Food

What's the matter with the word 'foodie'?

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.comJune 24, 2014 

Are you a foodie and happy with the name? Or would you rather shove larding needles into your eyes than be called a foodie?

Actually, if you own, use or can identify larding needles, it’s a safe bet you’re in the second camp. These days, part of identifying yourself as someone who takes food seriously is declaring how much you hate the word “foodie.”

The term “foodie” is now 30 years old. The first official spotting is usually cited as the title of the 1984 parody, “The Official Foodie Handbook,” although authors Ann Barr and Paul Levy have said they started using the term around 1981.

The trouble with the word, as its detractors will tell you, is that it sounds infantile. It seems to diminish something people care about.

The years certainly haven’t diminished the confusion. As much as one side gets irritated, the pro-foodie camp still gets confused by the fuss.

Look it up on Urban Dictionary: The first definition is “a person that spends a keen amount of attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food, and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation.”

Then, there’s this: “A dumbed-down term used by corporate marketing forces to infantilize and increase consumerism in an increasingly simple-minded American magazine-reading audience.”

The trouble with solving this, though, is the lack of alternatives. There are other words out there, of course. People used to use terms like “gourmet” and “gourmand” to identify themselves as members of an exclusive club, those who were discriminating in what they ate and drank.

Just knowing the difference said a little about you: A gourmet was a connoisseur of food and drink (in the words of Merriam-Webster), while a gourmand was someone who loved to eat and drink too much.

Those words seem so outdated today, and they smack of snobbery. Epicure and gastronome have the same trouble. They’re focused only on consumption, not on preparation, sourcing, opining and all that lively debate that I enjoy about food.

They’re holdovers from the days when a person of taste didn’t cook, but was cooked for, with the assumption that if you had enough money to be picky, you could afford servants to cook for you.

Today, that doesn’t fit those of us who are interested in the world of food. Today, the love of food is as much about thinking as digesting.

What would get at all of those meanings? I like foodist, although it sounds too much like acolytes in some new temple of gastronomy.

I simply call myself “an eater, cook and generally hungry person.” Maybe there’s too much to it to shovel it all into a single word.

Join the conversation at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow Purvis on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.

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