Food Snob

As a new college graduate, I was a food snob.

I hated the idea of eating at a chain restaurant. My coworker felt the same way and we made such a terrible stink about our friend suggesting we eat at Olive Garden to celebrate a staff member’s birthday that we made her feel bad. She walked away from the conversation with a crumpled expression on her face saying, “Well, I like Olive Garden.” I’ve never forgotten the sinking feeling in my stomach from hurting my friend.

It’s not our food preferences that made us a food snob, it’s how we make others feel about theirs.

Marilyn Hagerty changed my life. I had lived in Fargo-Moorhead for about a year when her Olive Garden review first surfaced. Frankly, I thought she was nuts. Now that I’ve lived in the rural Midwest for going on four years, I kind of get it. Almost any new food business that moves into town is a hopeful sign of economic growth. It’s a new option and worth investigating. There’s also the fact that Hagerty is a talented, seasoned journalist who can like and write about whatever she wants.

Bismarck Crawl

Photo courtesy of the North Dakota Department of Commerce. Taken at the North Dakota Writers & Bloggers Workshop, June 2013 at Fireflour Pizza, Bismarck, ND.

That food snob inside me surfaced recently. Last November my in-laws announced they were leading us on a Joe’s restaurant crawl to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday and I may have balked. Ok, so I totally balked. We were supposed to visit three Twin Cities restaurants in one day that included the name, “Joe” in their title, ending at Joe’s Crab Shack.

If it was my birthday, I probably wouldn’t choose Joe’s Crab Shack, but you know what? It wasn’t my birthday. I embraced my bib, sipped a colorful cocktail from a mason jar, and dug into a crab pot. It’s true that I enjoyed the food that I ate. Most importantly, my family was there and so I had a great time.

Just remember, it’s not my birthday and it’s probably not yours. I can play favorites, but never want to become so sophisticated that I can’t enjoy an evening out with loved ones at an Applebee’s.

I like purchasing organic butter from grass-fed cows and eggs from cage-free chickens. One of my vices is mango-habanero hot wings from Buffalo Wild Wings and I will never go to your Wildtree party, but if I have four dollars in my pocket, I’ll buy a box of your Thin Mints. So, does this mean that you must, too? Hell no. As food writer Jordana Rothman commented about the food culture of hate during the past year, “Let’s just all like what we like and hate what we hate in 2015.” 

Speak with your purchases and voice and pen for what you like and want to see. We can play favorites, but should aspire to do so with kindness.


  1. Katie

    YES!!! I had a super similar experience this week. A friend asked me to go to lunch, thankfully via text. She said “I’m craving a good salad.” I couldn’t figure out how to tell her we needed to brown bag it, because no restaurant around northern MN has “a good salad” they have iceberg, maybe romaine, but nothing as good as the delicious creations I can eat after perusing the Byerlys salad bar (yes, I prefer it over whole foods). Anyways. I said “That sounds great! where should we go?” And her suggestion was “olive garden!” so dang it I’m going, because its far more important to have a lunch with a friend, then it is to say something snarky about chain restaurants.

    • Jeni

      I always loved Byerly’s salad bar. It was a treat after a long day at work. I love your story. I sure learned a lesson after hurting people’s feelings.

  2. Betsy

    Growing up in rural Iowa, chain restaurants were the overwhelming majority for us. I’m thrilled to see some of them (including Applebees) changing their menus once in a while and coming up with fun promotions to keep things fresh. My husband and I like to get half-price apps there on an occasional late night. Pretzels with beer cheese…..amen.

    • Jeni

      I agree-Applebee’s does seem to change up their menu frequently. I am partial to their potato twisters with queso.

  3. Beth Ann Chiles

    I get it! I try not to be a snob when it comes to chains because they definitely have their place even if I gravitate to more locally owned and managed establishments that have a bit more texture. Sometimes options are limited so that is what you get. Speak with kindness always wins.

