I live in two food worlds. The first is my ideal food world. It's the one where I spend a Sunday afternoon pairing just-bought-from-the-farmers-market cheese and baked-by-one-of-this-year's-James-Beard-nominees bread with fresh-produce-infused cocktails or a Wednesday night eating a tacos filled with local mushrooms and seasonal asparagus at an independently owned Mexican restaurant in a hip part of Philadelphia.
The other food world I live in is the one in my home — the one where I need to get dinner on the table for two hungry (and often hangry) teenage boys at least four nights a week. In that world, I defrost half a homemade baked ziti in the morning for that night's dinner or pull out the slow cooker to let a roast cook all day for French dip sandwiches.
Both the ziti recipe and the French dip recipe came from Allrecipes.com. The user-generated recipe website was my first "go to" site when I started cooking for my family from ingredients, instead of heating up what was in boxes. A recent article on Slate by Nicholas Hune-Brown discusses what the author sees as an "enormous gap between foodie culture and what people actually cook," based on data from Allrecipes.
Allrecipes is the most popular recipe site on the Internet, Hune-Brown says, and its hall-of-fame dishes like chili, enchiladas, chicken pot pie and baked ziti are remarkable because the site feels distant "from the food conversation in the media," he writes.
You are what you cook at home
Foodies eat baked ziti, too. (Photo: Annie/flickr)
Initially, I was surprised — surprised that the author would point out a disconnect between foodie culture and what families put on the table most week nights. Very few people eat like a foodie 24/7.
Then I started to wonder: Would someone find a big disconnect between what I post about food online — both in published articles and on my social media — and what I cook at home?
Yes, they would. I looked at my Instagram account since the beginning of this year. Of the 90 or so photos I've posted, if you remove the cat, dog and kid pictures, what you're left with is a lot of wine and food. You won't find baked ziti or a French dip in any of my Instagram pics.
What you will find are fancy cheese trays for parties, the start of some house-made limoncello, whipped ricotta and roasted butternut squash on garlic toast (drizzled with a balsamic-honey reduction sauce for extra foodie credibility), and a big pot of Minestrone soup — with fresh vegetables I butchered myself.
The only hint that I also cook the type of foods on the Allrecipes hall-of-fame list is one lone photo of a taco. But the caption makes it clear that it's the taco of a kid who belongs to a foodie momma. Looking at my photos through this lens, I might label my food (and myself) pretentious.
Food trends are slower at home
The foods most loved on Allrecipes are "familiar" and "unpretentious," according to Hune-Brown, and a "reminder that although the conversation about food moves at light speed, with new trends pinging across our social media accounts daily, our actual cooking habits change much more slowly."
He's right. Although highly styled food blogs and social media accounts make it look like the entire foodie world eats only good-looking, drizzled with balsamic-honey-reduction sauced foods, that's not true. Many foodies enjoy foods from two different worlds.
Even shifts in the foodie world, where trendy foods change almost overnight (cauliflower is the new veg-lebrity!) are fairly inconsequential unless you're a chef at a trendy restaurant. Shifts in what and how people actually cook from day-to-day happen more slowly, but they carry more weight.
The fact that I make baked ziti from fresh ingredients and not from a box is an important generational shift. The fact that my teenage boys have more cooking skills today than I had on the day I married their father is a generational shift. Even the fact that I teach my sons cooking skills is a generational shift — a big one. I may have had few cooking skills when I moved out of my home, but my brothers had even fewer.
These generational shifts, according to Hune-Brown, are evident on Allrecipes, too. More fruit and vegetable dishes and more "ethnic food" dishes are moving up in ranking on the site. Perhaps they're closing the gap between the two worlds. I don't imagine the gap will ever close for good, though. There will always be trendy foods, but there will also always be baked ziti. And thank goodness for that.