Image Courtesy of Toronto Eaters via Unsplash
This past week, in one way or another, the majority of America celebrated Thanksgiving. Me? I traveled 13 hours by car to Chicago, IL, to spend that holiday with my sister, her boyfriend, my oma and my opa. We had a medium-sized, golden-brown turkey, “with no frills, just traditional flavor,” as my opa wanted. My oma made the stuffing and my youngest sister brought the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Since I had driven, I was allowed the easiest tasks: making the green bean casserole, candied yams, and popping the apple cider. The meal was traditional, in the best sense of the word, but also laborious and dish intensive. My grandparents spent the majority of the next day cleaning their house. So, when I arrived for lunch–to consist of Thanksgiving leftovers– they instead wanted to go out. Inevitably, this outing sparked my natural Foodie tendencies to whip out my Android, snap photos of my food, and verbally dissect then rate the constitution of my meal with anyone who would listen. I did not give in to my hazard-of-the-job cravings, because it would have severely annoyed my grandparents. But, I really, really wanted to.
This got me to thinking, there are many habits inherent to foodies that strike others as curious, obsessive, or downright uncouth. As my oma told me once in Germany, “it is not normal to need to take so many photos of one’s beer or plate of food.” She was not being cruel. It’s just how she feels. When a “normal” person orders a meal, they do not wait ten or twenty minutes for it to arrive, just to then spend another ten or twenty minutes taking photos of it, sans a single bite: positioning it to catch the right glint of light, looking for the dish’s good side, readjusting bits of parsley or green onion to ensure the best meal to garnish ratio. These aforementioned tendencies are staples of the Foodie tool box. Tools that enable us to capture the soul or the narrative of the meal we are eating, and then translate it into a replicable experience for other dining enthusiasts. But, that doesn’t mean our habits aren’t annoying. Or, that our friends and family–patiently waiting to eat as we do our thing and their food gets cold– won’t reconsider inviting us out for a shared meal the next time they find an interesting, yet to be explored restaurant.
On my third and final day in the city, I went to lunch at Gino’s East with my sister and her boyfriend. She doesn’t care what I do, much. So I satiated my foodie needs. To be respectful, I let them grab their slices of deep dish before beginning my compulsive photo-snapping. As we ate, I thought about the food and about my desire to interrogate the waiter about recipes and restaurant origins. I came to the conclusion that I will probably always be a minor annoyance to “normal” people. There are just certain traits about me, certain ticks that exist because of my unorthodox, passion-driven career path.
Then, I reflected on the many general obstacles inherent to pursuing a career in food and travel writing. Photos rudely taken during a meal are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other, seemingly benign impediments to achieving success as a new and emerging food writer. Work, if you still need that 9 to 5. The insatiable thirst for unique experiences and general exploration. Lack of street cred (i.e. until you are a sufficiently paid writer, photographer, or critic, people tend to relegate your artistic needs to habits that possibly should be avoided). Of the innumerable hurdles facing me, I settled on the 5 most critical ones to immediately tackle.
- Photos- people can’t live with us taking them. We can’t live without them. Our food experience begins with our eyes, then our sense of smell, then taste. All three senses are equally important. So, when I find a meal that not only smells and tastes good, but is also visually appealing, I have to photograph it. It is a must. Also, when it comes to locating new, intriguing food destinations, are foodies not the designated Marco Polos of the diners’ world? People tend to identify all food-enthusiasts as hipster millennials with a serious phone addiction. I do not deny that there are those just-want-to-be-a-part-of-things, trend following folks out there. But, those people do not represent true foodies. They’re impostors. Were it not for our detail-obsessed photos, our candid yet insightful yelp reviews, and our amateur–in the originating French sense of the word–blog posts, many diners would find themselves bereft of inclination towards diverse palatal adventure. My photos may appear rude, but they are a necessary evil.
- Budget- because I am not already an established, trail-blazing foodie like Amanda Hesser, Paul Lowe Einlyng, or David Chang, I still need that 9-5 job to pay my bills. Also, most aspects of my life that do not involve food or writing feel mundane. So, when I get to go out to eat, I try like hell to dine at restaurants or roadside venues that are new to me, regardless of menu prices. And, I order various plates in one sitting, because I feel compelled to indulge in that particular experience. This….is not conducive to a well-balanced budget or sustainable future as a food writer. I should instead create a monthly food-writer’s stipend: open a savings or checking account at my bank, tuck away $50 or $100 from each paycheck, and then use that money to dictate the indulgence allowed during each dining experience.
- Separating work from pleasure- This one is easier said than done. As a food writer, I want to take photos, make notes about flavor, presentation, and ambiance in my phone, and interrogate servers whenever I am particularly thrilled about my dining experience. These urges burst out of me, like a dog who can’t help wagging her tail. If I could better, consciously distinguish between a work dinner and a casual night with friends (I can always use work as an excuse to return to that establishment), then this would probably also cut-down on the increasing levels of annoyance felt among family and friends.
- Letting go of the steering wheel- this is more of a metaphor derived from an actual experience had while driving home from Chicago. I am most comfortable when I am in control. So, when I was driving across country, even though I had a friend offering to relieve me because I have been driving already for three hours, I kindly said, “no thank you.” But, I am a desert girl not used to strong winds, fall colors, and deciduous trees. While driving around sharp bends in a curved two-lane, Tennessee highway, I unintentionally drifted across lanes–a few times and always without incident–because I was too busy being swept away with the leaves swirling in front of my windshield. Had I given in to my friend’s requests to drive sooner, I would have enjoyed that Southern fall display much more. I also could have gotten work done on my laptop, without stress of missing deadlines. In other words, I could loosen up in both life and career as a food writer. I don’t have to dictate every dining experience to enjoy myself. Actually, I could let the waiter make and elaborate on suggestions a wee bit more.
- Set everyone at ease: most people don’t like things they don’t understand. The best way to ease a tense or perceived “rude” situation is to just lay the facts out as they are in the most respectful and considerate way possible. As such, I could explain to my oma and opa that yes, I do need to take a thousand photos of that currywurst because it’s for work; no, my blog is not a hobby, it is…you guessed it, work; and, yes, I do have to ask the waitress what is in my schinken, my kartoffelpuffer, and my Schwäbisch maultaschen. Then, I have to pause to take notes.