The new foodie

One man’s call for creative thinking

By
June 8, 2009

Editor’s note: This piece appeared recently in Northwest Palate magazine. The author, Cole Danehower, is the co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine.

What should we call ourselves, we lovers of fine food, beverages, and the experiences that surround them?

“Foodie” is incomplete and belittling. “Gourmet” implies haughtiness, while “epicure” connotes hedonism. “Gastronome” is passé, and there isn’t a decent designation for someone who appreciates (ahem) alcoholic beverages.

What do we call people who care about their food?

I pondered this void in our culinary vocabulary as I worked on the cover story for the latest issue of Northwest Palate magazine. I worried that someone like me who is interested in wine and spirits might become known — perish the thought — as a “drinkie,” or something even worse.

Terms are important. The labels that describe things determine how we feel about them. The lack of a good term to describe our interests opens us up to being ignored or, worse, marginalized.

For example, a recent discussion of “organic” food on local public radio hinged on the remarkably naïve and simplistic argument that “it’s more expensive.” Although unvoiced, the dismissive conclusion — “and therefore not worth the consideration of regular folks” — hung heavy over the conversation.

“Organic” should not suggest “elite,” and when we consider the larger interests of food and drink, “foodie” should not signify “frivolous.” There’s nothing trivial or upper-class about an earnest interest in our culinary culture.

Food sustains our lives, so due attention to the source, quality, and kind of nourishment we ingest is more than warranted. Food enriches our lives through physical gratification and shared experiences with family and friends, so deepening our understanding of the social and emotional aspects of food and drink is certainly appropriate.

Food affects our society as well. People with an informed interest in food will help resolve such public-policy issues as land-use regulation, health and food safety, sustainable rural economies, carbon impacts, and food availability.

And food is a vital thread of our economy, running through areas of production, consumption, and even disposal. So concern about our food resources is part of the legacy we will leave to future generations.

But unless we can come up with a better label than “foodie,” I fear our voices will be increasingly ignored.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas for a new name to describe our shared alimentary enthusiasm?

Cole Danehower is a James Beard Award-winning wine writer who has been writing about the Northwest wine and food scene since 1999. His upcoming book, Wine Countries of the Pacific Northwest: The Wine Curious Consumer’s Guide to the Appellations of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Idaho is due to be published next spring.

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1. by gretchen on Jun 8, 2009 at 8:51 AM PDT

yes. we do need a new term. i like something that recognizes the academic study of culinary culture, with all its history and artistry, economic and social impact. i nominate “culinary” becoming a noun as in “academic”.

2. by Jack on Jun 8, 2009 at 12:19 PM PDT

Thanks for the article and thoughts...something I have also thought about...and a term I very much dislike. As for new terms...well, there is always the excellent Brillat-Savarin term of gourmand, although that really goes in the direction of a glutton. Personally (and since I live in Switzerland) I am partial to the French term of gourmandise - an appreciation of gourmet cuisine. I certainly would appreciate being called a gourmandise rather than a foodie...

3. by redweather on Jun 8, 2009 at 2:48 PM PDT

hmmmm.... i like the word “relish;” i think it has a strong connotation of enjoyment, but not necessarily a connection with gluttony - plus, relish IS food! :) relishant? relishand? relishvore? maybe not that last one - sounds like someone who only eats relish.....

4. by redweather on Jun 8, 2009 at 2:53 PM PDT

also, “saveur,” although i just found out this is actually a magazine title.

5. by Nicholas on Jun 8, 2009 at 3:27 PM PDT

I think something derived from culinary. Culinarian seems a bit unwieldy. Maybe culinare or culinaire or culinar? It is kind of hard to think of something that sounds good.

6. by Carolyn on Jun 8, 2009 at 4:29 PM PDT

Food Warrior, foodist???

7. by Kim on Jun 8, 2009 at 7:38 PM PDT

Hmmm. Call me biased: culinatist? Culinator? Culinato/culinata?

8. by Syd on Jun 9, 2009 at 9:21 PM PDT

The label I’ve been using lately is just “Thoughtful Eater” which pretty much sums it up.

Works for me and you are free to use it as well.

Thanks for giving it some thought and putting it into words for us.

9. by sandra on Jun 10, 2009 at 12:08 PM PDT

Here’s another vote for “gourmand”, which I don’t associate with gluttony.

10. by Matthew Amster-Burton on Jun 10, 2009 at 12:48 PM PDT

The term I find myself using most often is “food person,” which is not exactly catchy but people know what I mean and it’s not “foodie.” “Food geek” is fine with me, too.

I would love to see the term “hedonist” reclaimed, but I guess it will always connote a guy in a leisure suit.

11. by lucymn on Jun 10, 2009 at 12:58 PM PDT

Foodie is all right to describe someone who has a shallow understanding and interest in food--think of someone who is excited primarily by trends rather than the complex cultural and production implications and history of food. That said, a catch-all title is hard to nail down. I have used food scholar or food enthusiast to describe myself to others when asked. I’ve never thought of myself as a foodie.

12. by Carrie Floyd on Jun 10, 2009 at 4:39 PM PDT

How about mutton, as in a sheepish variation on glutton? Or maybe foodophile, a person who is fond of or greatly admires food? Does Eater work for anyone? I’m sorry Mamster, but “food person” to me is like “partner” (ambiguous and impersonal), though I’m all over hedonist!

13. by muge ozden on Jun 11, 2009 at 2:42 AM PDT

“Foodmad”

14. by Barry Foy on Jun 11, 2009 at 7:56 AM PDT

Since I’d rather be labeled with a tendency than lumped into a club whose activities I don’t always support, I forgo the noun in favor of an adjective: I think of myself and those who share my mania as “foodish.” Descriptive, yet noncommittal!

