When I picture enthusiasts, I envision older men who rebuild Model T’s or who do woodwork for hours out in their shops. I picture hipsters (or aging hipsters, a la Chuck Klosterman) hopping into their VW Jettas or their uberhip AMC Pacers and venturing from one spot where a cool, dead celebrity actually died to another spot . . . where a cool, dead celebrity died.
I envy those people, cliche or not, because I’ve always wanted to be an enthusiast of . . . well, something. Simultaneously, I fear them. Sinking huge funds and efforts into a task that is not (gasp!) paying me is a frightening prospect. The blue collar voice inside my head is yelling, “Get back to work!” My fear is compounded by the weight of how some view enthusiasts. Urbandictionary.com, for instance, the source for all legitimate definitions, offers the following regarding enthusiasts:
A person who does something for a very long time but still sucks at it though he enjoys it very much. Thus, the term enthusiast is given to him as a consolation.
dictionary.com defines an enthusiast as:
a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc.; a person of ardent zeal
I believe the latter definition, but I am going to qualify it:
enthusiast: a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc. but who cannot seem to make any sort of money from all of this zeal either due to lack of market or lack of connections (or, on occasion, because s/he sucks at it)
If enthusiast–normally a word with positive connotation–occasionally comes with bumps, then shoving the word food in front of it comes with potholes. To be a food enthusiast these days appears to fall into a single pejorative category–foodie. Once again to urbandictionary.com for how some define what a foodie exactly is:
A dumbed-down term used by corporate marketing forces to infantilize and increase consumerism in an increasingly simple-minded American magazine reading audience. The addition of the long “e” sound on the end of a common word is used to create the sensation of being part of a group in isolationist urban society, while also feminizing the term to subconsciously foster submission to ever-present market sources. Though the terms “gastronome” and “epicure” define the same thing, i.e. a person who enjoys food for pleasure, these words are perceived by the modern American consumer as elitist due to their latin root forms and polysyllabic pronunciations.
A second definition for the word, found on the same website, is:
a douche bag who likes food
Oh, the wonders of the internet, letting people add as they please! The first entry misguides a bit; the words epicure and gastronome deal with gourmet items, which very often have been high-priced or rare, yet the entry deals fittingly, to me, with wanting to belong and with those who want to belong sloughing off any elitist terms (And please don’t neglect the part about Corporate America’s manipulation of the consumer.). The jerk who wrote the second definition is clearly and simply self-loathing (or has an ex who was a self-proclaimed foodie); nonetheless, I can see where his frustration originates because listen to how Wikipedia elaborates on the term:
Foodies are a distinct hobbyist group. Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings and occasionally reopenings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, cooking classes, culinary tourism, and restaurant management. A foodie might develop a particular interest in a specific item, such as the best egg cream or burrito.
Seriously? restaurant REopenings? best egg cream?
I cannot help but keep in mind that most people in a Third World country will never be able to have an egg cream, much less pursue which egg cream is the best. This is a sad thought–less the egg cream (I’ve not had one, though I imagine it’s delightful) and more the idea of not getting to freely pursue the genuine interest. Hell, in America, this same thing exists. I am currently teaching persuasion right now and am constantly having to remind my students to keep things in perspective for the audience. Just recently, one student excoriated proponents of year-round schooling because any year-round school schedule would prevent him from taking his two to three vacations per year! I couldn’t help but think, “What a suburban problem.”
While some restraint is useful, people do deserve their hobbies, as long as those hobbies are hurting no one else. Plus, not all views of a foodie are that bad. Here again is a description of a foodie from a 2006 Slashfood blog entry titled, “Foodie: What is That, Anyway?”:
To be a foodie is not only to like food, but to be interested in it. Just as a good student will have a thirst for knowledge, a foodie wants to learn about food.
Nicole Weston, author of the blog post (but who does not seem to have too much food experience herself), also explains why foodie has replaced epicure or gastronome:
In previous decades, words like “epicure” or “gourmet” were used to apply to the same type of person. The words are out of favor now, and bring to mind stodgy, snobbish people who are only willing to consider a restaurant that has truffled pate on the menu. This is because good food was hard to get and expensive in years, decades and centuries past. People didn’t have the resources to buy virtually anything they could want and often wouldn’t have the means to cook it. Now, both times and terms have changed.
