The definition of food, and other arbitrary agreements

I was looking for an Oxford English Dictionary-approved definition of food for one of my dissertation chapters, and came across a few older news reports on food terms recently added to the OED – and a few that were rejected from the last edition.

The additions were catalogued by Eater National back in March, and include the following:

  • banh mi
  • California roll
  • doughnut hole
  • Eton mess
  • kleftiko
  • muffin top
  • taquito

Sensible enough.  Many of these phrases seem to illustrate the way “ethnic” foods slowly become “mainstream” – quotes used to acknowledge the blurry borders of those categories.  I can see the definition of banh mi being a benchmark on that food’s arc toward normalization, then cultural ubiquity. (Though I’d be more confident of this if my favorite Vietnamese hoagie place was still operating next door to Pat’s and Geno’s.)

Muffin top, now. . . that’s an odd choice.  My OED word-of-the-day app gave me this phrase with my breakfast this morning, and it does include the body slang as well as the literal definition.

The list of rejected-for-now food words is a little less recent, and comes via Serious Eats.  For these I’ll include the definitions, as you can’t (yet) look them up:

  • Dringle: the watermark left on wood caused by a glass of liquid
  • Freegan:someone who rejects consumerism, usually by eating discarded food
  • Locavor: a person who tries to eat only locally grown or produced food
  • Oninate: to overwhelm with post-dining breath
  • Peppier: a waiter whose sole job is to offer diners ground pepper, usually from a large pepper mill
  • Spatulate: removing cake mixture from the side of a bowl with a spatula

I’ll admit, some of these sound a little like words my neighbor and I would make up while engaged in the silly/serious business of preparing large quantities of food for a party.  But I think freegan and locavor(e) should really be considered real words.  I’ve read enough scholarly articles that refer to them!

Food, if you’re curious, is defined thus by the OED:

Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink in order to maintain life and growth; nourishment, provisions.

And don’t worry, fellow English teachers, I wasn’t planning to start my paper with a dictionary definition.  I just wanted to make sure I was taking a comprehensive approach to the term.

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