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My relationship with food

Yesterday I was out with my good friend Amy and while wandering through a series of great conversations, I spoke of interests I am getting deeper into including cooking. She asked if I consider myself a "foodie"? I told her I'm not sure I identify with the word. First: depending on how it is used it can feel pretentious; second: I feel I am more interested in the dining (and preparation) experience, where I am and who I am with, rather than just the food itself.

To make sure I was thinking about this right, I turned to my good friend Merriam-Webster, defining Foodie as, "a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads." While I enjoy trying new places and foods like many people, I see myself having become more interested in deepening experience rather than solely chasing what is new in more of a checkbox, "keeping up with the joneses" kind of way.

Having committed to the research of what a foodie is, and not quite seeing myself in the definition, I did what any (ab)normal person would do on a Saturday morning, I took to the thesaurus. I eventually came across "epicure", which I've seen before but couldn't have defined. According to our friend Merriam-Webster, epicure is, "one with sensitive and discriminating tastes especially in food or wine".

While this reads mostly the same as foodie, below it was a passage inviting intrigue, "The word epicure is currently associated with indulging the appetite, but that is a long way from the teachings of the man to whom we owe the word. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus taught a philosophy of simple pleasure, friendship, and a secluded life. He believed in the pursuit of pleasure, but pleasure for him equated with tranquility and freedom from pain—not the indulgence of the senses. However, detractors of Epicurus in his own time and later reduced his notions of pleasure to material and sensual gratification. When epicure entered English in the 16th century, the philosophy of Epicurus had been trivialized, and so the word became synonymous with 'hedonist.'" My morning's journey clearly was not producing a simple answer.

As I poked around the web and A Guide to the Good Life: the ancient art of stoic joy, which I happen to have in my apartment, I happened upon a series of statements about Epicurus' thoughts that resonated:

  • Epicurus advocated living in such a way as to derive the greatest amount of pleasure possible during one's lifetime, yet doing so moderately in order to avoid the suffering incurred by overindulgence in such pleasure

  • with whom a person eats is of greater importance than what is eaten

When I reflect back on what I find most enjoyable about cooking food on my own is being surprised at what I can do when I try as opposed to being afraid to commit. What I find most enjoyable about dining out is sharing the experience with friends and marveling at where a place is located, how it is setup and what it is trying to deliver on. And what I find most enjoyable about dining with friends is the joy of creating great food together while laughing and making great memories.

In the world of foodie vs. epicure, I have to lean more towards the latter than former. I enjoy relatively simple fare most of the time but enjoy being challenged to create something great and taking pleasure in its creation, especially when in the company of friends.

Am I onto something, I can't say for sure but its certainly something I'll ponder. Speaking of things to ponder, I'll leave you with this quote from Dan Barber of Blue Hill Restaurant, "What’s your best meal? Well, a lot of people say the best meal is when they’re on vacation in Europe or when they were with their grandmother because their grandmother could cook the best, or because the French could cook the greatest... But actually, both those examples lead to your state of mind. You were happiest when you were with your grandmother and you felt a certain way that you could taste flavors that you otherwise wouldn’t taste. So when people come to my restaurant, what I try and do besides growing the best carrots and besides cooking them with the best technique is provide a story. Because when you provide a story, you generally connect people to food in a way that they otherwise wouldn’t taste certain ingredients. I think it supersedes what I can do as a chef even on my best nights... I think I’m a fine chef, but I think my thing has become much more exaggerated because of the use of ingredients which physiologically — I believe there’s a physiological explanation that makes them better-tasting, but I also think there’s this human experience surrounding it, this connection to it that makes it more delicious."

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