Know Your Foodie: Locavores vs. Fetishists

A mini-guide to the emerging debate on the meaning of being a foodie

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Foodie is commonly understood to mean people who take the food they eat very seriously. But as the foodie culture spreads--do you have an artisanal butcher shop on your block yet?--two camps are emerging and threatening each other's turf: there are Foodie Locavores, who may end up being covert environmental activists, and then there are the Fetish Foodies who can rave about crudos with the passion of sports fans poring over box scores. Before this devolves into a fight over who owns the term foodie, we thought it better to hash out the differences, in case you feel the need to choose sides. Herewith, a mini-guide to Foodie Locavores, vs Fetish Foodies.

Foodie Locavores

Like the guy who lived Biblically for a year, Foodie Locavores are focused on getting back to basics. In this case it means eating locally-sourced, seasonal food. As Time's Bryan Walsh points out, this often means buying from a local organic farm, which he sees as a backdoor to environmental goals because "promoting sustainability won't just helop us get better and healthier food; it will also fight greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution." It's seems to be catching on with the public, so much so that WalMart's entered the how-green-is-your-produce fight with its recent emphasis on stocking locally grown produce.

And yet, like all movements, Foodie Locavores can take things to extremes: how local is local? How stringent and puritan do its followers have to be? In July, Todd Kliman's Daily Beast post primed the discussion with a post about how locavore restaurants pimp close-to-home food, but feature wine lists with selections from across the country or across continents instead of neighboring states or towns. A month later, Stephen Budiansky wrote an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times about the absurd lengths locavores go to be "pure" and how it doesn't always pay off. His point: it's sometimes smarter and more efficient to just buy lettuce from the store instead of growing your own. This then spun off into a debate on Grist about how elitist the locavore movement can be.

Wherever one comes down in the debate, Time's Walsh finds hope in the more-local-that-your-local debates. For Walsh, Foodie Locavores have "directly jacked into that other great American obsession—health—in a way that distant concerns about climate change have largely failed to do."

Some locavore foodie terms:
  • Organic
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  • Foodshed
  • Sustainability

Fetish Foodies

Foodies, who can rhapsodize about foams and the pleasure of a deceptively simple tartin, may overlap with Foodie Locavores because, as The Atlantic's BR Myers points out, "the contemporary gourmet reacts by voicing an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms. He even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better."

But virtuous food is only one part of the Fetish Foodie equation. In Anthony Bourdain's realm, Fetish Foodies are more into food porn than humanely, locally raised fruit and veg. If it were, there wouldn't be cookbooks with chapters devoted to marshmallow fluff and sardines. Instead, Fetish Foodies consider restaurants temples and may dip into the puritan food realm by insisting diners eat nose-to-tail in the name of responsible eating. But really, Myers says, this is nonsense.

The goal and the focus, Myers says is gluttony, everything else is just an elitist magic show: "The doublespeak now comes in more pious tones, especially when foodies feign concern for animals. Crowding around to watch the slaughter of a pig—even getting in its face just before the shot—is described by Bethany Jean Clement (in an article in Best Food Writing 2009) as “solemn” and “respectful” behavior. [Michael] Pollan writes about going with a friend to watch a goat get killed. “Mike says the experience made him want to honor our goat by wasting as little of it as possible.” It’s teachable fun for the whole foodie family" he says.

Some fetish foodie terms:
  • Deconstructed
  • Crudo
  • Artisinal
  • ElBulli
  • Thomas Keller
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.