateau of culinary delight – a dearth in kitchen creativity. When we start to view food as just fuel, perhaps we lose sight of something not necessarily crucial but still fundamental.

We definitely support the ideal of “eat to live, not live to eat.” That’s the key difference between our thinking and that of most popular foodies. Yet, we love food, and the countless recipes we serve up attest to that. Although we believe it’s healthy to steer clear of the unwholesome, the non-nutrient-rich, the detrimental, we think that still leaves a whole lot of incredible food to appreciate. (Mr. Perlow notes that, since adopting his new lifestyle, his “pleasure receptors are better attuned to the joys of vegetables.” So true.) And while the Primal Blueprint surely defines an ideal, it doesn’t “disallow” compromises – both of reason and personal enjoyment. These will mean different things, of course, to each of us.

If you feel you’ve hit a food plateau lately, here’s a challenge. Shake things up, and bring back the fun. Add some novelty. Browse the bookstore for a new cookbook, join a CSA for an element of surprise and chef’s challenge in each week’s basket, throw a dinner party (look for recipe ideas this week), or simply kick back with a glass of red wine, a scrumptious MDA appetizer and Babette’s Feast (the ultimate classic in foodie films). Bon Appétit, apples!

What are your thoughts? What do you do when the routine gets ho-hum? Ideas? Resource suggestions?

100five, eekim Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Healthy Tastes Great! Recipes

Slashfood: Foodie Lifestyle on a Budget

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5 thoughts on “A New Future for Foodie Culture?”

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  1. ” ‘Cramming more than three meals into a day, once the last resort of a food critic on deadline, has become a way of life.’ ”

    I actually do 5 meals a day, and I’ve been trying to get my friends to do more than 3 meals a day too. Of course my meals come in at around 400 calories, so I guess it’s a bit different.

  2. This also came from the same article…

    ‘ “I think enjoyment of food has never proven to be harmful to anyone’s health,” said Mr. Shaw, who turned from practicing law to writing about food ‘

    Hmmmm…Elvis comes to mind. And a nation of diabetic children.

  3. “If 1960s Las Vegas had its Rat Pack and 1980s cinema its Brat Pack, early 21st century food has its Fat Pack.”

    Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong blogs and hanging out at the wrong juice bars, but I didn’t know the gluttons had much of a voice. I hear more from the fitties than the foodies.

    Just look at the NY Times Non-fiction best seller list. Of the top five books, #1 is “Losing It”–a woman’s journey through weight loss–and #4 is “In Defense of Food” which despite it’s title preaches a very Primal Nutrition-like creed of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

  4. Well from my own personal experience, the “foodies” I know, and those who would never be called that but who enjoy their food the most, are some of the healthiest. They are much more careful about what they eat, where it comes from, and they take the time and effort to truly enjoy the food. I don’t know anyone, personally, who is overweight and would be able to honestly say they eat because they really care about and enjoy their food.

    The overweight/obese unhealthy people I know got they way mostly from eating lots of processed food, fast food, chain restaurants, and the typical “Western” diet, none of those being things that led themselves to a real enjoyment of food and things that I associate with the “foodie” culture.

  5. Judy – my thoughts exactly. I think more about food, spend more money on food, and take more time to shop for and prepare food than most people I know. And I am losing weight – about a pound a month. I think I could lose faster by skipping my occasional (about once a month) treat of a really nice dessert or a serving of potatoes or bread; and I could probably lose even faster if I ate less fruit (right now about 1 serving a day). But I’m actually OK with the snail’s pace – it helps me understand what my personal food limits are (in my case, starch and sugar = not good), which is an understanding that will last me a lifetime. I hope this will help me become one of those rare people who loses weight AND keeps it off.

    I am sure there are the James Beard-type gourmands out there who care a lot about food and eat just too damn much of it, period. (Beard was obese and pretty unhealthy.) So it’s certainly possible to be an unhealthy foodie. But mindfulness about eating goes a long, long way in helping maintain physical and mental health.