By Chef Erica Wides, host of Let's Get Real: The Cooking Show About Finding, Preparing and Eating Food
What is Foodiness?
To define what foodiness is you have to start off by defining what foodiness™ comes from, which is food.
In a nutshell foodiness™ can be defined as something edible that is presented as if it’s food, but which in fact isn’t completely and totally food – or at least the food it claims to be.
What is Food?
Food is anything edible that at one time walked, swam or flew, or that grew out of the ground, and has not been tampered with at all.
If it walked, swam, flew or grew out of the ground but has been altered in some way, or if it came straight out of a manufacturing plant, then it’s foodiness. So, for instance, a strawberry grown in a garden that has not been altered in any way is food.
A strawberry “fruit” bar made with strawberry “flavoring” meant to taste like strawberries but without any actual fruit in it is foodiness™ because it seems like food, it tastes like food, it’s treated as if it’s food, but it isn’t actually food.
Foodiness™ encompasses all the altered, manufactured or simulated food products that have almost completely taken the place of actual food on grocery store shelves, in our kitchens, in restaurants, and in our diets.
Why is it necessary to use a term like “foodiness™”? Because foodiness™ has highjacked the idea of what food is. Foodiness™ is presented – and accepted by most – as food. It’s a bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – it looks like food, it talks like food, but it’s actually an alien in a food look-alike body.
Over the last few decades, foodiness™ has slowly and insidiously come to define what food is. As a result actual food has had to take on modifiers to distinguish itself from foodiness™.
The best example is the term “whole food.” Unfortunately “whole food” doesn’t really make the distinction between food and foodiness™ clear enough. After all, if certain foods are “whole,” then other foods must be “broken.” This doesn’t really explain it.
This is why the term “real food” is used here: It more clearly calls out a distinction between real and fake, which is the real difference between food and foodiness™ after all.
The point of using the term “foodiness™” is to help to distinguish between food and everything else so we stop perceiving foodiness™ as food and start seeing it for what it really is, whatever that may be.
Where Foodiness™ Comes From
Take an apple.
There’s only one actual, real-deal apple off a tree with nothing added to it or that has not been altered in any way. But there’s an infinite variety of altered or ersatz “apples” on grocery-store shelves. The spectrum runs from real apples that have been tampered with to make them easier to grow, sweeter to eat, shinier to look at, more convenient to consume, or appear to be in season when they are not, to products with very little or even no apples in them at all but which use the name “apple,” leaving the eater with merely the idea that they’ve consumed apples.
We should know the difference between food and foodiness™. There are many reasons why we often do not.
To begin with, foodiness™ products are not labeled as such. Foodiness™ is presented as if it’s food. After all, nobody would buy products labeled “out of season, flavorless strawberries covered in toxic pesticides flown from the other side of the world,” “blueberry muffins made with blue-tinted corn syrup dots with no blueberries in them,” or “hamburgers made with 1/3rd beef and 2/3rds industrial filler” (at least nobody who wasn’t a Borg).
In addition, anyone under 50 grew up with foodiness™ disguised as food: It was in our baby food, our school lunches, snacks and frozen dinners. Only grandma’s green beans grown in her backyard were sacrosanct. Today, even grandma’s green beans have been genetically modified. At this point we’re all a bit like Charlton Heston in the 1969 film Soylent Green, who didn’t know that the pellets he had eaten his whole life weren’t actually food because he’d never seen the real thing.
Of course, those pellets turned out to be made of people. Foodiness™ may not be made of people (yet). But the foodiness™ with very little food in it that we do consume – protein bars with no meat or beans in them, veggie puffs with no vegetables, completely artificial diet soda with “natural flavors” – shows that we’re not that far from a pellet driven diet after all. In certain ways the only real difference between soylent green and foodiness™ is better packaging.
Just like Heston’s character had to go to a Soylent Green plant to see for himself how the pellets were made to understand what he was really eating, it’s understanding what happens to an apple on its way to foodiness that reveals what foodiness really is.
The 6 Degrees of Foodiness™: An Apple From Start to Foodiness
A real apple is an apple that was grown locally, on a tree, and without the use of chemicals.
