Thinking and writing about food. Not always in that order.

It’s time to bury the term “Foodie.” I suggest we replace it with “Food Asshole”

In Food Asshole, Foodie on June 15, 2011 at 2:13 am

It’s not just me. Everyone from the editor of Gastronomica to Mindy Kaling agree: the term “Foodie” is dead. It’s about time.

I became aware of the term “Foodie” about the same time that I met my first honest-to-God “Foodie.” In the early 90s, I worked with a guy who recounted with great pleasure that a meal he had at a hip and opulent new Boston restaurant (one that I rather liked) was “nearly inedible.” He also pointed out that six months earlier the same restaurant had been sublime — but that was before “everybody” had discovered it. That’s the kind of guy he was. He was also the kind of guy who savored ear-splitting experimental jazz and liked to make fun of the rest of the world who failed to attend Yale and whom he assumed ate Hot Pockets and candy necklaces for Thanksgiving dinner. He was, and is, the archetypical “Foodie.”

I had a visceral dislike for this guy, matched only by my hatred for the term “Foodie.” To my ear, “Foodie” has always been cringe-worthy — at once full of itself, yet laughable. Kind of like the upper class Yankees you come across in Cambridge who still go by their camp nicknames: Bootsie, Smokey, Mitt. Like “Yummy,” “Foodie” is one of those words that was never meant to come out of the mouth of an adult.

When I tell people that I’m studying for a masters degree in Gastronomy, they sometimes respond “Oh, you must be a Foodie.” I try not to punch them in the face and calmly say “No,  I’m just a guy who enjoys eating and studying about about food.” One of my greatest fears about the program at BU was that my professors and fellow students would all be “Foodies” whom I would want to punch in the face. To my great relief, I’ve only heard the term a few times in class and have never had to restrain myself from physical violence. To my great delight, I find that the people who actually know something about food are, by and large, an unassuming bunch who are curious, excited about experiencing new things, and find everyone’s story and their food worth learning about. The more they know, the more down-to-earth they seem to be. They are the the exact opposite of “Foodies” who enjoy yielding the little knowledge they have over those poor unfortunates with “less refined” palates.

I didn’t realize until recently that Gael Green (the nice lady with the amusing hats on Top Chef) coined the term “Foodie” in 1980. I’m fond of Gael Green, but some 30 years later, I’m done with her coinage.

I’m not alone. It looks like the stars have aligned to rid the world of the term Foodie:

  • Darra Goldstein, the editor of “Gastronomica” writes about the “Foodie” problem in her introduction to the latest issue : “Lately I’ve been having a problem with self-identification.” She goes on to state the problem that people who study and care about food have food have describing themselves. She gives a history of the despicable term, identifies other terms that have been used throughout history (aristologist and gastrologer are among my favorites; gastronome is the one my program chose) and ends with a request for people to post new alternatives to Foodie on Facebook.
  • Super-cool punk rock chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune and author of “Blood, Bones and Butter” calls Foodies a “bummer.” Watch the YouTube video below.
  • But Mindy Kaling may have put it best in her Tweet a couple days ago. She sums it up — with plenty of characters to spare.
  • Even  “Food and Wine” is on the story. (Although they still offer a Cosmo-style “You May be a Foodie If . . .” quiz to see if you have what it takes to own the term.) Maybe they don’t fully get it . . .

I haven’t taken the Gastronomica challenge, because the greatest alternative to “Foodie” has already been coined. And I only wish I had come up with it.

Around the same time that my co-worker was enjoying furrowing his brow disapprovingly over towers of food in and around Boston, my wife and I had dinner with one of her co-workers. She was a sweet woman with a tiny voice and keen sense of observation. Over a dinner she made for us, she told us a story about a friend who was much like my co-worker, “You know, a Food Asshole.”

Food Asshole worked for me then and still does. So unless Gastronomica comes up with something that the Food Assholes of the world will never make their own, I’ll just stick to  being a guy who likes to eat and study about food.

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  1. Agreed all around! It’s about time someone said it. Let this be the blog that hits it on the way out.

    Sharing, as I do, your antipathy for the word “foodie” & the people it describes, I suggest coining a new term for the rest of us who are interested in food yet manage not to be insufferable about it — & just let the foodies keep the name they’ve earned.

    Anyone raising a voice (along with a glass of authentic French Champagne, perfectly chilled, with oaky overtones & a squirt of waiter’s piss in the bottom) to *oppose* abolishing the word “foodie”? Hey, it’s all yours…!

  2. I dont think the term “foodie” was coined by Gael Greene, I was often called a foodie in Australia in 1976 and during the late 70`s, and was so relieved to visit Asia to find everyone there is a “foodie”. (my experience is that most people outside the cringeful anglo-saxon world are “foodies”)The term betrays the mindscape of those who use it, what by definition is the opposite of a foodie?

    • It certainly seems possible to me that the word has been around for some time — and it strikes me as very difficult to pinpoint the exact moment a newly coined word takes hold. Maybe Gael Green first popularized the term in the US? Thanks for the data point from Australia.

  3. I admire your discipline in not punching those who label you as a foodie. It must take great strength and I’m sure you hear it way too often. To me the worst offenders are usually the ones who refer to themselves as foodies. As soon as I hear someone say “I’m a foodie…….”, I brace myself for the onslaught of pretension.

    I’m over Tweeters, but Mindy Kaling is spot-on!

  4. I do wholeheartedly acknowledge the decaying value of the word but I don’t harbor your faux-violent disdain. There are two kinds of people that often get lumped in with “foodies.” One we call “eaties.” Eaties just like putting calories in their mouth but don’t really care who made it, where it comes from, or how its going to make them feel. They just get really excited about eating massive amounts of the food that they already like. They’re not interested in food beyond that. The other is close enough to qualify as a “Food Asshole,” which tend to pop up during communal meals at fine or high-end restaurants like L’Espalier in Boston and Minibar in DC. I see them anywhere, actually, even at Hamilton’s Prune. Those are the people who appear to regularly eat fine, high quality, beautifully crafted food (without denting their budget) but their preference has more to do with the atmosphere, service and status of doing so rather than the caliber, quality, and conception of the food. They never seem to actually enjoy their meals.

    I get insecure about the term foodie because, for laymen, its the easiest heuristic to inform people the food is a huge part of my world. I want to know who grows the food, where the seed came from, who picked it, how far it travelled, how its prepared, how it looks, smells, what are its cultural influences, what it does for your mind, body, community, and mood. But beyond that, I think I must occasionally (or frequently) be perceived as a Food Asshole too. I think I’m a bit of a snob in acknowledging that there’s a difference. That Eaties cannot possibly grasp my love of food.

    In any case, my reaction to the term “foodie” is mixed. I do avoid it but I don’t despise it (yet?) I think we could certainly use some clarity. As you say, you are a guy who likes to eat and study food. I usually tell people that food is a huge part of my world.

    Aside from that, you must be rather flattered by the response from Gastronomica!

  5. The term “Food Asshole” was fair common among us contrarian cognoscenti until you decided to blab all about it on your blog. Thanks internet for ruining yet another thing for me!

    • Trust me, letting the cat out of the bag on this blog is NOT is not the equivalent of publishing it on wikileaks. This secret remains safe among you, me and a dozen reader.

      • Hee hee. Hey, when is the progressive dinner?

      • We have to get that nailed down – weekend of September 10 was discussed. We still need a theme. My 70s Theme was not as roundly embraced as I’d hoped. Maybe I can open it up as a blog topic.

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