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ppuritansI agree with NY Times’ food columnist Mark Bittman that the word “foodie” should be retired.

At a dinner party the other night where people were asked to say a word about themselves, one woman said, “My name is” — whatever it was — “and I’m a foodie.” I cringed.

I’m not proud of that visceral reaction; in fact, I think it’s wrong. But I do wish there were a stronger, less demeaning-sounding word than “foodie” for someone who cares about good food, but as seems so often the case, there is not. Witness the near-meaningless-ness of “natural” and “vegetarian” and the inadequacy of “organic” and “vegan.” But proposing new words is a fool’s game; rather, let’s try to make the word “foodie” a tad more meaningful.

The problem is with his explanation for why “foodies” are held in such low esteem.

As it stands, many self-described foodies are new-style epicures. And there’s nothing destructive about watching competitive cooking shows, doing “anything” to get a table at the trendy restaurant, scouring the web for single-estate farro, or devoting oneself to finding the best food truck. The problem arises when it stops there.

More conscious foodies understand that producing food has an effect beyond creating an opportunity for pleasure.

Apparently “foodies” are reviled because they seem to be focused excessively on pleasure. If they concerned themselves with food politics and ethics they would be taken more seriously, according to Bittman.

The importance of ethics and food politics notwithstanding, what is the matter with the pursuit of pleasure?

Do we think music lovers are unserious because they listen to music for pleasure only? Does anyone call for music lovers to become “music activists” taking up the cause of noise pollution to avoid the social stigma of being mere pleasure-seekers? Why is it OK to avidly seek an obscure recording of a favorite band or study the score of a symphony, but frivolous to seek out interesting food experiences? In either case it’s about pleasure. Since when is pleasure-seeking considered unserious in this society, which seems devoted to little else?

The difference between attitudes toward “foodies” and attitudes towards music lovers is a deeply-held prejudice that taste is an inferior sense modality, that the pleasure we get from listening to music is of a higher order–more intellectually satisfying–than the pleasure we get from mere taste.

But this is a mere prejudice perpetrated by people who haven’t yet experienced the beauty of flavor. It is sad that, of all people, Mark Bittman has succumbed to it.

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