Lawyer by day and renegade foodie by night, Smaran Shetty brings his analytical powers to the table as he debates that word we all love to hate — foodie.
I am coming to the realization that the language we use to describe and write about food is far clearer, and more reasoned, than the words we deploy to talk about the people who love food.
I am not entirely sure when I was first called a 'foodie,' but I do remember that it has been used consistently since. I have seen the word in print, on television and even the ubiquitous #hashtag on social media. I sometimes think the word is used as a code to politely describe the dimensions of the person stuffing their face with a foot-long sandwich. My response to the word however, is far from consistent. On some occasions, I don’t really respond; I let the word just pass me by. On others, I engage with that description – either in agreement or in an attempt to figure out what it means. I am tempted, as I write this, to Google the word and extract some sense of a dictionary meaning. But I find that both unhelpful and worse yet, a lazy manner of discovering the workings of a word that we so often use, and yet so rarely completely and fully understand.
If you are reading this (as I hope you are), I can safely assume that you have some manner of inclination towards food, and the practices and traditions that link us to our meals. Is that then the starting point of who and what a foodie is? That a foodie must, at the very minimum, have an interest and passion for food. To seek out food and attach emotion and assign place in one's memory for food and the meals one has had. Perhaps. I think this a good place to start. But we must and can look further than this. Surely, a foodie is more than merely a person interested in food. If this is the yardstick to discover the meaning of words, then a meal is merely ingredients, and cooking merely chemistry. There has to be more.
Can a person be identified and labeled a 'foodie' based on what he or she eats? Is a foodie a person who only eats exquisite food and dines out at restaurants? This is harder to digest. As I write this, I am eating day-old Chinese takeout with leftover mutton curry. A terrible combination that only just works, as preparation for the working week ahead. Does this dis-entitle me from claiming the 'foodie' tag? Is the idea of a foodie a person who only eats and appreciates the finest food? I have to disagree yet again. I find that people who are truly passionate about food, and for whom food is a genuine source of interest, are rarely, if ever, impressed solely by the status and conditions in which food is served. A foodie to me, and I am hoping to most, must be a person who is excited equally by the prospect of stellar roadside masala dosa as he is of the promise of a fine-dining meal.
What about appetite? Should a foodie have one of those impressively dangerous appetites when it comes to matters on the table? Are they expected to belt a chicken biryani and still hold forth on the under-representation of Vietnamese food in south Asian cuisine?
Must a foodie cook regularly? At this question I find myself stumbling. In my own self-interest, I must answer that the frequency with which one cooks should not be a consideration in the 'foodie' contest. I cook quite rarely, and I attribute many reasons (read: excuses) to this. I am tempted to think that while a foodie need not necessarily cook frequently, when they do cook, the plate must evoke a sense of curiosity. Not that a foodie must necessarily cook fantastically (although that would certainly help), but what is cooked must in some way convey the interest and passion of the cook. That the thing cooked, must introduce the people eating it to a new dish or a new way of seeing food.
I think then, the essence of my ramblings comes down to this: a foodie is someone who thinks and looks at food not merely as something to be eaten three times a day, but as a placeholder for a study of society and the history that has shaped it thus far. A way to understand food beyond what is on the plate or in the kitchen. To seek out tradition and stories that invariably make their way into food, between the stirring and the seasoning.
Who then is a foodie? The person eagerly awaiting the all-you-can-eat buffet or the food nerd trying to trace how the introduction of tomatoes in the New World changed eating patterns? Is the person who has to take a picture before the first bite of every meal a foodie too?
Yes. We all are. Welcome. Here is your nametag.
Smaran Shetty is a practicing lawyer based out of Bangalore, more often than not thinking about his next meal. You can follow him here.
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