A Brief Guide to the Pretentious Foodie’s Favorite Virtue-Signaling Words

Walking out of my gym in Northwest D.C., I saw the following bumper sticker, plastered on the back of a giant S.U.V.: “You are what you eat.”

I stood there for a while, stunned. I couldn’t decide if I was more shocked to think that people actually believe that or that if they do, they’d be so blind to their elitism as to actually say it, let alone broadcast it on their car. I slow-walked it to my own vehicle, hoping to catch a glimpse of this colossal highbrow. (No doubt, that same person fashions him or herself an earth-conscience environmentalist who is much more concerned about the poor than everyone else.)

You are not what you eat. Indeed, essential to being human is the reality that, while your body is an integral part of yourself, you are so much more than your body. Understanding this is the key to grasping the inherent equal dignity possessed by all, whether you vacation at Blackberry Farm or toil and sweat to put rice and beans on the table.

And yet this bumper sticker sums up how detached from reality the foodie world has become. To them, food is some kind of religion, and to quote from an actual religion, “Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” (St. Paul, in Philippians 3:19) For today’s foodies, their glory really is in their shame, namely, their shaming of others through their epically snobbish lingo, most of which has by now been stripped of all meaning. Here is some of the worst in foodie phraseology:

  1. Artisanal. The idea that 99.99 percent of items branded as artisanal were made by actual artisans is absurd. (What is an artisan, btw?) And the word is a total dig at the everyday Americans who work in factories or on farms where food is produced en masse, as well as at the people who are so lowly as to consume non-artisanal food.
  1. Handcrafted. I mean, in a sense, everything is handcrafted. That includes your Gap clothes made in a sweatshop with help from the hands of child slaves in Sri Lanka. But even when we are talking about factories that respect human rights, what is so bad about machines? Do we hate the Industrial Revolution now? Is there something wrong with reproducing on a large scale something that tastes delicious? Or is this really about people feeling like they have access to something that costs more to make, something other people probably can’t afford based on the level of inefficiency in its production process? Which brings me to the worst offender . . .
  1. Small batch. Once you make something delicious, it’s not very hard in the modern world to make it with equal deliciousness on a larger scale and actually make some money. Some call this phenomenon “capitalism.” Or you can just artificially limit output and employ some Economics 101 and use the language of supply and demand to drive up the price for people who want to feel like they are eating or drinking something special made only for the elite.
  1. Then there are some trendy terms en vogue now thanks to very non-small-batch retailers like Starbucks or Whole Foods such as . . . Steel Cut, Cold-brewed, and Cold-pressed. Because my steel cut oats are better than your rolled oats. Starbucks actually did limit production of its cold-brewed coffee last summer so that people thought it was special enough to be worth paying significantly more than just regular iced coffee.
  1. Farm fresh. This is the new variation on the now slightly passé farm-to-table, which is also a hoity-toity and basically meaningless phrase. What food does not come from a farm? Why are some eggs “farm fresh,” while others are just lame-old eggs? Just how “fresh” does it have to be, to be deemed worthy of the label “farm fresh?” Even NPR busted the myth on this one in an expose about deceptive labeling of eggs by the food industry. In what it called a “glossary for the wannabe informed egg buyer”, the article broke down the meaning of several labels, including farm fresh:

Farm Fresh


What You Might Think It Means: Your friendly local farmer rises at dawn to harvest a dozen (still warm) eggs and puts them into this egg carton, which is rushed to your local store.

What It Actually Means: “It literally means nothing,” says Paul Shapiro, vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S. and an expert on commercial egg production. He says the term is probably meant to conjure up a favorable image in the consumer’s mind, but it has no substance whatsoever.

So, there’s that.

There’s that and much more, actually. Locally-sourced. Hand-picked. Etcetera. These phrases often come in couples or trios, lest the consumer have any doubts that their food truly does bear the stamp of elite production. While waiting for a coffee at Peet’s the other day, I noticed a sign celebrating the company’s 50th Anniversary. Like most American companies that have endured, it’s a good one imbued with the innovative spirit. But I could barely get past the sentence that assured me that Peet’s is special and made “the right way.” This “meant sourcing the world’s finest beans” and “hand-roasting in small batches.” Congrats on “sourcing” your beans, Mr. Peet! I guess the hand-roasted, small-batch stuff had to go in order for you to grow into a billion-dollar dollar company with hundreds of chain stores across the country.

There is nothing wrong with wanting fresh food, or appreciating the work of the people who put a lot of care into making it taste special, or in wanting to support the farmers in your local community. But there is something deeply wrong with the moralizing and elitist tone that characterizes the way the wealthy talk about their food. To equate self-worth with food, or to purposefully cast expensive and fancy food as morally preferable, especially when it is unattainable by the poor, is indicative of a society in a backwards slide. Or one coming apart, to borrow from Charles Murray, who focused a lot on the way that the new elite use food to buffer themselves from those they purport to care so much about.

St. Paul said of those who made their stomachs their god, “their end is destruction.” Want to avoid destruction? Stop using pretentious, virtue-signaling food words. Help bring the foodie world back down to earth.

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14 responses to “A Brief Guide to the Pretentious Foodie’s Favorite Virtue-Signaling Words

  1. I’m not sure that yours is the only possible interpretation of that bumper sticker. Couldn’t it just be promoting good health? Isn’t it just a twist on Hippocrates’ “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food?”

  2. As someone who has dealt with life-long and often mysterious health problems, including crippling depression, I can testify-hallelujah-amen that I am indeed what I eat. When I eat crappy food, I feel like crap–both my body and my mood–basically “who I am”–is effected terribly. When I eat healthy food, I feel like I’m walking on sunshine.

    You can call that “virtue signaling”. But you’re not going to shame me out of eating in a way that makes me feel fantastic, and has allowed me to rise above my normally debilitating health problems. I live a vibrant life now, thanks to the “foodie” food I eat. If that offends you, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    1. Sure, and everybody eating something you choose not to is eating “crappy food.” Nope, no virtue signalling there, you bet!

      1. Certainly, some foods are crappier than others. If all foods are made equal, then I suppose we should just throw out all the thousands of scientific studies ever done on nutrition, and tell all the dietitians out there that their degrees are worthless. No one should be shamed out of eating Cheetos or drinking Kool-aid now and again, but we also needn’t fool ourselves in to believing these foods are going to improve one’s health either.

        1. Do you really think this article was about shaming people into eating crappy food?

          As for all those scientific studies, do you mean the ones selling us the low fat high carb food pyramid, that created the epidemic of obesity and diabetes? Food scientists and nutritionists are not immune to the same monetary and political pressures others are, definitely not if they are dependent upon politicians for funding and recognition.

          Anyway, this article is about trendy and pretentious words used by silly people to elevate what they eat above what the ignorant plebs do. Nothing in it about Cheetos.

  3. I have to disagree with #4. Those terms actually describe part of the production process that has a real effect on the resulting taste or texture. It doesn’t make that product necessarily _better_, that’s just snobbish crap. But it does make the product _different_. Steel cut oats genuinely are a different product than rolled oats, and tastes vary.

  4. Be nice to the pretentious snobs. They provide me with endless hours of entertainment.
    I read a book once in which someone claimed to have single-cow cheese for sale. It was artisanal, of course.

  5. The original expression from which these others are derived was: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are” by the original foodie Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. However, I don’t believe—and I am not a Savarin expert—it was meant in a nutritional sense. I think he very literally meant that people in particular geographical areas of particular income classes could be identified by their diets.

    In which sense, the above rant is particularly applicable. The snob wishes to be known for the expense and exclusivity of his diet.

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