Not so long ago, only a tiny part of the populace paid much attention to where they or others dined. An interest in food was considered eccentric at best. One could become cultured and well-travelled without having any deep knowledge of the food or restaurants in the places one had visited.
The art form of our time, the final years of the twentieth century, has been the preparation of food. What the sonnet was to Elizabeth's London, the Lied to Schubert's Vienna, the easel painting to Impressionist Pontoise, the movie to the Nineteen-Thirties; that, to many of us, is the meal.
--Charles Shere, in the foreword to John Whiting's Through Darkest Gaul with Trencher and Tastevin
Today, however, restaurants -- experiences, opinions, comparisons -- are a prime discussion topic. We size people up according to where they have recently dined. We view someone with respect if she can tell us the place to dine in Madrid or Venice, or if he knows the best little pizza joint in Brooklyn.
Society has always passed judgments about people being well-read, well-travelled or well-dressed. But it now has added, for better or worse, a concept we might call "being well-dined", referring both to international gastronomic travel and to deep familiarity with the restaurants in one's home town.
Being well-dined could be part of being cultured, or it could be thought of in the same breath as being self-indulgent. Some questions we might discuss in this thread:Is demonstrating knowledge of and interest in restaurants and chefs an effective shortcut (as wine can be) to appearing sophisticated or cosmopolitan? Do most of the people cultivate an interest in food do so for this reason?
Unlike interests that engage the intellect more than the body, does the need to sate one’s appetite lessen the legitimacy of becoming well-dined?
If you consider yourself well-dined, do you feel at all guilty about the time and money it has cost you to achieve this status? Could the resources you have devoted to travelling to restaurants, purchasing books about food and restaurants (not to mention participating in eGullet) have been better spent in pursuit of high culture: reading great books, listening to recordings, going to museums, theatre, the opera or the symphony?
Can we consider someone cultured who is ignorant of history, literature, architecture or the visual arts, but deeply knowledgeable about restaurants and gastronomy?
Conversely, can one really understand New York, London, Paris or Milan without having some grasp of the culinary traditions and the top restaurants in these world cities? Is becoming well-dined an essential part of a person's cultural development?
Generally speaking, then, is becoming well-dined a worthy goal if it is at the expense of missing out on more cerebral forms of enlightenment, or is the cost of becoming well-dined worthwhile in and of itself?