Launch a petition to ban the word ‘foodie’: Ravi Miglani

| Updated: October 21, 2021 1:07 pm

I hereby launch a petition. Ban the word ‘foodie’. This neologism did not exist until the early 1980s. It first appears in restaurant reviews by Gael Greene, the food critic at New York Magazine. And even after its unfortunate invention, it made only small ripples for a couple of decades, when someone wanted to talk about a person who had an ardent interest in food.

The original meaning of foodie was a kind of poor man’s gourmet. A gourmet was an epicure who appreciated fine food served on refined premises. Foodies loved food, period.

Then came social media, and suddenly everyone and their cat is a foodie. If you have more than 20 followers on Instagram and can cook anything slightly more complicated than a boiled egg, you seem to think you are a foodie. It has become a catchall word to describe anyone from a humble home cook to a food enthusiast, to a gourmand, to a food critic, to a professional chef, to a cookbook author, to a sustainable food activist…let me stop here, you get the picture.

I know people who take extreme-close-up-out-of-focus pictures of every samosa they eat on the roadside call themselves foodies. I know those who watch food television four hours a day but can’t switch on a gas cooker call themselves foodies. I know celebrity chefs who call themselves foodies.

A word that means everything, means nothing. There are so many evocative-specific words to describe everyone on the spectrum. Why fall for a meaningless generalisation?

There are food enthusiasts – and I presume you are one, otherwise you would not be reading this column. These are people who like food (makes me wonder, are there people who don’t like food?) and like to eat well, and talk about what they eat. This includes everyone who has at least once posted the cliché ‘I live to eat, not eat to live’.

A notch up is a gourmand (or gourmet or gastronome, depending on how French you want to sound) – someone who likes food and drinks a great deal. If it was just liking food a lot (or like a lot of food), the person would be called a glutton. A gourmand is a refined glutton – one who is educated enough about the topic to not just eat a lot but be able to write a whole Twitter thread on the virtues of poaching versus boiling an egg.

Then there are connoisseurs, those who know the art and science behind food & drinks and can survive through a whole 5-course-3-hour meal discussing the subtleties of the five French mother sauces, and where you can substitute a velouté for a béchamel without having to lay your head down on the guillotine.

Then there are food critics – those who go eat out at restaurants and write erudite columns about how the soup had the consistency of dishwater, and how the Maillard reaction on the grilled aubergine had been allowed to go on for 30 seconds too long, and how the arugula instead of the basil in the pesto was a stroke of genius.

There are food activists – who think milk from a cow is a violation of the animal rights of the calf, that squeezing an insipid white fluid from almond is a gift to humanity, that the food-industrial complex was hastening the demise of the planet, and that kale and quinoa will save the world.

There are even home cooks, who live for Instagram likes, and tell the world (or at least their 147 followers), in 10 pictures or less, how to make paneer butter masala. Some of them have even started speed dating their aloo gobhi to fit into a 30-second Insta Reel – and can’t believe their luck that Instagram now allows 60-second videos on Reels.

And then there are the guys doing vox pops with every street chaat bhaiya, gushing over every spatula stroke, and breathlessly proclaiming ‘this is the best chaat in the city’, and posting shaky videos on Instagram, balancing the camera in one hand and dripping paani poori in the other. You can continue to call them a foodie, who cares.

And all of the above food-related labels owe their existence to the real OG foodies – the chefs. These are food magicians who do the real cooking in restaurants, and whose cooking the rest of us talk about, write about, fill newspaper columns reviewing, or try to emulate at home.

We are spoiled for choice on labels to describe all kinds of food people. Please do not say foodie. I will not know if you are talking about someone who, for the first time, made a cheese sandwich, or someone who just catered a 500-cover banquet at the fancy downtown hotel.

This Professor Cooks. And talks about food ideas, food science, food culture, food hacks, and food history. Watch this space for some food and a lot more food for thought.

Ravi Miglani is a home cook and consumer insights professional. Following a corporate career spanning eight countries and three decades, he is now a professor at Ahmedabad University (when he is not cooking).

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