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Friday, April 13, 2012

Fried Mainstream Foodies

As I prepare for Baconfest Chicago, and believe me you need to prepare, I find myself reflecting on foodie-ness. First of all, some people are abandoning the term because it's becoming too mainstream. I, however am not, and as I go through my thought process the term becomes less important to me.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term came about in the early 80s as an alternative to gourmet. I think of a foodie as someone who has a passion for food. Not just the food, the experience. Some foodies look for the hot new find and some look for the hard to find. I am just interested in the new, the freshness, and of course the sensory experience.

I'm finding as foodie culture becomes more mainstream there seems to be two big groups: those seeking to push the limits and those seeking to try something new. The idea of pushing the limits to almost intolerable levels both disgusts me and fascinates me. As I go through the Baconfest menu, my stomach turns as my mouth waters. 

The limits for both combinations of flavors and health are pushed with a number of bacon-infused desserts and deep-fried concoctions. Bacon-wrapped house-made sausage deep-fried in croissant dough with horseradish mustard. Bacon custard-filled bacon beignet with Cafe Du Monde coffee and chicory bacon syrup. Bacon and egg ice cream.

The limits are pushed, but it's balanced with the distinctly new and different. Balsamic infusions, house-made kimchi, and herbed formulations. 

It's the foodie that pushes the limit health-wise that is making me pause. I'm intrigued. At this point, they aren't necessarily after quality. They are after shock value. It's not gourmet, it's grease. I will not soon forget the fervour over chocolate-covered bacon at a fest I went to last year. It was handed to me for free, so I tasted it. It was dry, sodium-laden turkey bacon covered in low-grade chocolate syrup. It was not good. In no context could I see this being good. I know everyone has their own taste, but when one or both the components are not quite food, how does that work? Yet it was being reported as a triumph. The social networks were exploding with excitement. 

I have had my fair share of the fried foods. Fried pickles, fried cheese on a stick, deep-fried cheddar bacon mashed potatoes. I will never forget when I first moved to the Midwest and found a deep-fried Snickers bar at a fair. Just one bite would send anyone into some sort of sugar coma. You can read about my fried fair adventures last year (Part 1 | Part 2). I'll taste it all as part of this food adventure.

But so much of everything is deep fried. Everything is covered in bacon. I like bacon, but this obsession is just a bit much for me. I wonder the cause. Is it a safer foray into foodie culture? Is it a sign of American excess? Is it a revolt against the health food movement? Is it a comfort food push during hard social times? When I see this reflected in shows like Man v. Food it makes me think of freakshows and food eating contests. It has always been there, but has it always been so cool? 

I'm looking forward to Baconfest and the experience of the new, the fresh, the different. I am definitely looking forward to Baconfest to people watch, and maybe, just maybe, get some of these questions answered.

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