15. by Linear Girl on Jun 11, 2009 at 12:10 PM PDT

I have to admit I like the Everyman appeal of the term “foodie.” To me it connotes caring about flavor, preparation and sources of food and a desire to share food with others. I like the idea that a single label can cover Michael Pollan, Alice Waters and a flip-flop wearing teenager who has discovered she loves to cook. While you try to avoid elitism (which I think automatically eliminates French words and anything obviously derrived from Greek) and frivolity I hope you come up with something that remains as inclusive as “foodie.”

16. by giovannaz on Jun 12, 2009 at 1:13 PM PDT

I’ve always disliked ‘foodie’--it’s just goofy, and lightweight. Surely there’s a term in between the goofy and the elite? I like something along the lines of ‘curious eater’ or ‘interested eater’. Not catchy, but straightforward, and not at all exclusive.

17. by SMcK0 on Jun 12, 2009 at 1:25 PM PDT

How about “gastroid”? Not elegant, but it does have a certain ring to it. Or “gastronaut”? (Or maybe I should just go back to work).

18. by vesperlight on Jun 12, 2009 at 6:52 PM PDT

Kim:
I rather like “culinata,” though it doesn’t quite have the right ring in the masculine...don’t know why.

19. by vesperlight on Jun 12, 2009 at 6:58 PM PDT

I suppose it has that elitist French thing working against it, but I also like connoisseur...even though I had to look it up to spell it, which I don’t have to do often. It encompasses knowledge, taste, discrimination. But though it has frequently been applied to lovers of fine wines, it is not used only in the realm of food and drink.

20. by Mark Waitsman on Jun 13, 2009 at 1:03 PM PDT

I have given this a good deal of thought because, like yourself, I think that there should be a more meaningful name for folks that enjoy all aspects of food. For those of us that are adventurous in our food choices, curious about other cuisines, study foodways of other cultures, and try just about anything for the taste sensation, textural experimentation, and just plain “I’ve got to try that” I think the name CULINAUT would describe us to a “T.” It’s a badge I would wear with pride! What do you all think?

21. by Linear Girl on Jun 13, 2009 at 1:27 PM PDT

Or maybe Culinista, as it has a revolutionary ring to it. I like Culinaut, too. Gastroid and Gastronaut have me laughing and thinking about flatulence.

22. by Kim on Jun 13, 2009 at 3:28 PM PDT

Really really liking culinaut …

23. by Rebecca T. of HonestMeat on Jun 13, 2009 at 9:54 PM PDT

I use the term “farmie” because for me it is much more than the food itself, but also the people and culture around growing it.

24. by Angela Trentadue on Jun 16, 2009 at 7:57 AM PDT

I label myself as a Foodist. I began using the term not only because I love to eat and drink and relish and savor, but because I BELIEVE in food. I believe in the power of food to change our world and our lives. I think that if we, the human race as a whole, really honored food - it’s origins, it’s history, the work it takes to grow, the love with which it’s prepared - we would be less dismissive of others, more understanding... Who knows, maybe we’d even have less war. I know this may come across as a little crazy, a little fervent. But that’s why I choose to use a term that evokes a sort of religion. I do practice every day...

25. by DawnHeather Simmons on Jun 29, 2009 at 4:53 PM PDT

This is a very thoughtful and interesng article, and the comments are wonderful! I am thinking Culinista sounds good, but maybe that’s feminine? So would a guy be a Culinisto? Just wondering. t’s probably already up there, but it’s not on the screen, and I can’t remember what I’ve read! Culinaut also sounds good, like it’s an exploration as much as anything -- and it is. So I couldlive with that! I usualy think of myself as a “food person.” But that’s a pretty lame phrase. Thanks for helping us all think about this! Because, I think you’re right. If we don’t have the right “label” in today’s culturem, no one will pay attention to those of us who really do CARE about food!

26. by Tiersa Rodell on Jul 2, 2009 at 5:51 PM PDT

Great article. I tried using foodie once and it didn’t really click with me. I usually call myself a food enthusiast, a food blogger, and I was affectionately termed “the kitchen nerd” by my step-daughter. But I love that we are such a diverse group, from so many different roads, and we all love food, and I enjoy learning from other peoples perspectives. Thanks for a great article. Can’t wait to see what else comes of this.

27. by anonymous on Oct 16, 2009 at 7:26 PM PDT

I think it’s insane that we pay MORE for clean and organic. What’s wrong with us? I love food, love eating, love the naturalness of it all. But really, what happened to create the split with the land??? We don’t have to all be earth-puppies; that’s always been a specific calling. We just have to think before shoving it into our always-welcoming mouths. Don’t you think? Cogency...what a novel idea.

28. by EvaToad on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:08 AM PDT

@ SMcK0: I vote for ‘gastronaut’. It has a humorous tone, making it inviting and accessible, but preserves one of the fundamentals of our interests: gastronomy. A gastronaut should be on a ‘gastronomic quest’, and I think at this stage that’s what most of us are doing.

Still, I’ve embraced ‘foodie’ since it is a good conversation opener -- others who think along the same lines will be able to move past the term quickly, and those who aren’t ‘in the club’ will be able to file me neatly. When it comes to coffee, though, I’m a bona fide coffee snob. ;)

29. by Laurels on Nov 5, 2009 at 8:22 AM PST

For now I think that anything other than foodie is going to be too difficult or too ‘easy’ for non-foodies to care about.
The term foodie encompasses the food sophisticat and the meat and potatoes eaters..
I actually like the term foodie! You can easily add on to it if you like “Gourmet foodie” etc.

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