What kind of foodie are you?

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A comment on this site the other day got me thinking. It was from Nonstop’s Cat Toth, chiming in after her own “Great food debate” blog post when MaxCat and I called her out for not considering herself a foodie.

“I don’t feel like I’m a foodie,” Cat answered. “I just like to eat. Mari’s a foodie. You have to not only like food but understand it.”

All week I thought about that. Of course I’m a foodie, but come on, after years of Fuud Fridays and eating escapades from Maui to France, what makes Cat not a foodie? I’ve always considered the term broad, inclusive, even forgiving; it’s not a rarefied echelon.

So I looked up definitions. I quizzed people I consider foodies. I thought hard about the attributes of food reviewers I know or have read.

What constitutes a foodie? What constitutes a non-foodie?

The broad and widely accepted definition considers a foodie a non-industry professional, a hobbyist with an avid interest in pursuing and learning about food.

A foodie is not an epicure or gourmand, which is the old-fashioned definition: You do not have to know the intricacies of ingredients, techniques or cooking methods; the history and evolution of dishes; what region of China or France a dish comes from; how a local favorite differs from the home-country archetype — although none of this knowledge hurts — and most definitely you do not have to love only gourmet or expensive food.

You also do not have to have grown up in a foodie family. Just as with intellectual or artistic ability, you can acquire foodie-hood as an adult passion, although early exposure does give you a headstart.

Finally, you do not have to know how to cook, though I find that for most foodies, love of good food leads to a desire to either whip up yummy things in their own kitchens, or replicate a favorite restaurant dish or see if they can do better.

But that’s not what’s most interesting. After a week of chewing things over, it’s entirely obvious to me that foodies encompass a whole range of categories and degrees. All foodies can taste differences in foods and understand why they like or dislike something. And all foodies come with innate likes and dislikes, with a short list of foods they cannot tolerate (even bizarre foodist Andrew Zimmern, felled by durian and Spam).

Beyond that, here are my distinctions:

Extreme foodie. Not only knows a lot about a lot of different foods and can distinguish different flavors and ingredients on the palate, will go out of his/her way to pursue a food or food experience; may even structure life around this.

Example: A friend of mine is a full-time corporate executive. She gave that up at one point — but kept her part-time job working one or two shifts a week at a local food emporium staffed by other foodies, including her boyfriend, a chef. It’s not about money — she’s back to full-time corporate and part-time retail — she likes the camaraderie and would never work any other retail. All her vacations are planned around food: not just destination cities, but where to eat every day. And she waxes as rhapsodically about Daniel Boulud’s French fries as about the fantastic Korean fried chicken at a hole-in-the-wall in Boston.

Another example: H, an IT professional and frequent commenter on this site, can tell you how to handle the noodles and roast pork bones for the cleanest, richest saimin. Every fall, he travels to the Pacific Northwest to scour markets for the seasonal matsutake mushroom, which is harvested there and sells for half the price it does in Hawaii. Back home, he’ll instruct a friend in the PNW on where to go and how to choose the best matsutake to replenish his supply. And he’ll be disappointed when the gills are slightly open, signaling a batch less fresh than what he scored the week before.

Avid foodie. Always thinking about food, talking about the latest great meal, asking about new places. Curious mind and adventurous palate. Keeps abreast of food trends and news, reads food blogs, may watch foodie travel or cooking shows. Within the bounds of (most people’s) practicality, will go anywhere to try something excellent, exciting or new. Townie driving to Wahiawa for her favorite beef brisket from Molly’s, for example. Jumping in the car when a friend tells you about a new place in Waipahu. Hunting down your favorite blogger’s favorite bistro next time you’re in Paris, or checking Yelp for the highest-rated nearby eatery when you’re hungry.

Moderate foodie. Loves to eat, can describe epiphanous food moments and favorite dishes at places all over town and anywhere traveled. Not too disappointed when food is mediocre, because after all, it’s not all about the food, it’s about the company. May be more comfortable with foods they already know and thus prone to limited culinary exposure. Likely won’t drive out of the way for a non-occasion dinner; fine with takeout from the OK place around the corner. Even people who need food to be salty, spicy, garlicky or sweet can be moderate foodies.

Not a foodie. The one who recommends a restaurant and tells you, “Everything’s good.” The one who talks through the whole meal without once referencing what’s in their mouth. The one who, asked why they love or hate something, only shrugs. The one who won’t eat anything green, anything sour, anything west of Chinatown, or anything from an entire ethnic cuisine, for reasons unrelated to health or psychic scarring. The one who rates a restaurant with, “The food’s OK, but they give you plenty.”

That’s it. The musings of an entire week, finally off my chest. Do you have any more categories or degrees to add?

And what kind of foodie are you?

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31 comments
harrycovair
harrycovair

I hope this posts...

I dunno about "Extreme", maybe more Avid leaning towards Extreme. If I'm in town I'd drive to Wahiawa to go to Molly's but I probably won't drive out there just to go to Shige's.

There are a few food items in life that I will pursue. One is a perfectly cooked Porterhouse Steak and the other is... well you know @nonstopmari . But I'm also a comfort foodie too. A plate lunch once in a while will whet my appetite just as well as a bowl of Ramen or even a simple Tuna Sandwich.

