Words of Wellness: Food Snob

Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 in The Food Well | 1 comment

Words of Wellness: Food Snob

The December 3, 2012 issue of TIME magazine featured a cover story on Dr. Mehmet Oz’s diet for the 99% — the “anti-food snob diet.”  Now, if you throw around terms like snob, elitist and 99%, you will generate a lot of heat in cyberspace––just google “Dr. Oz’s Anti-Food Snob Diet” and you’ll see what I mean. Exactly what TIME was hoping for, I’m sure.

Although it smarts a bit to be labeled a snob for shopping at the farmers’ market, I do agree with his main point: “You don’t need to eat like the 1% to eat healthily.” His focus is strictly on nutritional value. If fresh produce is too pricey, he says, go for the frozen or canned varieties. They are nutritionally equivalent (as long as you avoid the products with added salt, sugar and fat). And, by and large, they are less expensive.

Dr. Oz is not the first to make the argument that affordability is an issue when it comes to increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods. Adam Drewnowski has been scolding about this for years and a November 2012 report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service shows that Americans are not coming anywhere close to the recommendations in the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As Marion Nestle said in her Food Politics post of December 12, “We eat what we buy.” And we seem to buy a lot of pizza, fried chicken and cupcakes.

But let’s get back to this food snob thing. Allegedly, if you shop at farmers markets, buy organic and eat things like kale and pomegranate, you’re the kind of foodie who would never get caught in the frozen food aisle. In other words, a food snob.

Back in 2008, when we were just coming to grips with the economic new normal, Slate ran a story by Andrew Gross called “The Agony of the Food Snob.” In it he describes food snobs, himself included, this way: “Food snobs know that food isn’t simply fuel to get you through the day: It’s an expression of taste, refinement, and global consciousness.” It was tongue-in-cheek of course, but the “global consciousness” reference struck a chord.

Every purchase we make is an expression. To me, buying fruits and vegetables is an expression of my desire to eat healthy foods. They can be fresh or frozen, they still meet my needs. But when I buy produce at the farmers’ markets, which I do often, it’s an expression of support for local agriculture. It’s an expression of appreciation for farmers who practice sustainability. It’s also an expression of concern for the environmental impacts of those whose businesses are driven only by a “single bottom line.” Do these choices make me a snob?

Urban Dictionary defines “snob” as “anyone who thinks they are better than someone else based upon superficial factors” (and offers Paris Hilton and the Olson twins as examples!).  I don’t think I’m better than anyone else because I shop at the farmers’ market; I’m definitely not in the 1%; I don’t consider myself an elitist. But I do have choices that some other people may not have. That makes me grateful.

Dr. Oz, I applaud your efforts to encourage healthier eating by choosing carefully from the frozen and canned food aisles. You’ll find me there at most every trip to the supermarket. But I’ll admit, I rose to the bait and got all defensive when I read your story in TIME. Call me a foodie, call me an environmentalist, call me picky. Just don’t call me a snob.