New Year’s Resolution – Find a Better Word Than Foodie

How To Be A Better Foodie
Sudi Pigott
Quadrille Publishing Limited, 2006, 304 pages

I hate the word “foodie”. I use it, but only grudgingly, because there’s really nothing that fits better. “Gourmand” and “epicurean” are too pretentious; “food lover” just sounds weird, and everything else is awkward. But I find the term simplistic and twee. After all, who isn’t a foodie these days? Everyone loves to eat – with the exception of that small percentage of the population who consider food to be fuel and eat to stay alive – so anyone who eats and enjoys the process is a foodie by default.

So I’m not sure why I picked up and purchased How To Be a Better Foodie by UK food writer Sudi Pigott. Probably the fact that is was $10 helped, because I was pretty sure the book would annoy me. And I was right.

There are lessons to be had from How To Be a Better Foodie, although few of them are specifically about food. The first one is – the times, they are a changin’ – which means a book written in 2006 at the height of the pre-economic meltdown consumer frenzy (especially in the UK) often doesn’t translate well to a recession three years later when, even if you can still afford it, custom-made Poilâne bread flown in from Paris probably looks pretty gauche, and foodie tourism to various dining meccas are out of reach for all but the wealthiest of eaters.

Second, despite attempts to plug your book as “tongue in cheek”, 300+ pages of what really translates down to food snobbery and lists of expensive products gets a little tired and annoying after a while.

Which is too bad because hidden among the pink pages with brown text (interspersed with brown pages and pink text – I need a new eyeglass prescription because of this book!) Pigott offers actual tidbits of useful information. Tidbits, mind you. Nothing in depth, but throughout there is decent info on cooking techniques, organics, fair trade, local food (particularly UK products), etiquette, cultural dining traditions, food history and various products and equipment. Most of these are one-liners or at the most a paragraph of information, and with no index, good luck finding that gem again when you need it. Like the marrons glaces (candied chestnuts) Pigott adores so (she mentions the things at least half a dozen times) the info is a sweet nugget with little substance.

As mentioned, the book is mostly UK-  and Europe-specific, with a few salaams in the direction of New York City and San Francisco and a nod or two to Vancouver. This would annoy me less except that in the one other Canadian event Pigott mentions in the Better Foodie Almanac section (the Shediac Lobster Festival in Shediac, New Brunswick) she lists New Brunswick as being in the US. So while Sudi may know her food, don’t let her navigate on a road trip because she’s not so hot at geography. Same goes for whoever edited this work – that’s what editors are for, to catch mistakes – especially since the paperback version I have was published in 2008, which leaves plenty of time to check a map and make the necessary correction.

Pigott does get points for valuing taste and flavour over all else however, and I hear a bit of myself in her lines about mangoes…

It’s far more satisfying to look forward ot the first Indian Alphonso mangoes rather than crave inferior, lucious-lacking fruit all year round.

But there’s an awful lot of the book that really is about measuring your Better Foodie-ness, and appears to be designed to make people feel bad if they don’t have the very best equipment or shop at the fanciest shops or travel to El Bulli every year for a meal. Yeah, yeah, I know, “tongue-in-cheek”, but that only goes so far before the reader starts to believe the author is serious in the apparent snobbery, and if the author is serious about the food and not the snobbery, why not write a not tongue-in-cheek work that offers the same information in an open and informative way?

Ultimately, How to Be a Better Foodie is going to be more the kind of book you buy as a gift for a “foodie” friend (“Hey, Bob likes fancy food, and I don’t know what else to get him for his birthday. This should fit the bill!”), than an informative tome that a true foodie would buy for themselves (while Bob will smile and say thanks, he’d probably like it better if you took him out for lunch at that little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place, or if you bought him a really nice spatula). It’s the kind of book someone might put out on a coffee table (although it’s small in size and thus not a real coffee table book) for guests to flip through while waiting for dinner to be served, but it’s not a useful reference for anyone truly interested in learning more about food.

How to Be a Better Foodie is the food book equivalent of Sex and the City. There’s a gut feeling that at the core, there’s probably an important and useful message there, but there’s too much fluff and saccharine on the outside to make the effort worthwhile.