For nine years now I have been writing in these pages, with a mission to encourage readers to regard food and drink as something more than food; one of life’s fundamental pleasures, in fact.

I am an unashamed foodie, and don’t mind admitting it.  Occasional contributors to this paper’s letters pages and the comments section of the online version have accused me of being obsessed.  That is a fair claim.  I certainly live to eat far more than I eat to live.

One of my other great pleasures is reading, and it is always a real treat to find a new independent bookshop in which to browse.  So while staying in north Norfolk recently, I was delighted to discover The Holt Bookshop, tucked away in a little courtyard just off that town’s High Street.

I find it difficult to leave a bookshop without buying something new to read, and I was particularly pleased to be able to satisfy both of my passions when on the shelves in Holt I came across a book called Taste: My Life Through Food, by Hollywood superstar and renowned gastronome Stanely Tucci.

Anyone who wants to understand what makes people foodies just needs to read this book.  In it, Tucci describes how food and drink have been central to his life, from growing up around the dinner table with his Italian American family, to travelling the world and discovering new cuisines, something to which actually making films seems to have very much played second fiddle.

Tucci also describes his devastating two year battle with cancer, the treatment for which left him unable to taste anything, and reliant on a feeding tube for staying alive.  He writes that this experience "caused me to realize that food was not just a huge part of my life; it basically was my life… It was part of the fabric that made up my creative self and my domestic self."

To those for whom food is simply fuel, this may sound melodramatic.  But while I am extremely fortunate in that I have not been through such a life-changing experience as Tucci’s illness, I know exactly what he means – and so will anyone who considers themselves a foodie.

That word ‘foodie’ is so often used pejoratively, as if to be passionate about food and drink is somehow self-indulgent, selfish and wrong.  Nobody thinks this about people who are passionate about football, or Taylor Swift, or art, or fashion.  Like all of these things, food nourishes the soul, as well as being something we cannot survive without.

Perhaps if more people embraced the concept of being a foodie, our lives would be immeasurably better.  The government’s own figures show that poor diet and obesity costs the NHS alone £6.5 billion a year.  To put that into context, £4 billion is the figure which would plug the financial gap of every local authority in Britain, enabling vital services to be delivered properly.

No wonder that Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of think tank The King’s Fund, said last week that when it comes to food, the UK should be on a "war footing".

It’s not just about health or economics, vitally important both of those may be.  Learning to enjoy food and drink is mostly about bringing families together and creating a sense of community. 

It is not fanciful to say that societies where food plays a central part (such as Italy, from where Stanley Tucci’s family originates) enjoy higher levels of happiness and lower levels of poor mental health because of the social cohesion which their foodie cultures bring about.

At the end of his memoir (which I highly recommend), Tucci writes; "Food not only feeds me, it enriches me.  All of me.  Mind, body and soul.  It is nothing more than everything."

 And if you ever wondered what it means to be a foodie, those few sentences sum it up better than anything I have written in these pages over the years.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is published by Penguin.