There has been quite a debate over food snobbery. On one side, you have people who think that there’s no snobbery in loving good food. But I happen to think I am a food snob, having been fortunate to have been raised on fabulous food, and admit that I do look down on the less-than-fabulous.
Which brings up the point – what is fabulous food? Because what I find fabulous may not be to others.
Being a food snob, to me, isn’t looking down on the people who eat specific foods, or those who refuse to try certain foods, but it’s looking down on those foods that they chose as fabulous to them. It’s a very different issue. I am a snob of bad food, not of people.
I don’t think I was always this way, for there were times I know where I voiced some disgust over someone who wouldn’t try a new food, or refused a rare steak, or avoided all things spicy. But once I started working for other people, I became well aware that people have their own tastes, and these must be respected. It was a humbling learning curve. Now, that doesn’t mean that the food I prepared was inferior in any way, but it was made to their liking. It had to be.
I would never have been successful at catering if I didn’t honor certain requests by my clients. If they hated mushrooms, I didn’t include them, even if I “knew” that all of the guests probably loved them. Allergic to shrimp? Of course – no shrimp. Sensitive to spicy food? Hate curry? Fine! I could work around all of that.
My biggest learning curve occurred when I got married to a man who had been raised on the typical American diet. That’s how I learned that Velveeta wasn’t something you put on fish hooks to catch trout. Fortunately, he was open enough to try everything I cooked, and I kind of created a monster! Although he still refuses offal.
My delightful son-in-law and I had an uproarious discussion at dinner one night recently, just about the topic of “good” food. It probably started because my daughter’s steak had been cooked improperly. We began discussing people who want their steaks cooked well, on purpose, which I really don’t understand. He then commented that my opinion was not necessarily the end all, since food tastes are subjective. Indeed they are, but I pointed out that if Michelin-starred restaurants served beef only medium-rare or rare, then my opinion was indeed “correct.” Honestly, that young man just likes to push my buttons, because he was all the while eating a bloody rare steak!
In the past I’ve referred to my dislike of Velveeta, Lipton’s onion soup mix, and canned cream of mushroom soup. Are these ingredients served at fine dining establishments? I think not.
Perhaps we can agree that there is no real “bad” food? I mean, some people love Velveeta, and even Spam. But perhaps we can agree that there’s good, better and best?
When my second daughter was born, we’d just moved to a town in Texas 2 weeks prior to her birth. We didn’t know a soul, but a man my husband worked with happened to live two doors down. His wife was extraordinarily nice to bring over a casserole when we came home from the hospital. She was also generous enough to keep my older daughter, 2 1/2, overnight while I labored. I hadn’t even met her before so her actions were life saving.
But you know I’m going to talk about the casserole, right? It was a tuna casserole. But it gets better. It was topped with potato chips. There’s not much I don’t eat, but I couldn’t bring myself to even taste it. It even looked horrible. Of course my husband loved it.
I’ve mentioned how I was raised before, with a French mother who brought with her to the U.S. all of the typical habits of a European. She shopped often, always had a garden, never opened a can, made everything from scratch, cooked globally, and never made casseroles. So perhaps you can understand my shock at a canned tuna casserole, topped with cream of something canned soup, and then potato chips. That is just not good food to me. And it’s not served at fine dining establishments.
In a lovely post, my friend Stéphane Gabart write about how there are no food snobs, only food lovers, or foodies. It’s a delightful post about how he loves being surrounded by friends and family who love food. But I know from my conversations with Stéphane that neither of us loves absolutely every food that exists. Even as food lovers, we have our limits. For one thing, I really dislike celeriac. Stéphane? He hates beets. We might think each other silly for disliking these foods, but we all have our own tastes, and these must be respected.
No one can help how they were fed by their mothers and fathers while they were growing up. Some of us might embrace the foods on which we were raised, others might rebel. But as adults we can certainly make choices about what we prepare, and the ingredients that go into those foods. There’s no right or wrong here. I will always hate celeriac. And Velveeta. And be snobby about them.