Gems From the Official Foodie Handbook


This long out-of-print volume in now difficult to acquire — maybe for a reason!

Ann Barr and Paul Levy coined the term “foodie” in 1981, a term that has achieved near-universal acceptance. They offered their most complete definition in 1984, when they published the satirical Official Foodie Handbook in London, subtitled “Be Modern — Worship Food.” In it, they detected tendencies that have now become preoccupations, lampooning — but also giving backhanded praise — for those obsessed with food, then a small coterie, now an army. Their prescience is really amazing, coming way before Top Chef, Whole Foods, meatball mania, single estate olive oils, and all sorts of food snobbery we now take for granted.

Did they come from the future, when they described in 1984:


The olive oil bore actually smells of the stuff. Someone taught him years ago in a little mountain village in Italy that the right way to buy olive oil is to rub some into the palm of your hand, then cup your hands and inhale deeply. Now his pores, his pans and his kitchen all ooze olives. Mmmmmmmmm, puh puh puh puh. He loves olive oil–the only oil that is extracted purely by mechanical means, with chemicals and without heat–if it is virgin.

“Extra Virgin” says the bore’s tin. Isn’t that like being more dead?

And here they go after the early ’80s fad of hazelnuts:


In 1984, it’s hazel-nuts for Foodies. It’s surprising the world’s hazel trees can cope. Some Foodies have them at every meal, starting with breakfast, in muesli. Waitrose muesli has whole hazel-nuts, so you can see the little husked balls, like something glimpsed in the Smaller Mammal House. This may be the point to mention that hazel-nuts have a very strong, masculine flavor. They’re fighters. The jaded Foodie palate needs that.

Standing at the early dawn of the Age of Foodism, it’s surprising at how many of the future principles of the era were detected and pre-deflated in this book. And how naive is our food enthusiasm today.

It’s hard to get a copy of the book now, and if you find it, say, on eBay, the price is likely to be pushing $200 for a mint-condition copy of the paperback. It’s tempting to say the volume has been suppressed by those who take food a little too seriously.