I must admit that I get a little depressed when I read some of the books, and some of the blog posts I have read of late. They all seem run a variation of the same basic theme – “Being a foodie is great! There is awesome food to be had. But to be a true ‘foodie’, you simply HAVE to go to Restaurant X!’ Invariably, Restaraunt X will be a place that’s not readily accessible to myself, and presumably a great many of the other readers. I have recently read two books from writers I respect who have essentially stated (and I’m paraphrasing here) that “to be considered a serious gourmet, one simply MUST get to elBulli.”
The problem? elBulli is in Catalonia, Spain. While I appreciate a good meal and travel as much as anyone else, it would take a lot for me to fly to Spain for the sole purpose of having one meal. Yes, the food is likely excellent and revolutionary in many ways. At least, so I’m told. But such admonitions from writers that one’s taste in food is in doubt unless the shell out a fair bit of currency is the worst possible approach to food writing.
This is something I struggle with quite often, especially as many of my posts have recently come from my being on a road. I try to recognize the line between posts and prose that say “eating abroad is awesome!” versus those that say “You haven’t experienced true eating until you’ve eaten outside of the country, and your opinions on food are suspect until you do.” The goal, or rather MY goal, is say that food (as an idea) is accessible to all, and we have more in common with other cultures than not, yet the differences are still fascinating.” Call that my very sloppy mission statement, if you will.
In thinking about the best meals I’ve had over the course of the past 6 1/2 years (the length of time I’ve been running this blog), one variable stands out. The most memorable meals weren’t defined by the quality of the meals, but rather with the company I kept during those meals. And often the meals eaten were of limited quality. Think about your own experiences, and whether it was the food that made the difference, or the people you were with. When I brought this theory up with others, most everyone had arrived at the same conclusion.
Yet to look at a fair amount of the food media out there, this isn’t the lifestyle they’re selling. Few food books, magazines, and web sites go out of their way to say “First, get a group of your friends together…” Sure, some will talk about family during the holidays, but rarely encourage such get togethers once January rolls around. And if they do encourage a get together, it often comes across as a means to pay homage to a restaurant, or someone’s cooking skills (usually that of the reader).
Don’t get me wrong. I love good food, and have gone out of my way more than once to find a new experience. But this is a bug in my personality, not a feature. Beyond the basic needs of sustenance, food should be a means to and end, with the end being the enjoyment of other people?s company. Food should rarely be an end unto itself. And if and when it is, it should never be used as a means of exclusion, or a method of measuring one?s authenticity. All experiences surrounding food are authentic, and each experience has a value known only to those who participated within it. A person who has had a meal at elBulli is no better or worse than a person who ate a serving of Frito Pie at a diner in Albuquerque, or a potato salad at a family get together in Dearborn, Michigan. From my perspective, the best food out there is often defined by those you have experienced it with .