Thursday, November 24, 2011

Inventing SOCIAL eating

“Are you a foodie?” they ask “What kind of food do you like?”.

Well, it’s impossible to explain my attitude to food to most people.

After all, traditionally we categorise attitude to food into just two categories – “live to eat” or “eat to live” – and recognise no other category. That’s like saying are you a teetotaler or an alcoholic-fall-down-drunk-all-day kind of person. Now, anyone with half a brain, and any knowledge or exposure to modern urban middle class and above lifestyle will easily recognise the stupidity of such a binary distinction. Even matrimonial websites these days list a category of “light, social drinker” and of a “light, social smoker” recognizing that there are levels between the two extremes.

A person may not be a total abstainer, but they may enjoy the occasional drink with friends, or appreciate a fine wine. It also does not mean that anyone who takes a single sip automatically becomes the stereotypical Hindi-filmy drunk (so wonderfully portrayed by Johnny Walker or Keshto Mukherjee) who was forever seven sheets to the wind and falling down all over the place. Most people I know enjoy alcohol, drink (some more than others) at parties, weddings, and such, but none of them can be labelled as alcoholics, and none of them requires drink as a fuel to function in their daily lives. There is, after all, a huge difference between the occasional indulgence and addiction.

Why doesn’t the same thing apply to food I wonder? Yes, I enjoy all kinds of different cuisines, and really appreciate the diverse flavours of world food, but – and this is a BIG but – I DON’T like rich foods, and I don’t, can’t, eat large amounts. Yet, the minute I answer a question like “what’s your favourite cuisine” with something like “I enjoy North and South Indian, Bengali, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, French, Malaysian, Indonesian, Greek, Arabic, Lebanese, Syrian, whatever”, I am automatically branded FOODIE.

People, especially Indian people, have no concept of the difference between a gourmet and a gourmand. A gourmet is a connoisseur of fine food and drink, an epicure, whereas a gourmand is someone who is fond of good eating, generally in an indiscriminate manner and mostly to excess. Which would make the foodie a gourmand. And I am definitely not one of those. I am a gourmet. I enjoy fine foods, wines, cheeses, but in small quantities, and I am VERY choosy about what I like. Also, gourmands generally favour rich foods, while I hate oily, spicy and rich foods like biryanis.

So shouldn’t there be a concept of social eating to describe people like me? So that I can say I am a social eater, and avoid the dichotomy of starving versus hogging? So that I can enjoy food without being an addict, and eschew overeating without being a Spartan? 

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