Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just Say No To Yucky Labels

For a while now I've been wanting to discuss a certain term applied to those of us in the culinary blogging world. No doubt you can guess what word this is.


Every time I hear this word, I cringe a bit. Not that I don't enjoy learning about and appreciating food, but, ewwwww, if I don't absolutely hate being pigeon-holed by a word like that! I mean, what happened to upscale words like "connoisseur" (and yes I had to spell check that one) or "aficionado". In contrast, "foodie" is so base, so much like the Wal-Mart Americana that has replaced quality and refinement in our country.

But, in addition to the cringe-inducing sound of the word, I am uncomfortable with its close association to "gluttony". This unpopular term is largely ignored in modern American culture as our sensitivities to calling someone else or ourselves being called fat. With such a national obesity crisis, I propose that "gluttony" (one of the seven deadly sins, mind you) be reinstated into our modern vernacular.

And, in the "foodie" world, gluttony needs to be expanded to include "delicacy" as well as "excess". So whether you are thick or thin (my children like to remind me that my Mii firmly falls into the "overweight" category on our Wii Fit), the vice of gluttony may be yours. You can be a glutton on good food as well as bad.

Let me leave you with a passage by that ever-so-smart and painfully relevant C.S. Lewis from The Screwtape Letters (1942). If you haven't read this very tongue and cheek short novel, let me give you a little background. It is supposed to be one devil (Screwtape) writing letters to his nephew devil (Wormwood) giving instruction on how to best tempt his "patient" into sin, and ultimately hell. It's very funny and viciously convicting. Even the most non-religious would find it an insightful read into human behavior.

"One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject [gluttony], so that by now you will hardly find...a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient's a good example. She would be learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by that fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use the human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern?...She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile 'Oh please, please...all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.' You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance...

...The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work...on this woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the 'All-I-want' state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servant or any friend who can do these simple things 'properly' -- because her 'properly' conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasure which she imagines she remembers from the past...

...Now your patient is his mother's son...Being a male, he is not so likely to be caught by the 'All-I-want' camouflage. Males are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity. They ought to be made to think themselves very knowing about food [feeling any conviction yet fellow foodies?], to pique themselves on having found the only restaurant in the town where steaks are really 'properly' cooked. What begins as vanity can then be gradually turned into habit...

...Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy."

Well, there is no way I can compete with such an articulate Englishman! And lest I become legalistic, a pendulum swinging in the opposite direction to "Good Food Doesn't Matter", I will continue to cook and write to the best of my abilities. Good food with loved ones is meant for our enjoyment. Pleasure is good and comes from the Creator. But the abuse of any pleasure needs repentance so we can get back to joy!


adem said...
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alice said...

I never really liked the word Foodie. It means something different to so many people.

Jenn said...

Good passage. I don't mind being called a foodie. I like to think of it as a fun word because we're really a fun bunch. Sharing what we love with others.

Diana said...

What a great insight Julie. I love that book by the way. I've never been bothered by the word foodie but I have other labels I've been given that I hate. Like girly, to me it means spoiled and prissy, but to some people it's a compliment. I think it comes from how I heard it used as a kid.

Frantic Foodie said...

Hi Julie,
Nice blog... First of all, I think Foodie has been overused. When I started my blogs 3 years
ago,foodie was a new word. I even remember people asking me things like "what's a foodie"?
Either way, I really think connaiseur sounds more pretentious. Connaiseur from the verb connaitre (FRENCH), means you know very well, so to me it sounds like a know it all and if you use connaiseur you have to have a certain amount of knowledge whereas a foodie can like any type of food... anyway just food for thought

Michelle said...

I don't mind being called a "foodie" at all and even call myself a "self-proclaimed foodie" on my blog, Taste As You Go. I take it as a compliment when someone calls me the "resident foodie." While I certainly don't feel that I have enough knowledge or know-how to call myself a "connoisseur," I think "aficionado" would be a label I could live with.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Julie! I enjoyed the excerpt from
C.S. Lewis - you're right, he offers an amazing insight to human nature.
Just remember, others may create their own label, their own way to identify and classify who you are and what you do; but you are the one who gets to define yourself. If you don't like the label someone has created, create your own! :-) You could start a whole new trend!
That's what someone did when they coined the phrase 'foodie'. You could be a 'foodnado'; a shortened version of 'food aficionado'.
I love your site and check it out quite often, so keep doing what you're doing -- regardless of what labels other's may create for you--you've created a beautiful, quality label for yourself.

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