  4. Megan

    Ha! I requested Olive Garden for my birthday dinner last year! In my defense, I was 6 months pregnant and experiencing a massive craving for their breadsticks! I’m usually much more adventurous! 😉

    • Jeni

      You go girl, it’s your birthday;)

  5. Katy Flint

    Yes, being that person (like Betsy) who has been raised where the majority of our options are chains, I totally get this! I also live with 3 guys who are not what I would consider adventurous and like to eat what they know (typically chain restaurants). And, I’d rather eat with them than not at all, so…I keep going to the same restaurants. Likewise about being kind is choices of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, organic, etc. As someone raising kids in today’s world, I’m tired of being judged for what I feed my kids. They get processed, organic, farm fresh, from scratch, frozen, from a box food…all of it! If we choose to be organic or vegan, or none of the above and choose to eat Velveeta, we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or that we are terrible people/parents! Thanks for sharing Jeni!

    • Jeni

      Thanks for sharing Katy. I like eating a variety of foods too. I get flack for saying the word “organic” and “grass-fed” just as I get flack for talking about trying silly processed foods. Balance is good-whatever that may be. Still trying to figure it out myself!

  6. Feisty Eats

    Exactly. Eat what you want. Eat what you like. Eat what makes you feel good!

    • Megan

      Wow! Great post. I too have grown up in a rural area with primarily chain restaurants. As an adult I have attempted to avoid them because I am a little bit of a snob. Your message has been heard loud and clear. Any food tastes best surrounded by those you love. Thanks for another great post.

  7. Donna Hup

    I love this and it’s so true. I used to take my nephews and nieces out for birthday meals when I’d live closer and would cringe when they’d choose McDonald’s. Those bday dates are so memorable though and so important to them too 🙂

  8. Sandra

    Just one word – AMEN! 🙂 Food is what used to being people together not tear them apart.
    My DH used to be to supervise a large group of people of all ages,backgrounds,etc. and most of them didn’t like one another and hated working together- ugh! It was very much like trying to herd cats. 😉 I suggested that he have them eat together -break bread together and it worked – yay! My DH has since left that company but his Friday afternoon BBQ lunches worked wonders for morale and are are still remembered fondly by employees and bosses alike.

    • Jeni

      I love this concept of Friday afternoon BBQ lunches. A cool example of how food can bring people together too.

  9. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids

    I always say that living in America is awesome because he have food choices. We should just feel fortunate and lucky to have choices. I know I need to watch myself at times when people snub my choices or I snub theirs because it isn’t what I’d choose.

    Food is something Americans are growingly more interested about and I’m happy to be a part of that food supply.

    • Jeni

      I have to watch myself too-sometimes I catch myself better than other times.

  10. Road Tips

    I’m obviously late to the party on this thread, but I try not to seek out chains when I travel on the road, looking instead for the places the locals eat. That’s not to say that I won’t visit a chain, either knowingly (like an Applebee’s or a T.G.I.Friday’s) or unknowingly (such as a regional chain like O’Charley’s or Rubio’s). Sometimes when it’s late at night, you just got into a city, you’re tired and hungry, and there’s a Cheddar’s across the parking lot from the hotel, sometimes you just have to suck it up and go.

    • Jeni

      I’m totally with you on seeking on local places while traveling unless absolutely necessary. That’s one thing that has driven me nuts about traveling with groups of people – we’ve often times landed at chains because it’s most predictable or there’s “something for everyone.” Still bitter about a college trip we took to L.A. We drove through Koreatown, but the group wanted to eat at a Denny’s.

      • Road Tips

        Oh, that’s funny. I know exactly what you’re talking about when you’re with a larger group. Trying to please everyone at a nice sushi place or at a French-style bistro – well, you can’t. We have a couple who are friends of ours that we travel with a couple times a year who are like-minded and are always up for trying something new – or even going back to a place that we thought was very good on a previous visit.

  11. e

    Honestly I’d balk at calling MH a “talented journalist”. Her writing is flat and affectless; she enumerates her surroundings and the menu layout/contents in an almost scientifically detached way. If I just wanted to know about the architecture and the portion sizes, I’d go to Google. MH’s writing fails to produce a colourful, living description of the food, venue and atmosphere, which is where a human reviewer ought to shine.

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