This marriage (of cooks and food snobs) is an abortion!This marriage (of cooks and food snobs) is an abortion!

Katherine Wheelock, whose previous contributions to culture include telling men to tuck in their shirts and put on their shoes, has a problem with “foodies” as she explains in this morning’s paper.

Join the club, lady! No one likes self-described foodies like the couple in her lead that are “a little self-conscious about being the foodie couple”—just not self-conscious enough to avoid calling themselves that. Declaring yourself a foodie, a wine buff, a fashionista, or an underground music junkie is as sure a sign of intolerable pomposity as language gives us.

But sometimes other people call you these things. Sometimes Katherine Wheelock calls you these things. She scoffs at her foodie couple for regretting having served store-bought tortillas to guests, instead of making them from scratch. That hits close to home, as Leland’s past few years of cooking exploration have involved many similar pronouncements on everything from vinaigrette to pancakes. But for us at least it isn’t about bragging rights—it is about spending less money, eating much better, and doing some pleasant work with your hands. (Or so he tells me.)


We avoid pancake mixes and salad dressings for good reason: they dilute the ingredients of simple and timeless recipes with fillers and corn syrup, but somehow cost more than the sum of quality parts. We haven’t made tortillas in our house, but a SimplyRecipes post attests that it is “incredibly easy (and cheap) it is to make wonderful, tasty hot fresh tortillas.” Sounds fun! Or, you could pop some factory tortillas in the microwave and call it a dinner party.

Speaking of dinner parties, the author writes as if they’re common in New York. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Dinner parties, “laid back” or not, are difficult because no one cooks anymore. Leaving out this side of the story throws Wheelock’s conclusions wildly off base. She paints a picture of self-obsessed foodie cooks booing off regular folk for cooking with Morton’s Salt. In real life, a regular New Yorker’s apartment is lucky to have anything beyond a disposable shaker.

The dominant culture of ordering in and eating out forces eccentricity on the few cooks there are here. Wrestling with a city that is not set up for home cooking, they’ve banded together to trade tips on where to get the best ingredients for the best prices and how to cook things in small kitchens. If their techniques (and occasional preference for a specific cheese) seem odd, so be it—they certainly aren’t new. Depending on one’s cultural lineage, it’s possible even for Americans to find an appreciation for raw milk and preparations from scratch in their family histories. And don’t even get us started on France.

hanging utensils

What seems odd to the cooking cadre, actually, is exclusively eating food prepared by strangers. When every meal comes from some unseen restaurant kitchen, often at improbably low or high prices, it’s a wonder the body is nourished at all. Not that we’re afraid to eat in restaurants—I’ll even eat McDonald’s when it’s the best option available—but the regularity of it is a little disturbing. Particularly when it’s practiced by those who would never eat at McDonald’s, or buy a fruit that isn’t marked “organic.”

This brings us to our final and most bitter quibble with the story and the foodie label itself: everyday cooks are lumped with those who are too delicate (or “busy”) to get their hands dirty on a regular basis. This distinction has escaped Ms. Wheelock in her safari through the land of people who care what they put in their mouths, but it is a significant one. Restaurant-going food snobs and once-a-year “chefs,” with their chatter about fashionable city troughs and their borrowed tastes, are of little use to real cooks.

They’re also dupes, in a city where pretty much everyone is lying about everything all the time (and doubly so if there’s a profit in it), to think that the food they’re served is exactly what it’s claimed to be. Caterer Serena Bass is interviewed, seemingly to mock her clientele: “It’s become very important to be all Alice Waters. Everyone wants to know where the poor pig you’re serving came from.” With as much respect as she has for the question, you’d be a fool to trust her answer.


Wheelock, to top off her demonizing, cites a now-divorcing couple who once argued over the choice of ordering pizza or $1000 in catered meats and cheeses for their child’s first birthday. (Using the kitchen was apparently not considered.) So we have one normal New Yorker, one crazed foodie, and one very unlucky birthday boy.

“Foodie” you can keep. We’d rather be called weirdos.


That is a wonderfully written post. Thank you very much for that.

Hear, hear! I hate that label and all it implies/doesn’t imply. Good for you for writing a spirited dissection of the term and article.

I was also bothered by that article, and at the same time, like you, truly annoyed with the (only) kind of people Wheelock apparently interviewed, the kind of Manhattan snob who considers cooking a suitable hobby—i.e. something you do not out of true necessity (hence not all too often) but rather out of intellectual cum manual interest, something to show the rest of the world, and prove to yourself, you really are a Renaissance (wo)man in touch with your earthy roots… Spare me. Perhaps it’s because I’m French, although I think mostly it’s because I grew up in a family of people who cooked, and cooked well, that I never even questioned the idea that most meals are cooked and eaten at home, that cakes and crêpes are made from scratch, and so is salad dressing. The other thing I would point out is that those friends of mine who are also interested in food (and cook every single day) do not feel as though they have to compete with one another, and neither do I: when I invited my friend Mary (another great blogger at over for dinner, I never felt I had to prove anything; food (and wine!) is simply something that we enjoy making and sharing and talking about, so the more the merrier, and nobody’s keeping score. So thank you for that post—and while I’m at it I think just this once I’ll change my mind about the score thing: right now it’s Weirdos: 1; Foodies: 0.

