Flash in the Pan 

Locavores hit the lexical big time

The New Oxford American Dictionary recently named “locavore” as its 2007 word of the year. Although the announcement, via the publisher’s blog, doesn’t actually contain a definition, we can surmise the meaning in the discussion of this year’s winning word.

“The ‘locavore’ movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.”

As someone who has been promoting this stuff for years under various names, I was happy to learn about the linguistic triumph. But my bubble burst when I read a New York Times story about a locavore who pooh-poohed the Word of the Year thing as a marketing gimmick to help dictionary publishers sell more dictionaries. Since most people don’t buy new dictionaries every year (I still use the Webster’s I got in high school), dictionary publishers are scrambling to create buzz. It turns out that Merriam-Webster has a word of the year, too. Last year’s was “truthiness,” coined by Stephen Colbert on the maiden voyage of his show, “The Colbert Report.” On the Merriam-Webster Web page, you can vote from a list of 20 candidates for the 2007 word, and learn that truthiness won by a hefty 5:1 margin in last year’s contest.

Unfortunately for the competing hard-copy publishers, I think they are all being aced by the online Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com), which is kind of like a Wikipedia for new words and phrases, commonly known as slang. As if to prove my point, I couldn’t find definitions for locavore on either the Oxford or Merriam-Webster websites, but I did with Urban Dictionary. “Locavore: A person whose diet focuses on foods grown and produced nearby, typically 100 miles. See also 100-mile diet. ‘Robin wanted to be a locavore, so he only bought food that was grown on local farms.’”

I also noticed another, similar word, localvore, and clicked for a definition.

“Also called ‘culinarians’, food activists, ecogastronomists, and refers to culinazis who advocate traditional local food-harvesting/-making methods (ecogastronomy/ Slow Food/ cuisine de terroir), in third-world countries and other authentic ‘food cultures’…” The definition continues, but you get the point.

This was mildly disturbing, to read essentially the same definition as for locavore, but cast in a negative light. And I had to wonder if I, in fact, am a culinazi. So I searched for the word culinazi.

“A culinazi is a culinary snob or extreme foodie. Refusing to eat at fast food or chain restaurants, the culinazi goes for the hole-in-the-wall establishments, like a taqueria for lengua gorditas or offal at a run down brasserie. Knowledgeable in food and sometimes wine, the culinazi doesn’t necessarily have to be involved in the restaurant industry. Fresh ingredients of the highest quality are what the culinazi brags of; knives and cookware are his tools. Buying locally to stimulate local farming economic balance and always looking for a culinary adventure are the name of the game for the culinazi. Stacks of books, memoirs, notes, magazines and newspaper articles fill the culinazi’s closets, bookshelves and garage…”

Again, the definition goes on and on (I must say, the negative definitions seem longer than the positive or neutrally charged definitions) followed by an example of usage: “Dude, that guy on table 3 is such a culinazi, he refuses to eat our farm raised salmon.”

Wow, I guess I really am a culinazi. And, although I don’t appreciate the negative tone of the word and its definition, it just goes to show that the evolution of language is truly a democratic process, and everyone has their say. In fact, Urban Dictionary surfers can vote with either a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on how much they like a particular word, of which there are thousands. Thus, I was satisfied to learn that more voters gave “culinazi” a thumbs down!

To a verbavore like me, the Urban Dictionary is addictive (and thanks to National Public Radio’s Chrystie the Wordsmith for “verbavore,” which has yet to make any dictionary, even the Urban). I mean, instead of making a big deal out of one word of the year (which turns up zero hits on the company website), the Urban Dictionary has multiple new words every day (recent ones include compunicate, pre-sequitur, and Libby—a verb that describes what the Vice-president’s aide did to Valerie Plame, but is, interestingly, not completely unlike what W. R. Grace did to Libby, Montana.

Speaking of screwing, and, er, stuff, be warned—some of the Urban Dictionary’s words and definitions are graphic and shocking. When I noticed the phrase “duck butter,” omnivore that I am, I clicked on it, hardly prepared for the meaning—expressed in 58 basically identical competing definitions. When you add them all up, duck butter may have way more thumbs up than down, but you’re gonna have to look it up yourself.

Ask Ari: Good sauce trumps bad marinade

Q: Dear Ari,

Can you recommend a good marinade for wild game?

—Got Game

A: Ah yes, hunting season might be over but the eating continues! On any day countless lucky hunters, plus their lucky families and friends, are thawing out chunks of wild meat. Some know what to do with it, some don’t.

In my opinion, my opinion means nothing compared to that of Angus Cameron, author of the L.L. Bean Game and Fish Cookbook. Let me just say that he is the man.

In general, Angus is not a big fan of marinades. They are often too committing and strong, overpowering the taste of the animal. What people often complain about as gamey is usually, in both Angus’ and my opinions, just part of the complex flavor of meat.

But this is not to be confused with the complex flavor of a gut-shot animal, which can be quite nasty. The gamiest—in a bad way—meat I’ve ever had was from a whitetail fawn which, according to conventional wisdom, should be about as tasty as it gets. But it was gut-shot. In cases like this, a strong marinade is advised. Items like soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, wine, spices, garlic, onion, oil, fruit, Worcestershire sauce, etc., are really good for marinades.

Rather than focus on marinades, Angus spends his time and energy on making a really good sauce to serve with the meat, which was often seasoned with just salt and pepper.

I like to fry tender chunks in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper—for an interesting treat, try coarse salt—and maybe with a little garlic toward the end. On most days my sauce is simply a co-munched (chewed together) mixture of mayo, pickled peppers, and a sip of wine. But spend a little time making one of Angus’ sauces for your meat, and you’ll find out what flavor is.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.
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