Where Does “Food” Come From?

Where does food come from? I don’t mean agriculturally, anthropologically, geographically, or financially. I’m asking, quite literally, where does “food” come from? What is the etymology of the word?

When the word “food” rolls off the tongue, it sounds similar to feed, fodder, and (from there) pasture. Germanic in origin, these units of language can be traced back further to the Greek pateisthai (“to feed”) and Latin pastor (“shepherd”). In the English lexicon, their sound and meaning have remained static for about seven centuries.

Noodle“Noodle,” the unsophisticated cousin of “pasta,” is also Germanic in origin. Despite popular legend, its etymology is unrelated to the characteristic contortion it requires of your mouth muscles. There’s simply no onomatopoeic connection. Rather, “noodle” comes from Nudel and Knodel, which translate to “dumpling” (or some dumpling-shaped object).


The doughnut, a distinctly American delicacy, has no roots in the Old World. The first known mention was in Washington Irving’s 1809 work History of New York. Early doughnuts resembled what we’d call doughnut holes; the void in the center was a later innovation. Within the United States, the alternative spelling—donut—has become increasingly popular.


The hush puppy (containing neither secrets nor canines) is a corn ball (be careful, George Michael). A southern tradition since 1899, these deep-fried orbs were the invention of outdoorsmen who used to feed them to their dogs in order to “hush” them.

If a caterer caters, what does a “cater” do? According to Bon Appetit, “‘cates’ were any food that was brought in premade to the house, as opposed to being brought in as ingredients and cooked in the kitchen.” Over the past few centuries, this once prevalent word has faded into obsolescence.


Finally, the phrase “bringing home the bacon” began—or, at the very least, was popularized—at the turn of the twentieth century. It was an oft-used phrase in the boxing world following a famous duel between Joe Gans and Oliver Nelson in 1906. As the story goes, Gans received a telegram from his mom that said, “Joe, the eyes of the world are on you. Everybody says you ought to win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news and you bring home the bacon.” After emerging victorious, the New York Times reported that Gans had indeed brought the pork home. The actual meaning of the telegram remains obscure to this day.

Obviously, the story of food is an interesting one—and we never even mentioned taste.