Foodiness™ enters the picture once pesticides, fungicides, edible food waxes and other chemicals have been used. That’s because they add toxins to the apple. Also, if the apple was grown on the other side of the country or the other side of the world and traveled far, then it isn’t really in season where you live. Ffoodiness™ allows it to appear as if it is. (The traveling also creates a massive apple-shaped carbon footprint along the way.) So a first-degree apple is still an apple, but it now has manufactured and altered elements to it that are definitively not apples.
Second-degree foodiness™ is defined by an apple that’s been reconfigured or minimally processed in some way, such as a dried apple, baked or dried apple crisps, unsweetened applesauce or cider or pureed apple baby food with no sugar. None of these are inherently "bad" things, they’re just not apples. They were apples, but through intervention they’ve become something else.
A third-degree foodiness™ apple is achieved when the apple has been even further reconfigured, mass-produced, processed and sweetened. Examples include sweetened industrial applesauce or baby food, apple fruit leather made from real apples but with added sugars and flavors, yogurt with sweetened apple chunks or apple-and-cinnamon instant oatmeal made with dehydrated bits of apple (and a lot of added sugar). With third degree foodiness™ you still have products with apple qualities, but you also start to see things that don’t really need to be there and are actually “bad” for you as well.
Fourth Degree Foodiness™
Fourth-degree foodiness™ happens when the original apple has veered perilously close to what we would normally define as “junk food,” but the association with an “apple” keeps it from being perceived as junk. Examples include pre-bagged apple “dippers,” which are chemically treated slices of fruit with caramel sauce, or baby treats such as organic apple-flavored “puffs” made mostly of white flour and sugar. Commercial apple “juice” drinks with added sweeteners or preservatives, “energy” bars made from industrially refined apple syrup, and synthetic-vitamin packed soy flour “power” bars with tiny specks of preserved dried apple are good examples. In each case the association with apples make the foodiness™ “apple” products seem to be much more nutritious than they are. Fourth-degree foodiness™ apples are not overtly dangerous, but they are infused with additives meant to replace a real apple’s genuine sweetness with a souped-up, artificial, and – no doubt – addictive sweetness.
Fifth-degree foodiness™ occurs when the additives listed on the packaging start to outnumber the apple itself. Fifth-degree foodiness™ is a tipping point where the product is almost all non-food additives, and yet because of the positioning with a real apple or real food is still making a claim to be healthy in some way. Fifth-degree foodiness™ foods are often presented as convenience foods that proclaim a superiority to candy bars or a cookies via a real-food element attached to them – in this case, apples. The examples are legion and include: yogurt packaged in a squeeze tube that has been dyed, sweetened and flavored with apple juice concentrate but which contains no actual fruit, “fruit”-filled breakfast toaster pastries filled with a paste of made of corn syrup and juice concentrate and “organic” apple-flavored fruit gummys. In each case the foodiness™ products are just junk in disguise. Although the conceit with fifth-degree foodiness™ is that it’s better than junk, the ingredient list – high fructose corn syrup, sugar, juice concentrate, ascorbic acid, sodium citrate, salt, mono and di-glycerides, cornstarch, guar gum and methylcelluose – tell a different story. In fact, with fifth-degree foodiness™, an ingredients list can read like something that was manufactured for industrial use (modified corn starch, yellow 6, turmeric color, blue 1, artificial flavor, red 40, BHT) rather than food.
Defined by its complete artificiality, Sixth-degree foodiness™ occurs when there is no apple present at all, and any apple “flavor” is entirely artificial. Sixth-degree foodiness™ products will use the word “apple” in the brand name and/or as a flavor description, thus aligning itself in the mind of the consumer with the real thing without any real association with apples at all. Zero-calorie apple flavored drinks, Star-Wars character shaped gummy green-apple candy “apple” snacks and apple-cinnamon breakfast cereal are perfect examples. Years after the real apples have molded and been thrown away, sixt-degree foodiness™ “apples” will still be edible, preserved for eternity in a cinnamon-toasty, sweetened apple-green heaven.