The ‘foodie’ phenomenon is fairly new, and it can help people become proud of their culture and heritage. But where has this boost in popularity come from, and what can it mean for ethnic people?

The term ‘foodie’ originated way back in 2004 and has taken over Western culture ever since. According to google trends, the phrase hit its peak popularity in October 2022, and the foodie revolution has dominated the culinary world year after year. Today’s foodies are now becoming more adventurous with their food choices, using new and fresh ingredients as escapism from day-to-day life.

Restaurants have been forced to keep up to date with this trend, and supermarkets are now dedicating whole aisles to ‘world foods’ ingredients. But what actually constitutes being a ‘foodie’? How does one gain such prestigious status? Because from what I gather, being a ‘foodie’ just means being accepting of foreign foods… something children of immigrants have been doing for centuries. 

Psychologist and founder of ‘The Food Psychology’, Uxshely Carcamo, believes the ‘re-branding’ of foreign foods as trendy is to do with increasing diversity in the UK. “As more and more different cuisines and types of food become popular and as we enjoy a greater diversity of cultures and individuals around us,  more and more people are becoming open-minded and accepting of different people’s food preferences” she explains.

I’m glad things are changing, but being a ‘foodie’ was NOT a trend when I was younger. Chilli ramen or butter chicken wasn’t ‘the newest thing in’, but instead something that kids at school were forced to eat alone in the school toilets when they couldn’t put off the hunger anymore.

I still remember the first time I opened my neatly wrapped packed lunch and found my mum’s homemade food; a culinary masterpiece, a love letter to my culture. Delicately wrapped grape leaves handpicked from Cyprus, filled with oregano-spiced rice and diced onions. Dolma is what we call the dish at home, and the smell of it instantly transported me to happy memories of being back in Cyprus with my family again. 8-year-old me was so excited to finally be allowed a lunch box at school that she didn’t even consider her classmates could hate her ‘foreign’ food. The kids at school were used to jacket potatoes and beans, so you can imagine how this particular lunch sent shockwaves through the class. 

“Ew Tia, your food stinks”, was a line I got pretty bored of hearing at school. My favourite food; the food I was once proud of, suddenly stood in the way of me and any chance of popularity. What was once a comforting reminder of my heritage soon became a permanent reminder that I was different to everybody else. I decided from that moment on to strip myself of any Cypriot identity I had. See, my desire to fit in with the other kids always overpowered my desire to eat.

Tasoula Gramozi, Masterchef contestant.

It’s funny, because now ‘foreign’ food has been re-branded as chic and cool, a foodie’s dream. Ten years ago, it felt like more of a nightmare. Tasoula Gramozi, sous-chef and ‘Masterchef The Professionals’ semi-finalist, said that moving to the UK eight years ago showed her how celebratory the UK has become of different cultures. 

She said: “Nowadays, people in the UK seem so keen to understand different cultures and are willing to try different things. The mentality is so different to how it was back home in Greece. There’s incredible diversity here, you can find anything. There are so many cultures and so many cool food trends.

“It was different in Greece. You’d be laughed at if you brought anything ‘different’ in your lunchbox. The mentality is completely old-school, even if they don’t show it.” 

You’re probably thinking, Tia, shut the F- up, it’s just food. 

But the thing is, it’s not just food. Behind the bite of a piece of sashimi, or a slurp of ramen, or even behind the crunch of a taco, there’s an incredible story intertwining our ancestors, our heritage, and the food we’ve come to know and love. 

Take Chinese 5-spice for example. A fragrant seasoning which forms a solid ground for some of the most delicious Cantonese recipes- but it hasn’t always been just seasoning. In fact, 5-spice was once rooted in traditional Chinese medicine.

It was believed that the mixture would foster internal harmony by uniting the five main flavours traditionally employed in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and salty. With these perfectly balanced flavours, aligned with the five main elements (earth, fire, water, metal, and wood), tradition held that one could achieve balance in mind and body, causing it to become a staple in Chinese cuisine.

Every other ingredient and meal you know has a story like this, a story important to the cultures eating it today. For the children of immigrants, these stories of our food are the only things connecting us to a part of our identity that was left behind with our parents. 

Professor Krishnendu Ray, a sociologist and professor of food studies at New York University, said that the heritage held within food can be so important for second and third-generation immigrants because they often have “a sense of loss of their own culture.” He said: “Their attire is western, their language is western, and so food is almost the last cultural domain they retain a vivid memory of.”

Tasoula told Behind the Bite how Greek food shaped her identity so much that it even played a role in her Masterchef experience. 

She said: “Greek food is part of my identity, I grew up with it. In the first signature round of the show, I used this identity to create my star dish. I wanted to do something that no one would think of or understand how it could work, but it did. Everything I cook has come from my background. You need to go through certain food stages in your life to understand your identity. Taking my identity’s food flavours and turning them into something completely different is what I do.”

Look, I know, people are scared of the unknown. And yes, it’s human nature to be cautious of new things.  But I’m sure (and do correct me if I’m wrong) that it’s not human nature to be an asshole. When did seasoning become synonymous with being stinky? When did the jacket potato become a culinary miracle? Shaming people for the food they eat isn’t just a bit of ‘banter’, but can sometimes “create negative associations with that food and culture”. 

Uxshely continued: “Often we associate emotions with choices, and where we have been shamed for eating something, this may deter us from choosing or eating that food again.”

Take this article for example; a Houston Press piece from 2010 titled “The 5 Smelliest Foods You Should Never Bring To the Office” picks “Mexican Food” as its number one choice.

The Houston Press writer says: “No other cuisine captures as many strong and offensive aromas as Tex-Mex. Let’s just say your co-workers won’t be thanking you for either the Taco Cabana platter you brought back to the office or the indelicate scent you left in the bathroom an hour later. If you need Mexican food fix that badly, stick to table service.” Is Mexican food really as ‘offensive’ as your article, Houston Press? 

In 2016, people took to calling October 24 “National Take Your Ethnic Food to Work Day,” described in the Huffington Post as “the only day of the year when you can finally bring steamed fish or Thai red curry to work without feeling embarrassed.” Only one day a year? Really? 

Ethnic foods shouldn’t be a trend or something you’re allowed to eat just once a year at work. They’re history, an identity, and even a lifestyle for some people. I’ve finally found pride in my food, and I look forward to sharing my cultures dishes and history with others; something 8-year-old me could never imagine would happen.