Right, on Christine! I work at a cooking school, and I don’t know any of these crazy people. My friends all love to cook and eat, and we talk about it constantly, but never in the way presented in that article.

I’m with you guys. On the one hand, I can recognize the problem with wanting food to taste like food. Not many people find that granola bars taste like chemicals like they do to me (and to my husband, he had one in his bag during our last trip to Paris and because we got up too early one morning to go out for a baguette he tried to eat it and only got half-way through it before proclaiming it icky, and then of course blaming me for refining his palate; but I know his northern California upbringing and a cool set of garden growing parents had already done most of the work). On the other hand, though I pay a lot of attention to what I put on my table, but I’m perfectly happy to eat pizza at someone’s house if they take the trouble to invite me over for dinner. Christine is right, competition should not be a part of this, living well and enjoying one’s friends is the point. Even though the article was in the New York Times, this paper should not be taking New York “foodies” as the standard anyway. By the way, so nice to hear from Nathan.

Great post, Nathan! And what a snide little article; she sounds like she can’t quite decide if she respects or detests her subjects for their refined tastes but neither she nor the folks she skewers come out of it very well.

Unfortunately I have become the victim of that same syndrome she describes, the one where people are, or claim to be, too intimidated by my cooking to reciprocate invitations. They don’t get that like Mary I would be perfectly happy to eat pizza at their house just to enjoy the company (well, not Pizza Hut pizza). And I had some other friends express amazement at my fondness for church fish frys; they said, “We thought you were too gourmet to eat like that” which made me realize that they didn’t understand me at all! I guess they think it has to be Beef Wellington or nothing, but in fact I prefer simple food, simply prepared. Fried fish is great! You can keep that molecular gastronomy and sell it to tourists.

standing and applauding
good rant! good rant! bravo!
that article made me grit my teeth and spit at my computer monitor. People that self-label themselves “foodies” annoy the vinegar out of me. They’re the sorts that can’t listen to their stomachs and hearts about what to eat, but rather need to be told what to eat… No one should be told what to eat! Eating is a joy!

And to your points about NYC dinner parties… I think they’re rare because so few people have the room to have people over! If I hadn’t moved to boondocks Brooklyn, I’d still be cooped up in my 300sf 1 br in the LES that was barely big enough for me and my boyfriend, let alone two other people. That article was so rarified and annoying. Thanks for calling it out.

Nathan, thanks for succinctly pointing out all the things that I was thinking, but am far too inarticulate to actually sum up in words. Great post!

Thanks everybody; I’m glad I wasn’t alone in my reaction. Like Christine said, anxiety and competition are not typical among kitchen lovers that I know. I’m not even sure who in the article was supposed to be anxious—the author? She should relax. If you stay true to your own tastes and experiences, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Rebecca: I’m afraid I might like Pizza Hut, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve eaten there. Perhaps I’ll sample a pie next time Leland is away. If the imaginary food police don’t get to me first!

Ann: That’s true, space is a big factor. My friends and I used to have roving dinner parties but they eventually collapsed under their own weight. Seating half of the guests on a couch is a bummer.

Right on, Nathan. I completely agree with you. I cook because I love the work, the meditation of it, and the product – not out of some misguided snobbery or competition.

Of course, I live in North Carolina, where home cooking is still a bit more common – and eating-out, taking-out options more limited – than in New York. But if I want to be able to afford to eat the way I want to eat, I simply HAVE to cook it myself – I can’t afford the prices of truly excellent restaurant food more than a couple of times a year.

And there’s also the challenge inherent in making things you’d always thought just came from the store (like bread, or ketchup, or preserves.) It’s just a lot of fun to see how to do these things, and there’s a sense of discovering an art that’s slowly being lost. I’d say we’re more food counterculturalists than food snobs!

Thanks for a great post.

I laughed when I saw your post, Nathan. I blogged about that article yesterday, too. (It’s at I’m not sure the tiny NY kitchens is the rationale for not cooking, though. One summer I had the good fortune to house sit a 17th-century apartment in the middle of Paris. Its kitchen was tiny, but you could tell by the collection of well-seasoned cookware that that the residents didn’t rely on carryout!

What a great blog and loved all the comments! We took a small boat down the canal deBurgoinne with the tiniest kitchen ever, and the meals were absolutely incredible! Only 8 passengers, and a skinny little cook. Sorry about the spelling of the canal!

I loved the post even though I didn’t read the original article AND I’m going through a (low budget) eat out and take out phase right now.

It took me forever to remember where the title came from, but then I loved it because the line itself comes from a New York apartment.

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