Like a pot of water heating on the fire, the “meaning of foodie” conversations percolating out there come to boil at times. And at times the heat gets turned off and things simmer down.*
Frankly, it gets tiresome when people exercise their index fingers and sneer out the word “foodie” as if you were a secret sinner, hoarding peccadillos like so many bags of rice. Which was for all practical purposes the original meaning of the word according to its coiner, Paul Levy:
What started as a term of mockery shifted ground, as writers found that “foodie” had a certain utility, describing people who, because of age, sex, income and social class, simply did not fit into the category “gourmet”, which we insisted had become “a rude word”.
The truth is quite obvious. If you observe animals, it’s all about food, right? The hunt, the kill, the devouring. You get the picture.
One day, when I was twenty years old, I stood on a street corner outside Mexico City’s colossal 5514-stall La Merced Market, watching women swathed in rebozos and ragged huaraches, spiffy in Chanel suits and spiked heels, carrying string shopping bags bulging with fruit, vegetables, and meat. And I remember thinking, “Everything we do ends up ultimately being related to food and nourishment. Whether we eat it or cook it or work for it, food is where it’s at. Food is the real bottom line of life. Food is love. Food connects us to each other and the earth. When we eat together, when we cook together, we are no longer strangers.”
The Greeks had a word for: Philoxenia — the love of strangers. And a ninth-century Muslim scholar named Ibn Majah** got it right, when he said, “Eat together and not separately, for the blessing is associated with company.”
For me that’s the definition of “foodie,” not some mocking comment linking a love of food puritanically to wanton hedonistic excess or shallow dilettantism.
Food is a blessing in a world where it has been so long in short supply. And frankly, everyone is a foodie, because food is, indeed, “where it’s at.”
*There are many places to look for observations about foodies. This one links to, and mentions, several. This one discusses the differences in various languages when it comes to describing people who love food; the conclusion is that English and French pack judgment into the words — a trace-back perhaps to the sin of gluttony. In Spanish the term sibarita de la cocina applies to foodies, again reflecting the idea that undue attention to food or pleasure merits a slap on the hand and a week of bread and water.
**Author of Sunan Ibn Majah, a collection of 4,341 hadiths.
© 2009 C. Bertelsen