For every person who loves to say nom nom, there’s a person who cringes at its utterance. Your high school English teacher, most likely.
Like your English teacher, we fun-spoilers here at Paste Food have had enough, and decided to don the hats of both the Language Police and the Food Police. Here are the words we heavily suggest you either eliminate from your vocabulary, or to limit to very special occasions. While this proclamation will change nothing in the long run, it makes us feel a little bit better right now. (Full disclosure: some of the words below have appeared, on purpose, in articles right here on Paste Food. We are guilty, too.)
This word is a great word that’s almost always misused as an exact synonym for “gourmet”, but its real meaning is closer to “glutton-gourmet.” A gourmand fancies fine food, tends to overindulge, and is totally comfortable with it. We suggest putting gourmand into semi-retirement and deploying it for those times when it’s irresistibly spot-on.
Nom Nom, and all variations thereof
Cookie Monster can get away with it, because he did it first. Also, Cookie Monster does not have a food blog. You are an adult human, not a Muppet.
As Paste’s food editor, I’ve let a few noms slip by, but no longer! Uh, unless we’re discussing one of the most successful cooking blogs around right now. The name of that site includes the n-o-m word not once, but twice, and this makes me hesitate in unleashing my bile on a silly scrap of baby talk. But only for a few seconds.
This is the kind of nickname you give a cat or a dog, but not a food item. Za and nana also fall into this category. What they really mean is “I cannot be taken seriously.”
Rarely do we hear this word delivered without traces of venom, or without accompanying words like kale, Instagram, quinoa, pork butchery diagram tattoo, and/or food truck. The hipster archetype is self-involved and superficial and either living in Brooklyn or dreaming of it.
Hipsters have very specific—and sometimes precious—attitudes about cooking and dining, and they come up a lot in discussions about food. I’ve noticed that the people most likely to hate on hipsters are also the most likely to exhibit hipster tendencies themselves. We’re all sick of hearing about hipsters, so let’s agree to stop talking about them, particularly in the context of food. Problem solved.
It’s evocative of dogs and lecherous men, or of teething babies.
Food trends are legitimate and important, and it can be unwise to take them seriously. But don’t use “on-trend” unless you want to sound like you’re in sales. Maybe it’s just because I’ve deleted one too many really off-base press releases from my inbox, but “on-trend” smacks of PR jargon. It’s not enticing.
A copy editor would probably prefer to swap this with “artisanal.” An artisan is a craftsperson; the product they make (cheese, chocolate, and, according to McDonald’s, a fast-food sandwich) is artisanal. Good grammar aside, does this word even mean anything anymore? If you can get Artisan Pizza at Domino’s, what’s a true food artisan to do?
A very useful term that every person who truly values food in a non-dilettante way loathes. Because that’s what a foodie is: a fetishizing dilettante who thinks of food as entertainment and an edible fashion accessory. If you introduce yourself as a foodie to a person, what you are really saying is “prepare for me to annoy the hell out of you with stories about stuff I think I know a lot about because I watch Top Chef.”
What’s the difference between a foodie and an epicure? You could say the difference is 100 years, perhaps. Mark Bittman cautiously defended the term foodie last year in his New York Times column. “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,” he wrote. Bittman goes on to argue that a dedicated foodie should be invested in the betterment of the food system. Think of how the many avid hunters (we don’t call them “hunties,” do we?) are involved in conservationism, for example. They’ll lose the activity they love if wild spaces are not preserved.
However, I’m a little less generous than Bittman, and I think self-identifying as a foodie shows a lack of balance in pursuits and indicates a frivolous nature. I don’t like having these feelings, but I do. Perhaps if I were beamed back to 18th century France and ran in the right social circles, I’d complain to my aristocratic friends about that bore Brillat-Savarin, but I think it’s much more likely if he were beamed to our time he and Anthony Bourdain would be commiserating about how foodies use food as a proxy for pleasure and richness of experience, rather than an integrated component of it.
Foodie is a loaded word, one that’s best not deployed casually. It’s easier to not go there.
Most every sexual metaphor
If you have ever climaxed sexually because of eating and swallowing food that’s delicious, then you are a freak of nature who probably eschews dining in public to prevent embarrassing scenes. Amazing food can deliver a density of sensation that’s intense like an orgasm, but geez, people. Let’s not get carried away. And yes, I’ve seen Tampopo, but that’s just a goofy scene in a movie.
“Explosion in the mouth” and “like sex in my mouth” is too suggestive of other acts to evoke what is presumably the desired mental image. “Orgasmic”? You can do better…or worse (recently I read the word or “foodgasm” in a headline. Blech.)
Surely we’ve included some words you love, and excluded some food words you despise (sorry, but “mouthfeel” is a useful technical term). We invite you to share them below.
Sara Bir is Paste’s food editor. She’s probably nomming down on an artisan sammie with her hipster gourmand foodie friends right now.
Photo by Nick Harris CC BY-ND