March 10, 2011

A Food Fetish

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As Oliver of the eponymous musical once exclaimed, “Food, glorious food!” He may have been a starving street urchin, but he understood what is really important in life: eating delicious morsels of happiness. The world is made up of only two kinds of people: those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. I have come to realize that not only am I certainly the latter, but I have further veered into “foodie” territory. Distinct from “gourmets,” who desire to eat only the highest quality foods and are often food professionals, we foodies are an amateur bunch of passionate eaters and culinary explorers. Foodies are not snobbish or adherent to only the “right” way of drinking wine or preparing a certain dish. Rather, we seek knowledge of a wide range of foods, drinks and cooking techniques, simply for the joy of the experience.

Though the term “foodie” was first used in 1981 (in Paul Levy and Ann Barr’s book The Official Foodie Handbook), I believe that foodies have existed as long as humans have had the capability to vary their diets. Back in the dark days of cavemen and hunter-gatherers, those unfortunate souls, constrained by geography and a lack of cookbooks, had no choice but to eat for survival. What a shame! Even in more modern times, a lack of leisure time and disposable income snuffed out hopes of culinary delight for all but the richest folk. When Marie Antoinette famously recommended that her destitute French subjects “eat cake,” I have a feeling she just let her foodie-ism get the best of her. Since the late nineteenth century, however, the fervor for food has been spreading to the masses. Charles Ranhofer’s The Epicurean, published in 1894 while he was Chef of Delmonico’s, was the first modern cookbook — a massive tome of masterful deliciousness, available to the public. Since then we’ve seen the rise of cooking as both a legitimate hobby and a large industry. From Julia Child and The Joy of Cooking to restaurant chains and The Food Network, culinary creativity has become a cultural phenomenon, and I am a proud disciple.

I would argue that now is the Golden Age of the Foodie. When South Park does an episode about you, you know you’ve made it (just ask Snookie), so imagine my joy when cooking shows were the target of a recent, particularly hilarious episode entitled “Crème Fraiche.” The plot follows Randy Marsh, Stan’s boneheaded father, as his love for food television becomes an obsession. He watches it like porn, secretly moaning over the mouthwatering images of gourmet concoctions after his wife has gone to bed, experimenting with elaborate recipes at all hours of the day, and even calling the hotline to chat live with a chef as the chef prepares a dish. “You gonna deglaze that fucking pan?” he whispers into the phone as if his boner is swelling by the second. “I’d deglaze the fuck out of that pan.” As I watched this episode, all I could think was how closely I identify with Randy (scary, I know). Sometimes the pleasure of a magnificent meal or the triumph of mastering a new recipe really is better than sex. The fig tapenade and Manchego cheese some friends and I enjoyed last weekend, for example: foodgasm.

Luckily, in today’s food frenzy world there are plenty of ways for foodies to get their fix. Personally, I am a die-hard fan of Top Chef. Having followed the show since its first season, I now have one of the cookbooks and am preparing to launch a vendetta with Bravo if Richard Blais doesn’t win this season. But this is an entirely vicarious experience. In terms of actual sensory magic, nothing beats outdoor food markets. Although the Ithaca Farmers Market is wonderful, my favorite fresh air taste bud orgy is Borough Market in London. Open year-round on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, this sprawling, covered foodie Mecca is located right at the south end of London Bridge. Of course, it quickly became a favorite weekend treat during my year abroad at the London School of Economics. My foodie friends and I would go to Borough for lunch on a Friday or Saturday afternoon – a tough choice between ostrich burgers, falafel, fresh pasta and pesto, jumbo vats of curry, hot mulled wine and dozens of other equally epic options — then allow ourselves to make a few purchases on our limited budgets, and walk along the river back home to cook a fresh and fabulous dinner. It was food-induced true happiness.

Given my love affair with most anything edible, it’s understandable that I get confused when someone tells me they “forgot” to eat dinner. I am astonished at those who can be indifferent to the content of their meals. For me, what, when and how I eat is essential to the structure of each and every day. Eating is necessary for life, but being a foodie is a lifestyle.

Kenyon Cory is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and can be reached at kcory@cornellsun.com. Rabbit Hole appears alternate Fridays this semeter.

Original Author: Kenyon Cory