If you're a cook and a food enthusiast, you've probably had a moment where you've found yourself talking excitedly, at high volume and pitch, about a new recipe or a food you just went crazy for. Food, after all, is a source of pleasure and fun as well as necessary sustenance. But our excitement about things we love — whether it's healthy cooking, perfecting French macarons, or sourcing just the right ingredients — can come off as snobbery to people who don't share our particular passions. So, what's a good way to talk about the food we love (or dislike) without sounding like a jerk?
I asked a handful of my favorite food writers and editors, including Kat Kinsman, Francis Lam, and Adam Roberts — The Amateur Gourmet himself — to weigh in and tell me how they geek out over food without sounding like a snob.
Is It Snobbery to Dislike Olive Garden?
I started thinking more about the subject of food snobbery some time last year. A group of my former colleagues had a weekly ritual of going to Olive Garden for lunch on Fridays. I don't like Olive Garden, but I didn't want to come off as that person who thinks they are better than a restaurant or food (which I don't think I am). Not wanting to be left out, I ordered my unlimited soup and salad combo every Friday and it was just fine. I never said anything good or bad on the subject. Being social was more important than liking or disliking what I was eating.
But why did I have to feel bad about not liking Olive Garden? Is there an easier way to talk about not liking or loving certain foods and restaurants and avoiding coming off like a jerk? Can you hate eating at Olive Garden and not be labeled a food snob?
In my personal opinion, food is an emotional subject just like any other cultural lens in which we view identity. But that's exactly what it is: a lens. It does not and should not define you as a person. This is why when we label food as "good" or "bad" and especially "clean" it can be problematic. We are giving food an identity which it just does not and should not possess. These judgment calls are lazy and just mean. Let's not do that.
How to Talk About Food Without Being a Snob
So how do we talk about food (or indeed, anything we love!) without sounding like a snob to people who don't share our love of the most minute details?
I asked a few of my favorite food writers, authors, and bloggers on the subject to get their take on being a snob while talking about food. Here are their tips and ideas on the subject.
I like people who like things. Full stop. I'm waaaayyyyy more interested in people who are giddy and confident about their passions than I am in people who think that dislike equals discernment. I'm especially put off by people whose first response to someone saying: "I like such-and-such." is "Ewwww! I hate that!" Why would you rob someone of their joy? Even if it's not your bag, step outside of yourself for a second and ask them what it is that makes them love this particular ingredient, dish, restaurant, cuisine. You get to learn a little something about it and the person who loves it, and you get a chance to not make the world suck a little more for them.
Bottom line: As I always say, it it tastes good, it is good — even if it's not to you.
Editor at Clarkson Potter, Judge on Top Chef Masters
To my mind, the difference between being an enthusiast and a snob is where you fall on the scale from being appreciative and interested to judgmental. If you're genuinely curious, you only have to be polite and a normal human being and you probably won't run into any trouble. If you're hiding your judgment, then you should probably change the conversation.
Features Editor for Eater
The only thing worse than actually writing or saying toothsome is being that jackass who points out that the word actually means "delicious," not "al dente."
I make it clear that I have a geeky fascination with food
, and that there's a ton to dig into and learn about. I don't see it as all that different than other people's interest in, say, knitting or classic cars. If people ask, I let them know that I write and think a lot about food, but don't see myself as a foodie.
I champion the DIY whenever possible.
And while I love eating out on special occasions, I really see home cooking as a potential equalizer. We might not all be able to eat at the next big restaurant, but most of us can learn to make a really amazing fritatta at home.
I eat a lot of mediocre homemade food when it's served to me, because I believe that the intent behind sharing and cooking food comes first, and if people are made to feel comfortable doing it in the first place, then they might eventually seek out ways to use better ingredients/make it taste delicious.
Founding Editor of Buzzfeed
I probably grew up on what people might consider crappy food — we ate at Popeye's and Chinese buffets on special occasions, packed pork floss and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and slurped ramen out of styrofoam bowls while watching Growing Pains — so I feel particularly sensitive about and victimized by food snobbery.
Because food is seemingly more visceral than cerebral, that doesn't mean that it isn't loaded with implications about class and where one sits in the social strata. Elitist food comments aren't exempt from having a dark undercurrent of judgment that implies "You're uneducated" or "You're uncultured."
They're unnecessary because food is a fun, enjoyable thing that no one should have to think too hard about.
The key to not sounding like a food snob is acknowledging that food isn't everyone's thing; just like fashion isn't everyone's thing. If you don't judge me for wearing old white socks with holes in them, I won't judge you for eating that cheese sandwich from the gas station—even though it has mold on it and, really, who eats a cheese sandwich from the gas station?
Whenever a food or ingredient that sounds esoteric comes up, I like to bring it back to my experience with handling it for the first time. Something like, yeah, and sunchokes are really sweet and less starchy than potatoes, so they make a really nice, golden crust when you roast them in no time! I figure it might interest people in cooking and discovering these great foods for themselves.
Cheryl also writes The Kitchn's You're Doing It Right column.
The key for me, I think, is recognizing that food is at the nexus of everything I do professionally, and that this simply isn’t true for most people. For others, food is a daily part of life, sure, but their technical knowledge may be about woodworking or financial markets or Chinese history.
When I talk with someone about food, I never want them to feel less-than, much like I don’t want them to judge me if I don’t know the difference between a fishtail chisel and a flat gouge. (I totally just looked these up… woodworking terms!)
All of us who eat – and that’s everyone, of course – has a valid relationship with food, whether they love or hate certain things. It really has no bearing. The joy of being a food writer lies both in exploring common ground and in translating the depth of my passion so it’s relatable and exciting to others. There’s zero point in making someone feel bad about the very thing I love so much.
Thanks so much Kat, Francis, Helen, Twilight, Peggy, Adam, Cathy, and Cheryl!
Readers, what other advice would you add?
(Image credits: Kurt Coleman – Instagram; Shutterstock)