A new group of foodies are sharing what they eat-obsessively, and online.
In the post-climactic moments of a foodgasm, some of us, euphoric and unable to concentrate, with blood rushing to the stomach, prefer relaxed conversation with friends, a little after-dinner pillow talk. I sometimes head to the liquor cabinet for a bitter, digestive nip of Fernet Branca. Now, there's a growing group of the food obsessed that can't even wait for dinner to end to reach for the iPhone, the laptop, or the digital camera.
Whether these obsessive gastro-diarists are effective writers reaching out to hungry readers at the web's virtual dinner party or a wave of self-aggrandizing foodiots is part of a larger debate over the value of social media. The importance of traditional media sources has been eroded, in part for failing to live up to an illusory set of standards, like reviewers who were comped trips for Robert Parker's famous wine newsletter. Combine that with online communities that offer places to find more perspectives and more opinions for free, and you have the beginning of a revolution. But detractors of the online "cult of the amateur," like Andrew Keen, point out that the democratization of the media has led to more superficial observations than thoughtful, considerate opinions.
The latest incarnation: the foodiots.
Here they come, the distinct subspecies of food zealot that cannot enjoy culinary coitus uninteruptus, the plugged-in foodie who absolutely must blog, tweet, or photograph meals-even the most mundane breakfast bun. And they're taking over, at least according to Joe Pompeo, who wrote in last week's New York Observer: "New Yorkers' water-cooler chitchat has changed. They used to talk about sex and politics and TV shows. Now they can't stop yapping about what they're shoving down their pie holes."
Grub Street's Daniel Maurer argues that the rise of the foodiot coincides with aggressive, viral restaurant marketing that focuses on the latest and greatest stunts-possibly in place of good food. "As the food blogosphere and food television expand, food becomes more and more about sensationalism and gimmickry, and it has become more and more acceptable to praise something just because it's wacky or indulgent, not because it's artful."
We're constantly bombarded by short, senseless food stories-everything from cat food commercials to the latest news about Monsanto-unreeling in real time. It's true that we need solid criticism-whether that's Alan Richman, Tyler Cowen, or Adam Roberts-to elevate the discourse, cut through the hype, and find the good food. But online chatter doesn't have to be equivalent to low-brow idiocy, and to assume that all non-professionals reviewers are "foodiots" seems elitist, missing the potential of dedicated online reviewers or crowdsourcing recipe sites like Food52.
Either way, as the critic Gale Greene wrote on her Twitter feed, "Let's hope-foodiots or not-that when we look up from the plate, we have something else to talk about, even obsess over." My suggestion: Smart critics, no matter how many characters they use.