What Will We Take Away from the Age of the Foodie?

It could be said that the Age of the Foodie has arrived.

Food is the topic of interest across more conversations than simply what the current fad diet is or what restaurant you ate at for your anniversary. Food is everything these days.

Hell, it's even being blamed for killing rock and roll.

Food is politics, from arguments for federal labeling of genetically modified foods to the Supreme Court siding with agricultural juggernaut Monsanto, from government subsidies of corn producers to state laws regulating the labeling and sale of foods and beverages.

Food is health, from concerns over high-fructose corn syrup and the recently questioned benefits of organic produce to the national (and often comorbid) epidemics of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and high cholesterol, from the proliferation of vegan and paleo diets to the discovery that every kid you know is allergic to gluten, dairy, peanuts or some combination thereof.

Food is social conscience, from the often inhumane treatment of chickens, cows, pigs and other animals we raise for slaughter, to the world hunger epidemic that's deepened as a result of a global financial crisis, extreme weather patterns that have driven up the cost of everything from corn to beef, and political unrest in unstable nations with already malnourished populations.

Food is our social lives, from the Yelp reviews and Instagram photos we increasingly post to the decline of entertaining or cooking at home in favor of meeting our friends or family at restaurants. We might all be shopping at farmers' markets to see and be seen, but the truth is that restaurant sales are at an all-time high; Americans are eating out more than ever.

But what will we make of this intensity of interest in another ten or 20 years, when chefs are no longer our rock stars and people are no longer photographing every meal they eat?

More pointedly: Will we take away anything from the current food frenzy other than guffawing at long-past bacon and cupcake fads or reminiscing about the time when food reality TV shows and "cooking channels" outnumbered the hairs on Anthony Bourdain's well-traveled head?

When I polled my friends on Facebook, their answers were scattershot. This isn't surprising, given the million-way split in focus when it comes to the incredibly broad topic of food.

"People will be looking for normalcy, starved for it," said Amanda Lewis. "It will be healthier, sustainable, vegan versions of old classics such as meatloaf, tuna casserole -- comfort foods from days of old."

Others saw a darker future, however, predicting the collapse of fisheries or the collapse of society as a whole.

"We will be looking back going remember the days when the fish came from the ocean and not farm raised," said Jared Hunter. A handful of people predicted that we'd all be eating Soylent Green soon.

Still others were more optimistic.

"I think the knowledge level and the bar have been permanently raised," said Jodie Eisenhardt. "I hope there will more emphasis on how food is sourced, but I don't see there being any less interest in food than there is at this point."

"It has been a little crazy," Eisenhardt admitted, "but I still think overall the frenzy has been a good thing."

The nature of life is cyclical, though, and that's as much an assured truth as both death and taxes. Everything that goes around comes around. While the current intensity of interest around food may be at its apex right now, it's not the first time that a society has been obsessed with food. Take the French court under King Louis XVI, for example. Or the 1970s.

"The Galloping Gourmet, Julia [Child], Justin Wilson, Paul Prudhomme, Martin Yan, etc," recalled Donna Childers-Thirkell. "We didn't need a flashy Food Network, we had PBS. Cocktail and dinner parties were weekly things, everyone trading off hosting."

"In other words," she finished, "we humans are fickle creatures; things go in and out of style."

But what if they don't this time?

"It's entirely possible we'll never come 'down' from the boom in interest in things culinary," posited Shawn Quinn. "Unlike chess, poker, backgammon, laser tag, video games, etc, food is at the very core of our survival."

"I personally don't see the Food Network dying until cable TV itself falls down and goes boom," said Quinn.

That may be the scariest thought of all.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt