There was a time when the word "gourmet" did not make my gorge rise. That time was around the late 60s, when the word seemed to be just making an entrance into common parlance. At that historical moment, the word may have suggested a certain penchant for food that rose above the slop that most of us ate all the time (e.g., Schaumburg-style Chinese, Pop-Tarts, frozen hockey-puck hamburgers, etc.). We yearned for something better, and a lot of that stuff bore the title "Gourmet."
Now, however, when I see that there's a "gourmet event" or "a gourmet tasting menu," I feel like running, which is not to say that some of these events are not excellent (Chicago Gourmet, you rise above your name).
Gourmet has come to mean a "fancy," pretty much universal and virtually personality-free style of cuisine that seems basically identical in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia. There's the prosciutto with melon, the filet of beef with asparagus, the obligatory lobster, all perfectly respectable foods but so overdone, so boring and devoid of cultural associations that they are, to my mind, not worth the calories.
Make no mistake: this is clearly, painfully, obviously a first-world problem. I have no doubt that in most parts of the planet, distinctions like "gourmet" are more pointless than they are here, though in a dramatically different way.
The word "gourmet" conveys an elite, effete pain-in-the-ass pinky-in-the-air punctiliousness to a standard of cuisine that most of the world, presumably, cannot hope to serve. Snobs of any stripe are unlikeable, with philosophies that run counter to my tastes, which I like to believe are more inclusive than exclusive. And that, finally, is what makes me queasy when people say things like "Oh, but of course you're a gourmet." That title separates me from other eaters, points a finger, and is in fact a kind back-handed insult masquerading as a compliment.
So please, call me a bastard, call me a swine, but please, please don't ever call me a gourmet.
Answer Book 2016
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