Where Does a Non-Foodie Go in a Food-Obsessed Culture?


Where Does a Non-Foodie Go in a Food-Obsessed Culture?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

You know that feeling of soul-stirring fulfilment that overcomes you every time you eat a fine-tasting morsel of food — something spectacular, deeply authentic, and thoroughly local? Well, I don’t.

God bless the soul of Anthony Bourdain, but eating delicious food is very low among my priorities in life. Lower than music, fashion, travelling etc, of course, but even lower than wasting countless hours scrolling through Instagram’s crappy discovery feed. After a lot of soul searching, I’ve come to the singular conclusion: As far as the popular definition of the word is concerned, I am not a “foodie.”

This awareness has been born out of an ingenious realisation that eating a lot of bad food is, well, bad. Once upon a time, like many of my contemporaries, I too, would find myself ordering saucy noodles and creamy parfaits to satiate late-night cravings. I didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that this mindless indulging was taking a toll on my life and so, a couple of health documentaries and several nutrition-related articles later, I took a decision. To largely chuck processed food — refined flours, breads and bakes, and animal meat —  out of my life. God bless these periodic phases of euphoric self-discoveries.

As promised by unverified but seemingly real fitness specialists and nutrition experts on the internet, I saw changes in my skin, feel good-ness, health, yada yada — that I’m sure you’re not interested in. Also, not interested in this were people who had to eat out with me and witness me scouring through the menu, trying to find something on the menu I could eat – which was often nothing.

Yep, I became that person on the table: The annoying one who’d sometimes order only a lemonade because everything else was “unhealthy”. The one who’d ask for salads without dressing and also the one who liked her grains whole or none at all. I basically ended up as the “food spoilsport.” Dear makers of the documentary, What The Health!, I did not sign up for this label!

Worst of all, there are arguments. “You’re too young to restrain yourself.” Too young to try and do my bit for a healthier rest of life? I think not.

But I am a little proud to admit this — none of these labels mattered to me because I knew I had to do this. Except when your friends ditch a plan because you’re not willing to try out a new biryani house or that popular Maggi-sandwich joint for the fifteenth time, you are forced to do some soul-searching. You wonder, “Are my food preferences kinda turning people off?” and that’s when it hits you — they were always in it only for the food.

Bitter betrayals aside, the life of a healthy eater among social circles of privileged eaters is not an easy one. Once you break up with refined flour, your meal options become greatly limited. You lose interest in food-related plans and you can no longer connect with people on a gastronomic level. Worst of all, there are arguments. “You’re too young to restrain yourself.” Too young to try and do my bit for a healthier rest of life? I think not. “Life is short.” Great, YOLO, never heard that one before, millennials – but hey, if my life is short, then maybe that’s all the more reason to try and make it good. “How can you turn vegetarian, that makes no sense!” In a world laden with poverty, terrorism, hunger and what not, me preferring roti over steak makes no sense to you? Sure, that makes sense.

I wonder when and how it happened. When did “good food” stop becoming about being beneficial for the body to being good for the taste buds, good for experiences, good for Instagram, good for anything except nourishing yourself? Nowadays, even social outings, travel plans, and movie dates are made based on food cravings and cuisine bucket lists. It makes me wonder, when did food become the cornerstone of our enjoyment of life?

Growing up, I don’t remember restaurants being awfully omnipresent in our lives  as they are today. My childhood and adolescent years were in fact bereft of “outside food,” except for a few family birthdays and major festive occasions. And even then, our mom-made diets were never inclusive of pizzas and pastas. I suppose that is what makes it easier for me today to not be tempted by a cheese-burst margherita. A scrumptious masala dosa on the other hand… I can already feel you roll your eyes!

Again, what is this food elitism – this foodism – that labels salad-eaters, vegetarians, and gluten-abandoners as perennially uncool? Is it because we can’t go Bourdain-like into the world and  nonchalantly eat our way through it even as our digestive systems break down in front of us? It seems to me that over the last decade, food — or food entertainment as I like to call it — might have become an irrationally significant indulgence for current generations. Moreover, due to them being in the top one percentile, when it comes to spending capacity, they also seem to never have enough entertainment options.

Even that would be fine, except that this normalisation of crazy meat, irrational food combinations (chocolate and pork anyone?), refined sugars, heart-eating carbs, and cholesterol-boosting saturated fats, should probably start getting questioned right about now. As the national economy expands, lifestyles evolve, and the very definition of “basic needs” takes a giant leap for us. And, as the top one percentile of the country (I will not let you forget your privilege) – we will only find ourselves amid more food-entertainment options every year – which could be both great and not.

Now that the joke about “sapiosexuals” is done with, it is time to start calling out those who love to describe themselves as “foodies” in their bios. Those who propagate the visual propaganda that “foodporn” is and contribute to the hackneyed hashtag culture of #foodgasm. Not just because it is a sad way of describing oneself (really? You, a human who needs food to live, like to eat food?), but also because the whole narrative around food might be getting a little out of hand.

Food is extremely important and as someone who has been blessed/cursed with a big appetite, do allow me to clarify that I eat a lot. Except, I figured that if I am going to feed myself a lot of something, it better have benefits. Given how picky we are about our Netflix TV shows, our YouTube playlists, deciding between stilettos and mules, shouldn’t that selectiveness percolate into choices that pertain to being healthy and… well…  alive?  After all, You Only Live Once, homies.