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What is a Foodie? Am I One? Are You?

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At dinner with friends this weekend, the conversation turned, inevitably, to food and food lovers. I had spent the first half of my meal slyly inspecting the vegetables in my salad to see if they were cut into perfect macedoine, and, now on my second drink, was simultaneously trying to carry on a conversation, parse out the different flavors in the fish stew I'd ordered, and nonchalantly crane my neck over to another diner's plate at a nearby table to see if his French fries were actually 7cm by 8mm, as my culinary school textbook dictated. A thought then clanged in my head: as a culinary student whose mind focused on the culinary arts more than 50% of each day, was I now a foodie?

The next day, with the help of an online dictionary, I attempted to place myself in the jargon-filled field of the "culinarily aware."

1) Foodie: A person keenly interested in food, esp. in eating or cooking. But doesn't this describe everyone who eats food not merely for sustenance? Your taste buds are evolutionarily honed to ensure that you are "keenly interested in food." "Foodie" is not merely descriptive, as this definition implies. In certain circles, it carries with it a tinge (or a whole barrel-full, depending) of judgment. I remembered a friend describing an eating trip she'd taken; she remarked that she liked food, but wasn't a foodie. "Foodies are people who feel this uncontrollable need to discover something never before eaten," she said, "these urban pseudo-sophisticates-cum-hipsters who get exhilarated by crawling on their hands and knees to some underground hovel where they have to knock three times with their head to be let in before they savor goat eye tempura. That's not me." OK, so my dictionary.com definition was too vanilla. I consulted UrbanDictionary, which reassured me that the label of foodie was, to say the least, provocative:

A dumbed-down term used by corporate marketing forces to infantilize and increase consumerism in an increasingly simple-minded American magazine reading audience. The addition of the long "e" sound on the end of a common word is used to create the sensation of being part of a group in isolationist urban society, while also feminizing the term to subconsciously foster submission to ever-present market sources. Though the terms "gastronome" and "epicure" define the same thing, i.e. a person who enjoys food for pleasure, these words are perceived by the modern American consumer as elitist due to their Latin root forms and polysyllabic pronunciations.

Well, excuse me, Mr. Feisty Linguist. (Way to mistake Ancient Greek roots for Latinate ones, ahem.) Calling myself a foodie would, it seemed, invoke a fair amount of hostility. Now, hostility I can handle. But accuracy is another thing entirely. I decided to investigate his two leads.

2) Gastronome/gastronomist: a connoisseur of fine food and drink. Presumably, upon completion of culinary school I will be at least an amateur connoisseur (oxymoron?), but gastronomy implies (if we're staying true to linguistics here) a more academic relationship to food than mine. It is the study of culture and food, starting in the 18th century with Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's Physiologie du gout (Brillat-Savarin's famous quote "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are" is trumped, in my book, by his less famous, but all the more delightful "A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye") and winding its way to Michael Pollan and The Omnivore's Dilemma. I wouldn't, by any stretch of the imagination, put your average foodophile in the same bucket with these two. At this point, I can barely cube a potato, ok?

3) Epicure: A person who cultivates a refined taste, especially in food and wine. A true epicure adheres to the principles of Epicureanism, based on the teachings of Epicurus. Reaching back into the depths of my brain, where sit random factoids about Ancient Greece and philosophy, I remembered that Epicurean philosophy doesn't, at least classically speaking, focus on food. To be an epicure in Ancient Greece was to seek tranquility by living a virtuous life, not exclusively by enjoying a braised lamb shank. Plus, the label carries with it a bit of arugula-style elitism. I decided to take one last shot, with

4) Gourmand: A person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminately and to excess. Squire Western of Tom Jones, ravaging a ham hock and wiping his greasy hands on his hunting dogs as they traipse by the table... this is a gourmand, no?

So where did this leave me? Who was I, adrift in this choppy sea of food lovers?

As I took out a potato to practice my tournage (shaping vegetables into aesthetically-pleasing but pain-in-the-ass-to-make barrel shapes) I decided I'd create a new label, one that would tell the world I was a food-lover of the people, a novice student of the culinary arts, an individual who treated cooking and food with the utmost respect. Simply, I was a demonutrinovosoph.

Or, if you prefer, a "foodie."