Generation Foodie: Our changing epicurean nation

Chef Wolfgang Puck talks with Lee Cowan at his Beverly Hills restaurant, Spago.
CBS News

(CBS News) Millions of Americans appear to be caught up in a feeding frenzy. They're not just cooking food and eating food - they're TALKING food, almost non-stop . . . barely pausing to take a bite. Our Cover Story is reported now by Lee Cowan:

When celebrated chef Wolfgang Puck renovated his famous Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills. there was a buzz I didn't quite get.

Don't get me wrong. I love a good restaurant - but I'm by no means a Foodie. In fact, I clam up when I'm expected to talk about food in any intelligent manner beyond "Mmmmmm."

Chef Puck endured my lack of food sophistication with a smile, as he tried to explain why everyone ELSE, it seems, is talking about, blogging about, even Instagramming their food.

"Today, people really know about food," he said. "They read about food, they see it on television, they know what good quality is. All of a sudden now, food and wine has become one of the premiere conversation pieces."

And the reason has little to do with what's in your refrigerator. He says it's your cable box where it all changed. "Television made such a big impact of the way we eat in America today. I mean, it has changed the whole climate of eating totally, and for the better."

When Julia Child took to the airwaves, it seemed cooking shows appealed more to the golf and opera crowd.

Now, food is cool - even edgy.

It's as much about pop culture as popovers - a frenzy driven by social media.

Everybody, Puck says, is now a restaurant critic. "So if you mess up a meal today, you can see maybe 200, 300 people know it already before I go to sleep, because this guy or this woman Tweeted to all their friends."

"Do you think we're becoming a bit food obsessed?" Cowan asked.

"Oh, absolutely!" he laughed.

Krista Simmons is a freelance writer and food blogger - part of the Food Mafia, as she calls it - who sought out a hipster coffee hangout in the industrial section of Los Angeles to chat.

"I feel like foodie-ism has hit a critical mass in the past five, ten years," she told Cowan. "It's been said many times, but I'll say it again, food really is the new rock." And the new groupies are Foodies like her.

The food landscape of today, she explains, is as much about social experience as it is sustenance.

"When you come into a place and you know the story behind whatever it is you're eating and you know the story behind the chef and you're in this really kind of cool space and you get to chit-chat with people around you, it really is about an experience and a feeling, more than an actual thing itself," Simmons said.