I’m that girl — the one seated behind the corner table; the one you’re glaring at because I’ve been holding up the waitress, or the sommelier or, if I’m lucky, the chef herself, gesticulating and slowly interrogating her about entrée preparation.
Foodie-ism is old (and often annoying) news by now. Some argue that what started out encouragingly as retrenchment of our pastoral values has, with the assistance of Instagram and the food cart cult, regressed to fad status — convenient, twee or illogically neurotic (see “Portlandia”’s “Is it Local?” sketch). I get teased for my quirky habits sometimes, often. If I sit down for a nice dinner and don’t take a picture of it, did I actually eat anything?
And then there’s the insistence on hard-fought authenticity: converted-trailer diners with mismatched silverware, a proud layer of grime on kitchen surfaces and home-slaughtered, homemade chicken stock (you don’t want to know, trust me). New York Times food reporter Kim Severson wrote a piece decrying the recipes that I love, but that call for fresh pig’s blood and fleur de sel sifted from buckets of raw seawater.
But I’d like to defend this essence of foodie-ism that transcends the camera lens. It’s the foodie’s obsession with process that I buy into — an obsession with some conglomerate of groceries-gathering, countertop prep and cooking. But being obsessed with the food process is foodie-ing at its most sincere and economical.
I remember an afternoon in high school when a developing crush came over to review for a mitosis exam. I decided to debut a sweet bread rolls recipe for the occasion. He showed up as the milk-yeast solution reproduced on the stove. Sweaty palms turned the dial too high; the yeast bacteria didn’t stand a chance.
“I KILLED IT!” I wailed, fanning the sad, ivory mixture that would froth no more.
He looked alarmed, but upon learning it was “just yeast” that I had killed, he offered me the box of Wheat Thins within arm’s reach and, between laughter, said, “These are better, anyway.”
The yeast never rose and neither did our love.
My current boyfriend is the biggest proponent of my process obsession. He entertains my longer-than-anticipated treks to find “that place with the hand-pulled noodles” or a pour-over coffee shop, and visited me in San Francisco where I spent my fall semester conducting historical research full time.
An obsessive interest in how one’s food is prepared shouldn’t remain a solitary endeavor. His fluent Spanish transformed the Mission District into a fresh landscape of recommendations from Mexican chefs sans language barrier. We learned that queso con loroco pupusas are fattier than their meat-filled counterparts, but that pupusas aren’t unlike gorditas, which are practically arepas, but that each nation’s process differs slightly and each claims they hold the title for best corn-pancake-thing.
Foodies who foodie about process can, in some ways, travel on a whim. On Sunday night, my Vietnamese friend brought over the contents of her uncle’s care package: a hefty cylinder of glutinous rice, pork and mashed egg yolks wrapped in banana leaf. Mailed from New Jersey and devoured with pleased sighs. Banh tet. After she left, I took an imagined trip to Kuala Lumpur as I read about ikan bakar, another delicacy involving banana leaves. And then on to Guanajuato, Mexico, where tamales wear similar coats.
Aforementioned boyfriend is studying in New Delhi now. I helped him string together small decks of family recipes as gifts for host families. Hopefully they’ll reciprocate with strategies for skillet chapati without sacrificing texture. The batch I made the other night, as I thought of him, left a lot to be desired.
And, like everything else in life, even the most genuine foodie-ism has its cheats. A box of Easy Mac can, in the right circumstances, truly hit the spot and leave me worshipping that strange yellow powder packet. Foodie-ism shouldn’t be expensive, ornate or life-consuming, but it should be genuinely enlightening.
I know the college lifestyle tends towards Wenzels, ramen and the dining hall classics. And while I too love chicken tenders day, I wonder if what Yalies miss when we claim to miss home are the comforting processes around mealtimes: the ways our moms’ nervous energy syncs up with the tick of an oven timer or the marriage of ethnic spices on a slow-cooker afternoon. If that’s what’s missing, then may we all foodie appropriately and with abandon.
Ditch the HD cameras. Reserve a college kitchen with friends instead. Come over for dinner? I’ll cook if you’ll care.
Cathy Huang is a junior in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .