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Anti-Foodie 

Just don't call me late for dinner

Eating, of course, is a biological urge. Yet, it's also unlike other biological urges. One can completely immerse himself or herself in the food world -- and in the attendant recipes and books and conversations that come along with it -- without feeling the sort of shame felt by, say, a porn connoisseur.

So, yes, my larder is proudly filled. My bookshelves bend under the weight of James Beard and Julia. I'll spend my last dollar on some exotic ingredient that I have no clue how to actually, you know, use. But please, please, please -- do not call me a foodie.

As labels go, "foodie" has to be one of the worst. It has to do, I think, with the "ie" at the end, a frivolous sounding little suffix that makes most anything sound a little goofy. Foodie conjures up images of cooties, roofies, and The Goonies. I mean, why make up such a cute little word at all? I'm a fan of wine, but I don't call myself a wino (though others might).

The Web site www.foodies.com describes a foodie this way: "On the curriculum vitae of a foodie, 'eating' is listed as a hobby. The foodie lives to eat, and to eat to live is definitive boredom. A true foodie clings to all things culinary. From soup to nuts, a foodie seeks out the fun stuff about fine fare, along with the arcane, the academic, the in -- depth and the latest. To find the perfect cheese or the best macaroon recipe is life's work."

A foodie, then, is a collector of knowledge, a food scholar. A person that just likes a good ham biscuit, steak or piece of fried chicken? Might as well shoot that poor sumbitch. He only knows what he likes, not what he should like or might like. He's just a mere eater.

Call me moody (just not a foodie!), but if most food lovers were as open-minded as they were with their taste buds, the world would be a better place. Being a foodie isn't an exclusive club, and you don't get points for targets hit or grape varietals memorized. I once had a conversation with the food writer John T. Edge in which he pegged a certain breed of foodies as "tourists looking for pelts." I always thought that was as good a descriptive as any for some of the folks I've met. "Say, honey, look at that old black man working the BBQ pit over there. Isn't it all so quaint? How many tee-shirts should we buy?"

It's belt-notching, really, and, as any reformed bachelor will tell you, it will generally leave you feeling rather empty (even as you're full). Yes, good food is one of the grandest things there could ever be, but, for most of us -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- it ain't life or death.

However, food is, for many, a way to make a living. By God, barbecue pitmasters work hard (stand beside a pit for the better part of a day, and I guarantee you'll never see pulled pork the same way again). So do chefs, both famous and forgotten (if you're not a chef, or plan to be, do read Anthony Bourdain's excellent-and-omnipresent Kitchen Confidential). Consider their sweat (and years of training, and stress-induced cigarette and alcohol addictions) next time your meal is less than perfect, and try to remember how many of your meals have ever come out just as you'd like. As an enthusiast, you're out to get an experience, and, as in other artforms, sometimes you get a good showing and sometimes you don't. Do learn all you can, but maybe occasionally leave the Zagat guides at home. Confuse yourself. Eat a cuisine completely with your hands. Go past the so-called "hole-in-the-wall" spots whose parking lots feature more Lexuses than lemons. Finding a really mousy little place that roars like a tiger when taste hits tongue is one of the single great experiences in life. (Accordingly, there's little worse than the statuesque beauty who, stuck on her own reputation, does little or nothing to make you feel at home.)

Another word about foodies. None of us came from the womb clutching a bottle of Pinot and a big brick of Vermont cheddar. Most of us knew shit about cuisine until after college, unless we went to culinary school. You can't, really. Like prostitution or writing, one only gets better through reading and hands-on activity, backed up with a commitment to constant practice.

You do not need every new kitchen gadget to be a foodie, nor do you need to know every bit of minutiae about properly dressing a game hen. You don't even need to know which fork to use. Most importantly, you shouldn't have to apologize for any of the above. What you need is a simple love for grub -- again, like sex, everybody needs food on some primal level.

Unlike sex, food allows you to dabble with a new muse every night. So be kind to the novice over there, eating his gazpacho with the wrong spoon. He's probably enjoying it just as much as you are, and possibly more. Enthusiasm counts for a lot, you know.

Timothy C. Davis is an associate editor with Gravy, the official newsletter of the Southern Foodways Alliance. His food writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Saveur, the Christian Science Monitor, and the food Web site www.egullet.com. He may be contacted at timothycdavis1@gmail.com.

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