Anyone can be a foodie.
A second source for looking at the sunnier side of foodie-ism is Wikipedia, which details the positive aspects of the rising foodie market:
Interest by foodies in the 1980’s and 1990’s gave rise to the Food Network and other specialized food programming . . . shows about food such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, a renaissance in specialized cookbooks . . . growing popularity of farmer’s markets [and] food-oriented websites like Zagat’s and Yelp.
Okay, so not all of this is covetable. I’ve tried a couple of Rachael Ray’s items. Pass. And when I plopped down in the bookstore to read portions of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History
, only one question remained in my head, “Who the hell cares about salt THIS much?” With all due respect, Mr. Kurlansky, it
is roughly 400 pages worth of salt information. It did come highly recommended, I must say, but I did not make it past the first couple of pages. For salt enthusiasts, however, it is a salt-induced boon. As my friend from high school once said, “Hey, whatever creams your Twinkie.”
On the brighter and/or less daunting side, though, people are starting to take notice and appreciate the local farmer and his ingredients. This is good stuff. Also, sites like Yelp have helped to revolutionize the way food is reviewed. It is not magic; some reviewers, like the following who reviewed The Four Provinces with a full five stars, are more than a little hard-pressed to give a well-rounded opinion. Here’s how she starts:
I am amazed the star rating isn’t higher for this place.For the naysayers, we’re not in Ireland, so “shut your pie hole!” Short of that, this is as good as it gets.
The best part of this place — THE STAFF! I moved here 4 weeks ago from Chicago. Moved to Falls Church on a Thursday night and went exploring the next day. First place I walked in (yea, I’m half Irish), sat on the stool for what, 45 seconds, when Johnny the (head) bartender, saddled right up to me and said “who are ya, hon?” Made me giggle like a school girl and a warm fuzzy from the absolute warmth!
I could, and will, go on and on about the staff. Sheila (watch the guys fall at her feet), and is officially nominated to be on the Board of Directors of “The Cool Chics Club!” Tommy, with one of the driest humors I’ve ever met… Brian, who could be a real player, but isn’t ….
Jaded at best, this review only goes uphill. Still, I’d like to believe that if enough honest reviews are logged for a restaurant, then reviews will stabilize. This, unfortunately, is not grounded in empirical evidence but in faith in the internet. Phew! Faith in the internet? Even I’m starting to doubt myself now.
Back to reality.
Weston’s Slashfood blog mentioned earlier was written as far back as 2006, eons in the food industry and in the world of culture. Trends change fast. What was once a new term to coin those who enjoy all things food has now become a pejorative term. Though some will disagree, I stand by this firmly. It now seems cool to like food but not to be a foodie, per se. Even back in 2008 on Chowhound, one commenter stated, “I don’t really like the word “foodie” at all. It doesn’t adequately describe the depth of interest and passion of those who love food in all forms,” and another declared, “It’s the damn “-ie” ending that bothers me.” I’d have to agree with that last one, Maria Lorraine. These proclamations of the love of food and of the denial of the word are all over the eWorld. People just don’t like to be labeled, and that’s that. Intro the label, exit the novelty.
The more I’ve researched, the more I’ve realized that I fit the title of foodie, I guess. It’s like looking at a picture of a celebrity and having everyone tell me that I strongly resemble her . . . but I just cannot see it. I’ll be honest: from the moment I introduced the idea of an enthusiast, though, I’ve decided that that is what I’d rather be. Enthusiast, monetary reward or no, has stood the test of time, and who doesn’t see herself as the equivalent of an old man tinkering out in the shop? Now that’s the cool thing to be. The irony being, of course, that I am categorizing myself in an effort not to categorize myself. C’est la vie.
Please just don’t ever convert the label to be an enthusiastie. Lorraine said it best when she said, “It’s the damn “-ie” ending that bothers me.”