Ben Zimmer on "Locavore"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Boston Globe and executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and, talks about the origin of the words "locavore" and "vegetarian" and the many variations that have been developed, such as "pescatarians" and "flexitarians."

Comments [12]

Darrell from Hudson Valley

Since "foodie" seems out of favor with people who enjoy exploring new foods how about "Questavore?"

Oct. 11 2012 10:00 AM
Henry from Manhattan

foodaggro from Brooklyn said:
“I find this segment to be profoundly irritating. Adding a suffix like "vore" to a word is just a lazy way to define and identify someone who practices such and such.”

I agree to an extent. People like to create all these labels with “arians” or “vores” as if they are all equal, but again, look to whether these terms have people organized behind them.

I’ll grant locavore this distinction though I think it’s ultimately a fleeting label, but flexitarian? Pescatarian? Vegevore? No. It’s word play, and perhaps descriptive for a certain diet, but in no way encompassing the ethos of what organized vegetarians or vegans pursue.

Even contrasting terms like vegan or vegetarian with omnivore or carnivore is misleading. Again, the first two are social/political labels, the second are loose biological classifications, with herbivore being the appropriate contrast.

Even self-described omnivores don’t eat everything, a Westerner will probably balk at eating rat or dog meat, etc. There is cultural selection at work for most eaters, but it’s the normalized position so we don’t a popular term for it.

This segment could have gone a lot further in challenging assumptions.

Oct. 10 2012 01:06 PM
Henry from Manhattan

Locavores seem to have backed away from many of the grander claims of the term and the popularity of the label has seems to have peaked and waned.

Locavore was supposed to be this lifestyle ethos but now even Leonard will just emphasis taste above all. Much of the environmental claims don’t really hold up.

Seems like the original term of slow food better encompasses what locavores pursue without the ambiguity of what “local” even means (40 miles? 100 miles? State local? Hydroponics okay? Conventional okay?) Slow food embodies all that locavore means without being unduly specific to locality.

Oct. 10 2012 12:53 PM
bob bellhouse from manhatten

Loved Ben zimmerer's inadvertent coinage, "verymore".

Oct. 10 2012 12:42 PM

well it's a bit related -- why does all Wegman's yogurt contain "Kosher Gelatin made from Beef?"

mixing meat and milk is not exactly, er, kosher? (not to mention appetizing sounding).

Maybe Kosher has become another touchstone for food marketers?

Oct. 10 2012 12:40 PM
Henry from Manhattan

It would have been nice for Ben to describe the origin of vegan since the origin is so easy to trace. Donald Watson came up with the term as the beginning and end of vegetarian, both literally and figuratively.

Again, the term vegan is related to food, but in no way is it limited to it. It doesn't mean herbivore.

Oct. 10 2012 12:37 PM
Ba from UWS

How about locabores?

Oct. 10 2012 12:36 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

I find this segment to be profoundly irritating. Adding a suffix like "vore" to a word is just a lazy way to define and identify someone who practices such and such. It's even more annoying than listening to a bunch of dudes kicking around band names.

Oct. 10 2012 12:35 PM
Henry from Manhattan

I have never heard anyone use the term vegevore. It’s meaningless anyway.

Before vegetarian, people (in the West) who followed such a diet were referred to as following a Pythagorean diet since it was Pythagoras that popularized the idea.

While the first UK Vegetarian Society didn’t invent the word vegetarian, they took ownership of it as a political description. It annoys me when the description is used for things like labeling eggs with the hens being fed a “vegetarian diet.” Herbivore is the correct term. Vegetarain is better understood as a political or social label, not what just goes in your mouth. A donkey isn’t a Democrat, neither is she a vegetarian because the donkey doesn’t chose to be a herbivore.

Flexitarain (and many of the other offshoots) is a mush lesser term than vegetarian because there aren’t any flexitarain organizations. No one cares enough about the term to organize themselves around it.

Oct. 10 2012 12:33 PM

As for non-meat eaters: is herbivore no longer used or is that just for animals?

Oct. 10 2012 12:30 PM
Ruth from Manhattan

It's sort of aggravating when I tell people I'm vegetarian and they say "But you eat fish, right?".
Sadly, "Pescatarian" is not in common enough useage.

Oct. 10 2012 12:22 PM
Tom Jones from Nyack NY

I'm a big fan of both Leonard Lopate and Ben Zimmer, who I regard as mentors and role models.In 2008, poking around for a name for my internet radio show, which features a regular segment on the English language, I coined the term "logovore", which I define as 1) an avid consumer of the language; or 2) one who has to eat his own words. Both apply (at different times) to my show The Logovore's Dilemma (which, by the way, can be heard at

Oct. 10 2012 12:12 PM

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