We all love food, but what’s the difference between someone that loves a great steak, and a foodie and foodist. Foodist.ca defines these terms as “a collective of like-minded food worshipers that breathe and sleep in order to eat and drink.” We can all appreciate this classification, to some degree, because we all love food, but at what point in history did those that have an unabashed love of food become so unusual that it was necessary to separate them out with a specific designation?
We could argue that everyone was a foodie, or a foodist, for most of human history, in that they knew that food was so elemental to their survival that they would do anything to get it. Some will say that this obsession with food, such that it can lead to obesity, began when food was so scarce that those of a bygone era gorged themselves to prepare for scarcity cycles. They say that modern man has not evolved past this pattern even though Science and technology have made scarcity a thing of the past for the most part. Some of us might feel guilty about this now, because we no longer need to gorge, but that guilt hasn’t slowed us, it’s just made us feel guilty about talking about it so much. Thus, the birth of the designation foodie, or foodist, to describe those that don’t feel the need to qualify their love of food.
Most foodists and foodies, we should note, don’t necessarily eat more than the average person does, but when they do eat, they’re very selective about what they put in their body. Some have said that foodies are so vocal about their preferences that they come off as snobs that fail to recognize the privileges that modern science and technology have afforded in their chosen lifestyle. Some have said that foodies use their “healthier” lifestyle choices as a hammer of superiority against anyone that doesn’t follow their dietary codes. Some have also suggested that foodies approach you with a “you live your life and I’ll live mine” motto, but that their actions suggest that this is anything but the case with them.
For the rest of the non-foodie population, our love of food is a guilty pleasure that we conceal for fear of having our peers view us as a gluttonous slob. Most people don’t love food so much that they close their eyes when they eat to savor the initial act of digestion as it sends those succulent, savory messages to their brain. Most people won’t take the time to let a piece of food lay on all of the quarters of their mouth for ultimate sensory excitation. Most people won’t inhale and exhale the flavor of their food for just a moment before allowing it into the second stage of digestion. Most people won’t nix the first seven choices of a restaurant, because at a certain age, they know they can only eat one meal a day, and that meal has to be special, different, or at least somewhat memorable. Most consider this mindset odd. Most non-foodies, if you speak with them on this level, will tell you that eating is just an activity one must endure to sustain life.
It makes normal people feel more normal to say they don’t share your love of food. It makes them feel skinny to say that you’re a bit of a freak for loving food so much. It makes them feel rational to say it’s just another bodily function. Whether they believe this or not, we do know that if a fat person dares to mention how much they love food in general, they become a punch line. “That’s obvious,” we say with a laugh. We fear that we might become that punch line if we say that we love a relatively innocuous piece of food on a level that approaches spiritual appreciation, especially if that food is fried and considered generally unhealthy. We know that we would be entering the lion’s den of laughter if we suggest that one great meal is something we can point to in a day when we’ve accomplished little else.
Discussions of food provide us a quandary, as we don’t want to appear too excited when the subject comes up. We run the risk of sounding gluttonous when we become too excited. Yet, food is the event in life that we all share, or that we want to share, and that which we do when we’re bored, and that which gives us comfort when times are bad, and that we would rather die than give up. Life is not as important as food to most of us, and we see that when overeating threatens to damage our quality of life and we can’t stop, or when someone threatens to take our joy of eating away from us.
“By threatening to only feed me intravenously, you are threatening to deprive me of the one joy I have left in life,” my uncle wrote, through a lawyer, in a letter that threatened to sue his health care facility if they went ahead with their plans to begin only feeding him by means of intravenous fluids. I didn’t understand this at first, as I considered the actions of the health care facility to be in my uncle’s best interests. I didn’t understand, because it’s hard to identify with someone threatening to sue another that takes away their oral eating privileges, because most of us have never been in that place in life. Most of us, when told that our life is on the line, will acquiesce to whatever prescriptions our doctors order.
For this reason, and others, it was hard for me to identify with my uncle in this particular situation. My first thought was that I had the food at his health care facility, and it wasn’t worth dying over. This was a joke I made at the time that should’ve procured the response, “But what food is?” It’s just food, they might say, and no food is so good that I’d rather die than not eat it. We might joke that some food is so good, it’s “to die for”, but when push comes to shove, we think we could live without eating orally if it meant our life was on the line. That’s because, my uncle would challenge, no one’s ever threatened to take it away from you … for the rest of your life.
Imagine having a muscular degeneration disease that has deprived you of most of what you enjoy in life. Imagine being a person that is so limited that you just cannot go certain places. A resilient person attempts to wipe such activities from the mind, but people keep bringing those places up. Imagine being the person that works up the courage to go to those places anyway, only to have people stare. “Kids are the worst,” he said. “Kids don’t understand how their naïve, confused stares hurt. They don’t understand that when they ask their parents about you that it hurts to be a product of such curiosity.” Imagine having coughing fits that makes everyone so uncomfortable that they don’t want to be around you when it happens.
