Despite Recession, Foodies Splurge
Karen Malhiot likes her chocolate dark, her cheese smelly, and her television rare. But there's an exception to her last rule: She enjoys watching cooking shows.
The 47-year-old Madison, Wis., teacher occasionally tunes in to Iron Chef or Top Chef, and she's looking forward to checking out Bravo's new Just Desserts, but her favorite is the Barefoot Contessa. "She makes an awesome key lime pie," Malhiot says. "It's a lot of work, but it's awesome."
While she and her husband have curtailed some of their spending since the recession hit in late 2007, they still like to splurge on a nice bottle of Pinot Noir to pair with the Hook's 15-year-old cheddar (pricey at $50 a pound) that they pick up at the Dane County Farmer's Market. "There's no skimping when it comes to cheddar," Malhiot says. "This is something I passionately believe in."
When it comes to both passions--food and cooking shows--Malhiot isn't alone. A recent American Express Spending & Saving Tracker report shows that even in a tight economy, 68 percent of Americans haven't given up discretionary spending in the areas that they're most passionate about. The No. 1 passion: food. Sixty percent said that since the recession began, they have not been willing to decrease the amount they spend on food.
"Foodies lead the pack in average annual spending on their passion in 2010," the report notes. "On average, foodies appear to spend significantly more on their passion annually ($2,447) compared to the other three groups: fashionistas ($1,444), techies ($1,329), and sports fanatics ($725)."
In particular, foodies most often indulge in their passion by dining out, with 35 percent of their discretionary funds allocated for fine dining, as well as another 12 percent budgeted for top appliances and 8 percent for culinary vacations.
Mirroring this report is a recent Harris Poll, which says that eight out of 10 adults watch cooking shows, at least sometimes. The poll indicated that more than half--55 percent--of the baby boomers surveyed said they watch cooking shows very often, and 54 percent of women are likely to watch cooking shows, compared to 46 percent of men. 30 Minute Meals (with Rachael Ray) topped the list as favorite cooking show.
"It's not just the adults who are watching," says Monica Bhide, a cookbook author and food writer. "It's becoming a family event. Instead of going out, they're cheering for Iron Chef or Top Chef. I see it with my son's friends. They want to come in and help me in the kitchen, and they ask me 'Can you make me this dish (from a show)?'"
Clark Wolf, an author and restaurant consultant based in Sonoma and New York City, says he's seen more new restaurants open in New York City and San Francisco since the recession started. These restaurants aren't fine dining, he says, but they serve very good food.
Wolf isn't surprised that food spending has been on the upswing. "This is not news to me. What's news to me is that it is news to anyone," he says. "In every recession I've been around in, the specialty food or fine food industry increases. If you can't afford the vacation to Italy, buy that bottle of olive oil and a good chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano."
Ari Weinzweig, owner of Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Mich., and author of Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon, says these reports bear out what he sees in his store and also in the stores he consults for across the country. "What was considered good food 20 years ago is now baseline good food, and there's just more good product available," Weinzweig says. "The thing is, if you get used to good food, it's very hard to go back."
Malhiot says that she and her husband try to be more careful about their food spending, but they're not willing to give up quality.
"We're not skimping on the things we buy, but there's a little more frugality to it," Malhiot says. "We still buy the expensive blue cheese, but we're not letting it sit in the fridge for a month."
SecondAct contributor Jeanette Hurt writes extensively about cooking and food and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine and Food Pairing (June 2010), and author of The Cheeses of California: A Culinary Travel Guide. She lives in Milwaukee.
Harris Poll: Top Cooking Shows
1. 30 Minute Meals (Rachael Ray)
2. Paula's Home Cooking (Paula Deen)
3. Emeril Live (Emeril Lagasse)
4. Iron Chef
5. Good Eats (Alton Brown)
6. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Guy Fieri)
7. Top Chef
8. Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten)
9. Martha Stewart
10. Everyday Italian (Giada De Laurentiis)
Source: Harris Poll