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September 4, 2010 / joyful plate

“But Will it Make You Happy”? (Foodie Happiness)

Foodie Happiness

There’s been a lot of discussion about what it takes to achieve happiness these past few years. Perhaps it is because talk during the recession has been decidedly unhappy. In August, the NYT ran an article: But Will It Make You Happy? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 suggesting the economic downturn has provided an unexpected benefit – helping people discover the simple pleasures in life like the joy of cooking and sharing food and wines with friends at home. “People are realizing they don’t need what they had. They’re more interested in creating memories.” The article mentions “unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness…spending money on a unique event, like camping or a wine tasting with friends, leaves people less likely to compare their experiences with those of others — and, therefore, happier”.

This piece hit home for me – validating my lifestyle and at times my inflated budget for food and entertainment vs. other necessities. This also got me thinking about a true food lover’s hierarchy of needs and their respective allocation of spending. For a real foodie, food may be more important than a bottom of the rung physiological need – and may even climb to the upper ranks in love and belonging (on a Maslow scale). A passionate foodie might dial down spending on a housing or a car in order to dial up spending on discovering restaurants. More than ever, thanks to the availability of great food and wine choices with farmer’s markets, Whole Foodish retailers and food media entertainment, food has become an outlet for happiness.

There are exponential ways that food and wine can amplify happiness. Let me draw from personal experience.

-education: learning about the foods we eat, discovering their origins, hearing stories of the entrepreneurs and artisans who create them. Last year, burnt out from air travel, I took a staycation in nyc and participated in a weeklong “global adventure” offered by the Institute of Culinary Education. I met people from all over the country, and learned from different experts everyday: a medieval food historian, a chocolatier, a Latin food guru, a Chinese knife skills expert, etc. Well worth the price and far more relaxing than schlepping bags through airport scanners.

-shopping: yes, even shopping can bring happiness! Shopping doesn’t have to be just about transactions – shopping can strengthen relationships and your sense of community. For me, walking around the coffee and tea section at Fairway makes me high, or popping into the Amagansett fish store to be enthusiastically greeted by the hilarious Irish owner, Mike  (as we did when on vacation last week).

-preparation: even taking in my groceries, cleaning the vegetables and making them ready for the week makes me happy (Okay, my busier friends with kids would say I’m nuts here, I know!). And trimming the basil brings the aroma of the outdoors in -key for someone in a small NYC apartment with no back yard.

-cooking: this is perhaps when I am most happy-when I’m completely absorbed in the moment, music glaring, slicing, dicing, and sautéing. This level of happiness is very internally driven,at this point the cooking is really for me vs. for my guests

-entertaining: most of the happiness here comes from pleasing others. From the moment someone walks in my home, I want him or her to be relaxed and delighted. The energy shifts from cooking academia to pleasing a guest the way I would want to be pleased – offering a nice aperitif and things to nibble on like almonds and dried fruits, having sparkling water along side an espresso at brunch, soft butter for a baguette, extra sea-salt on the table, and easy-access to plenty of wine! The whole point is making someone feel comfortable and transporting him or her to a place beyond the norm.

For marketers who want to tap into the insights of a what makes a foodie happy, know that food is their world-and they’ll spend on it accordingly. Look no further than their closet of condiments….those pretty jars of Italian honey or aged balsalmico may seem like an unnecessary extravagance to some, but are absolutely survival to the foodie cook. So is the bohemian foodie home cook happier than the take-out king in his big mc mansion? I suppose it depends on the moment. If he’s having a “Sideways moment”, with Burger King and a 1961 Cheval Blanc, well…that would make me pretty happy.

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One Comment

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  1. donna / Sep 13 2010 3:06 pm

    I feel so happy when I drizzle aged balsamic vinegar on farmer’s market tomatoes and fresh basic…it may be irrational, but it’s worth every penny to me! 🙂

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