March 29, 2022

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Finding Comfort

I love food and dining in restaurants, but I don’t think I am a foodie.

For one thing, I am still a little suspicious of the word.

Whenever a new term pierces the common tongue, I like to keep a wary eye on it for a while to see if it really takes hold.

I waited 20 years before I allowed myself to use snarky.

This abundance of caution is why I won’t walk around town in 2022 describing things as “tubular.”

Foodie has been around longer than snarky, apparently.

I guess I don’t know enough about foodie to claim I am not one.

What is a foodie anyway?

“As a foodie,” wrote University of Southern California sophomore Alegra Hueso in 2014 for her school newspaper, the Daily Trojan. “I don’t eat to live; I legitimately live to eat.”

As a reader, I take issue with the adverb there. Just because she sees it as legitimate doesn’t mean that I do.

But she was a kid when she wrote that so I shouldn’t be too snarky.

Another food-related expression I am wary about is locavore.

By not fully embracing this term, I am openly defying the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary, who made locavore their Word of the Year for 2007.

I don’t take issue with the meaning of locavore: Someone who eats foods that are grown locally. That is a sound and admirable concept.

But it’s not a very tasty word, is it? It sounds like a piece of earth-moving equipment. It sounds like the brother of Thanos.

A term I have no problem with is comfort food.

Although my definition of comfort food might not be the same as other people’s.

Yes, it does mean for me the food I ate as a kid. Especially food my grandmother made for me and my family. My grandmother was an old-school, kitchen-dwelling wife and mother and always prepared vast quantities of food, even for short visits.

My grandmother has been dead now for more than 30 years, so eating dishes like the ones she used to make helps me remember her.

The meals my grandmother made are some of the best I have ever eaten. They were among the first I had ever eaten as well, which may have something to do with why I think of them as best. But comfort food isn’t always strictly about food enjoyment for me.

I eat the same Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day breakfast every year to pay tribute to my late mother and her holiday traditions.

Are the foods I make for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day breakfast my favorite foods? They are not.

I don’t make these meals for the food. I make them for the ceremony. I make them to build on a heritage that feels important to me.

When I was a much younger man, I coped with a painful but non-rancorous breakup with a girlfriend by visiting her favorite restaurant several times and ordering her favorite meal (she had left town by that point).

It wasn’t my favorite meal. Far from it. But eating it helped me weather my grief.

“Sounds like it helped you wallow in your grief,” you might be thinking.

I won’t argue with you, especially since I am only imagining that you exist. But wallowing in grief for a little while did help me weather it, ultimately. The point I am trying to make here is that food can provide different levels and varieties of comfort, even when the food involved isn’t the most delicious you can possibly imagine.

The following may sound counterintuitive to you, but my love of comfort food is the reason I am an adventurous eater.

I dine adventurously because I am looking for future comfort foods.

Any new food you try can become a food you love and a food to which you return.

But dining out is never just about the food for me and I think this is why I can’t call myself a foodie. For me, dining out is also about the ambiance of the eatery, the context of the meal (birthday, professional milestone, Irish wake, etc.), the company and the conversation.

Sometimes the food isn’t good, but the other things are very good indeed. In those instances, I judge the night a success.

I don’t think that’s a judgement a true foodie would make in that context.

When I am on a diet, I can eat a bland, repetitious diet for many months and feel no anguish.

I guess that means I am capable of eating to live.

Good thing is, Fort Wayne has plenty to offer the foodie, the locavore and whatever I am.

We don’t have to agree with each other. We can coexist.

I may start working on a term for the sort of eater I am.

The editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary won’t know what hit them.