Words: Shamim de Brún
Foodie makes me cringe and repulses me in equal measure. It’s a word like panties or moist. It simultaneously runs a shiver up your spine and bile in the back of your throat. It’s hard to say why so many people eye-roll-gag at a word that’s been around since 1984. But that’s what we have endeavoured to do.
The explosion of food blogs proliferated the word, but it harks back to before the internet changed the world; 1980s New York.
The foodie—as a word, a concept, a person—was coined by writer Gael Greene who first used the term in a restaurant review. That said, Ann Barr and Paul Levy of England’s Harper’s and Queen popularised it. In 1984 the duo published The Official Foodie Handbook. In this book, they light-heartedly explain that a foodie is not a gourmand because they are not a snob. They are also not food industry professionals. Crucially a foodie need not necessarily be a man.
“A foodie,” according to the authors, “is a person who is very, very, very interested in food.” People have a fundamental need to feel “seen”. Neologisms like “foodie” give us a way to name what was previously unnameable. A woman who knew a thing or two about food without having qualifications, so to speak.
Aye, there’s the rub. Is our mutual hatred of the word foodie rooted in sexism? Do we hate the world because it was a female word? The way we hated all things female until restively recently. Have I internalised the misogyny of the 80s? Have I inherited a judgement that I need to interrogate and ultimately relinquish myself of?
Could it also be a form of the word aversion phenomenon? Word aversion is seemingly pedestrian, inoffensive words driving some people up the wall- sounds like the word ‘foodie’ to me. Word aversion is marked by strong reactions triggered by the sound, sight, and sometimes even the thought of certain words. Sometimes remembering the fact that there is a hashtag Dublin foodie is enough to put me off scrolling through my Instagram.
So maybe I do just suffer from this particularly niche word aversion?
“Foodie-ism”, more than ever, describes a particular area in our culture, politics, and economy. We are one of many new Irish food publications profiting off and engaging with a fermenting Irish food culture. But are we unwitting foodies or new wave gourmands? We don’t like either.
The word has also become an overused and offensively ambiguous phrase like blogger or Dublin Creative. All of these words come with a level of inherent derision. Blogger and Dublin Creative are eyeroll-level but don’t trigger the gag reflex in the same way as “foodie”.
It’s also overused by PR in the food industry. Every press release for many years has been “foodie focused”. Trying to appeal to the broadest range of people that engage with food culture. This is clever in some ways, but it gets real old real quick if you’re flipping through any socials for more than a few days.
I have a niggling suspicion it’s because classism is buried in the word “foodie”, too. I have a raging intolerance of classism. Way back when you had to be wealthy to be a gourmand. The most fundamental principle of the food industry is the exchange of money for food. So its culture, while historically diverse, until relatively recently was structured by class. Its social architecture was built by people who had traditionally been the wealthiest. If cooking is a working-class profession, dining is the province of the bourgeoisie, and fine dining has been the domain of the rich we want to eat.
There is something that seems dismissive about calling someone a foodie. It’s almost a snobby way of calling someone uncultured in their food consumption. And that triggers me. As someone who has gotten her food expertise through consumption over time and a chronic curious need to know why I don’t think someone needs to have qualifications or money to be a food enthusiast.
Any gustatory pleasure seeker with the time and want to invest in obscure cooking methods, niche coffee roasting techniques, and of-the-moment TikTok meals (think the TikTok pasta) can and should be as valued a member of the food culture as any fine dining enthusiast with deep pockets without being looked down on for it.
There’s nothing wrong with contemporary food populism. But, on the contrary, this trend is helping buoy the sustainable-local-Irish food movement, which is slowly reversing how disconnected we have all become from food production.
There is no darth of public “foodie” resentment. We’re not the first to do so. The word is so universally hated. The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The New York Times, and Saveur are among many publications that have called it right the hell out. And yet there is no alternative pitched. The word still appears everywhere.
I don’t know if we need to differentiate between someone who loves food and who enjoys food, but the word foodie needs to be put to rest. It lived a good life and achieved more success than most words. But it is trite and tired. Repulsive, classist and sexist. So what word do we give those people if foodie is this bad and gourmand is full of cis-het-straight-white-male elitism? I often find myself using the word enthusiast or nerd. Others say, food lover. Conscientious diner? I don’t know what the solution is.
But I know that contemporary food culture is vibrant. It’s more inclusive than ever and hopefully only getting more so. People are engaging with food in Ireland, in want of a better term, in a more mindful way than ever. So surely the creative geniuses on TikTok who have changed the face of food in many ways in such a short space of time will come up with a next-gen word for people who actively participate in this essential part of the human experience in a positive way. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they come up with.
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