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I’m not sure when or by whom the café gourmand was invented, but it might be the best thing to come out of France since Thierry Henry. I had the pleasure of ordering my first one during a visit to Lille at the beginning of the year and I immediately liked the idea: instead of ordering a dessert, then a coffee, you are served your petit noir with a few (not so little) delicious nibbles. Gorgeous. I had several during these past two weeks holidaying in France and as I tried to think of a translation, I hit a stumbling block. The only adjective that came to me was “greedy”, but how could I associate such a negative word with happiness on a plate? The best translation I can come up with for gourmand/e (as an adjective and a noun) is “someone who loves his/her food”. When used as an adjective with an inanimate object, as in café gourmand or région gourmande, it means that this object will be appreciated by gourmandes and gourmands.
“Greedy” and “voracious” are, in fact, close to the original meaning of this word. After all, la gourmandise est un vilain défaut and is one of the capital sins. Nowadays, however, it is no longer the case: this term has lost its negative connotations. A gourmand/e is someone who loves eating, and no judgment is passed on this trait. So how did this word go from being one of the capital sins to turn into a positive characteristic?
This article on gourmandise and sin explains that from a moralistic point of view, the search for pleasure, of which the gourmand/e is guilty, is a vice which can lead to excess and must be condemned. This can be explained by the lack of resources in centuries past, when gourmandise was a threat to the equitable share of food. In our societies of abundance, this trait is no longer dangerous for others. A gourmand/e, who is now seen as someone who loves food and sharing moments of pleasure, is no longer suspect, as the Supplique au Pape pour enlever la gourmandise de la liste des péchés capitaux (Plea to the Pope to take gourmandise off the list of capital sins) presented to His Holiness in 2003 shows. No replies as yet.
I also learnt another meaning for gourmand while talking to my mother about my tomato plants. She told me that I must pick off the gourmands, which are the sideshoots that grow between the main stem and a leaf (aisselle).