Foodie (or foody). Gastronome. Epicure. Foodista. Gourmet. Gourmand. Foodlover. A complication of words to describe the very simple act of “ingesting things and then pooing them out,” (thedailymash.co.uk). Those words with obvious Latin or French roots are understandably class specific, yet it is the term ‘foodie’ that seems to cause most food writers and chefs to throw their eggs out of their Le Creuset pans.
The origins of the term can be traced back to Barr and Levy’s 1984 Official Foodie Handbook, part of the Harpers & Queen tongue-firmly-in-cheek series which also included The Official Sloane Rangers’ Handbook. “Foodies”, according to Barr and Levy, are “children of the consumer boom” who consider “food to be an art, on a level with painting or drama.”
In a scathing review of the book however, author Angela Carter, identified a more sinister tone behind the word; she describes the phenomenon of ‘foodism’ as “the unashamed cult of conspicuous gluttony” at “just the time when Ethiopia is struck by a widely publicised famine.” She goes on to talk of “piggery triumphant” in the ever-increasing coverage of food in our newspapers and would undoubtedly be horrified by the current rash of food bloggers.
Turning to the people and away from fashionistas and literary heavyweights, I consulted the oracle of Twitter on the use of the term and responses ranged from: “I loathe this as I think it tags exclusive and expensive,”@DeborahRichards; “a catch-all term for the gluttons amongst us,” @MelodieManners, to: putting it in the “lexicon history bin,” @pundles and the final blow? Being twold off by Radio 4’s very own Sheila Dillon of The Food Programme (NOT dear reader, the ‘foodie’ programme).
Yet despite the lexical battering, the term ‘foodie’ is in common use. Some people even freely describe themselves as ‘foodies’ and surely the diminutive ‘eee’ sound at the end makes it kind of cute and cuddly?
Wikipedia (to be read with, ahem, a pinch of salt) describes foodies as ‘hobbyists’ who: “differ from gourmets in that gourmets are epicures of refined taste, whereas foodies are amateurs who simply love food.” Harmless enough. The Urban Dictionary is also conspicuously unjudgemental: “a foodie is not necessarily a food snob – though that is a variety of foodie.” Popular websites too, such as thefoodiebugle.com, foodiesfestival.com, thelondonfoodie.co.uk seem blissfully unaware of the original class implications and use the term more as a signifier to celebrate a love and appreciation of ‘good food’ (a contentious enough term in itself).
The word ‘foodie’ has been taken so far out of its original ‘sloaney’ context that it could arguably be classed as a harmless way to describe those who are simply interested in food, provenance and producers. However, be aware that in using the term, you are opening yourself up to criticism from those who believe you are part of a gluttonous movement advocating ‘food for food’s sake,’ an undeniably elitist position.
Whatever you may believe, foodie-gate is less about the stuff we put in our mouths and more about intellectual jibbering. I know which is more important for me: there are important food issues out there to be solved, and the word ‘foodie’, on the scale of obesity, malnutrition and famine, really isn’t one of them.