These coughing fits made the young, minimum wage workers at his health care facility so uncomfortable that the corporate board of the facility decided to go to the intravenous feedings. The coughing fits also prompted me to ask, “Don’t you see what this is doing to you?” I asked this of my uncle after a particularly grueling coughing fit that resulted from oral feeding. He shrugged. He had obviously weighed the consequences, and he deemed them acceptable in lieu of the alternative. The alternative involved a probable shortening of his life, but it also involved giving up food, “The one joy I have left in life.” It’s hard for a healthy person to identify with that.
It’s easy to think about giving up oral eating, in the short-term, at a health care facility that serves average food at best, but when you add perspective to it, you realize how much my uncle would’ve been giving up if he acquiesced to their wishes. He would be giving up the “event status” of life that is normally associated with food.
“Do you want to go out to eat?” we ask one another on an almost daily basis. “What do you want to eat?” we ask. “What did you eat today, and how was it?”
We not only talk about going out to eat, we talk about what we had to eat, and then we rate it for our friends. “You simply must try the Philly with Cheese at the Sandwich Market, it’s incredible.” We even consider the act of complaining about food an event in life, and food supplements just about every event we attend in life.
Do you cherish the popcorn you eat while watching a movie? Most people don’t. Most people don’t close their eyes and savor the flavor of movie theater popcorn. It’s just something you eat while watching a movie. We don’t put any thought into you. We don’t value it. We just eat it. “I don’t need popcorn to enjoy a movie,” others say. Now try to imagine being deprived of that choice. Imagine being ordered not to eat it…for the rest of your life. That popcorn, you’ve eaten your whole life without really thinking about it, would take on qualities we can’t imagine. We’ve all decided to reject certain frivolities in life, while on a short-term diet, but most of us have never had another force us to abstain from all oral eating for the rest of our lives.
How miserable would it be to attend a baseball game with a friend, when that friend turns and offers to buy us one of those average to poor stadium dogs, and we have to tell him that not only would we prefer not to eat such an average to poor hotdog, but that we can’t eat anything orally based on doctor’s orders. How awful would it then be to tell that concerned friend that the doctor forbids us from ever eating orally again, if we want to live, when he asks, “How long is this doctor saying that you have to be fed intravenously?” In the short-term, it’s easy, as I said. In the short-term, we may get some sympathy for our plight in life, and we may even enjoy that sympathy in the short-term, but after that rubs off we feel like a carnival freak, a plugged in hospital patient, an outsider in the events of life, and our love of life may be a little diminished over time.
We may want that friend to say, “Screw it!” and have that friend buy us that dog and feed it to us anyway. If that happened that average-to-poor stadium dog would likely taste so good that we would suffer the consequences of that one meal with a smile. We might even accidentally cry a little right in front of that macho, manly friend that we’ve never been anything less than macho and manly around. We might want to die that night with that smile on our face as the health care workers lower us onto the pillow, because for at least for one day we felt normal, and we had one normal meal on one normal day in our life.
Eating food orally made my uncle feel a little more human in a manner that only a man stuck in a wheelchair for most of his life can appreciate. It gave him an event in life that was otherwise lacking in event. It gave him something to look forward to, something to appreciate or complain about, and something that made him feel more like a cog in the machine of humanity.
It never dawned on me what a central staple food and eating are, until my uncle went through all that. It never dawned on me how a person, on an enforced diet, could feel left out of humanity, until my uncle directed his lawyer to draw up that document that released his health care facility from any responsibility for anything that resulted from his oral feedings.
How many conversations do we have regarding our overall diet? What’s in certain foods, and what is not in the other, healthier foods that foodies enjoy? How often do we brag that we have the latest and greatest cooking utensils that some other, poor slob has never even heard of? Want to insult a friend that was kind enough to have a cookout, insult his food, or his method of preparation. We can tell him that his conversation topics are relatively boring, that he doesn’t maintain his lawn well, that his kids are obnoxious, or his wife is not as pretty as he said she was, and we might receive defensive replies, but they will pale in comparison to the insults about his food. We might end up in you losing a friend. That was the event he planned, the labor he engaged in, and that which he used to please his guests.
How often do we notice that something like a ham sandwich just tastes better in a park, at a picnic, with friends and family around us, and kids playing in the park, and dogs running around? Is it the smell of the outdoors that enhances the flavor of the meat, or is it the fact that we’re outdoors, involved in the event at which the eating occurs? “Where’d you get this ham?” we naively ask. “At the supermarket,” they reply. We may go home with the realization that we forgot how much we love ham, until we eat it, and we realize it’s just ham. I’ve never seen statistical analysis on our conversations, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that about forty percent of our conversations involve food. We can see this reflected in our TV shows. How many TV shows discuss food preparation, and the warnings of unhealthy food? We used to have a food preparation break in morning news shows once a week. They proved so popular, that the producers of those shows called for daily segments, until those segments became a staple of morning broadcasts. It wasn’t long before we had entire shows devoted exclusively to food preparation, and then entire networks. We’re a nation obsessed with food in ways we won’t admit in polite company, until someone threatens to take it away from us, and we realize that we can’t comprehensively enjoy our lives without being a part of the group that’s eating food.