I don't know how to categorize this situation. I'm in Washington, D.C. and I'm walking in Chinatown for dinner. I look in the window of the first restaurant and see a lot of, how do I put it... non-Chinese folks eating, so I walk to the next restaurant and peer in again. I do this till I find a restaurant with a lot of Chinese folks inside and that was the restaurant of choice. I thought I made an excellent choice that night.

seantaketa
seantaketa

After making a mini-rant about navel gazing - and going so far as to suggest an "Anti-Foodie" category - I must share some recent revelations - First, had a chance to hear Michael Pollan talk about the "Food Movement" which encompasses new awareness of the politics and culture of food - Eat Local, Slow Food, etc... this made me aware of my own blindness and American-style obsession with fast food and eat to live mentality - which creates a disconnect between my feed the hungry sense of political urgency and the soul-nurturing quality of food...
Then I looked at the latest "comfort foods" update - and my cold heart melted...
You can sign me up as a "Politico-Foodie" seeking to find my lost connection to the soul of food - and finding worthy guides and allies here at NonStop ...
Peace up and happy eating!

Annoddah_Dave
Annoddah_Dave

EO: How about Fuudie? One who vicariously consumes the Fuud Pix on Cat's post. Or Phoodie, one who prefers Vietnamese noodles over Saimin (I think you fall in this category). Or Pfuudie, a follower of Wine Gurl's escapades with food trucks. Name comes from the air escaping from a leaking tire...pfuuu?

Maxcat
Maxcat

Good piece Mari and a great frame or point of departure for what a foodie is or is not. Tried to fit myself in there and fell between avid and moderate I guess. But, am a foodie at heart, that I know for sure. Not particularly worried about trying to define it. Think at heart a foodies is anyone who loves good food and who isn't afraid to try new things or find out where the 'good eats' are. I definitely do not like eating mediocre food, especially when I have to pay for it. Think in some ways people in Hawai'i may not realize how lucky they are. So much good local food and so much good Asian food. And it is so easy to find. Sure there is some bad local food, but in general Hawai'i does not seem to have fallen victim to the chains to the extent that we here in the midwest have. Hawai'i is indeed a great place to be a foodie. Oh and yeah Mari, I had to look up 'epiphanous.'

seantaketa
seantaketa

If you keep up with this navel-gazing you'll need another category - Anti-Foodie!

Anti-Foodie is fed up (!!) with being judged and categorized... doesn't understand all the fuss and just needs daily requirements met. "Some of my best friends are Foodies," is a common refrain, followed by a litany of complaints about overanalyzing edible pleasures.

EurekaGal
EurekaGal

Add to the "Not a Foodie" group the description: "Eats to live. Doesn't live to eat." That's the basic delineation of foodie vs. non-foodie territory for a lot of folks.

808marv
808marv

I guess I am a moderate moving slowly towards avid territory. Obviously I like eating :-D but I feel like I still don't have enough knowledge of ingredients to be really descriptive when I review something. Gotta learn how to cook beyond the good-enough-to-survive-on stage too lol.

Hmm I wonder who this mysterious "H" person is...for some reason I see green when thinking about it... ;-)

turkfontaine
turkfontaine

i don't know if it qualifies as a class,order,family,genus or species of- but my food interest is in below the radar cuisine; spicy, cheap, readily available day or night (i just realized that's my preference for women too. boy, introspection is a great thing)

as such, i'm an avid reader of @Billy Vasquez

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

I do think I tend to skew toward "Moderate" Foodie, though. For me, it's often about the company. Then again, I'm one of those who came from a foodie family—thus getting a head start—so I'm not reveling in discovery mode.

edmorita
edmorita moderator

I think that you got one thing wrong. Extreme Foodies do not take vacations, we take pilgramages. For example, whenever in San Francisco, it is foodie law that you go to Tartine bakery. It is not uncommon to see people at Tartine with their luggage because they either came straight from the airport, or they are making one final stop before leaving town.

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@Annoddah_Dave foooey! nah, i'm not good at these ... witticisms. ;> hey dave, need to get ahold of u for the izakaya crawl u said u were interested in. can u send ur email to me at mari@nonstophonolulu.com? thnx

seantaketa
seantaketa

@nonstopmari Hey sis, ahem, I mean "Your Foodiness!" - don't hold back on my account... I am a huge fan of your work and appreciate your comments... has it been ten years already!! Just keep the images and witticisms (is that a word?) coming... and please forgive my occassional ventings...

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@seantaketa whoa! i had no idea my foodiness was wearing on u these last 10 yrs. it's ok bro, we love u anyway... and i promise not to comment (aloud) next time we share a meal.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

@EurekaGal Funny!! I have a Twitter friend in Vegas, @sherylloch , who likes to see my foodie twitpics but falls into the "eats to live" category. She once told me, "I can poop a $25 meal the same way I would poop a $5 meal, it all goes to the same place."

808marv
808marv

@nonstopmari @nctrnlbst @thedailydish I guess I'd rather put myself in a lower foodie category just because on some days I do feel "moderate" and go with OK take out place around the corner! Also if I had more experiences in the finer restaurants I'd consider myself a solid avid.

edmorita
edmorita moderator

@Cat @nonstopmari @808marv @nctrnlbst @thedailydish I admit that given my culinary training, I probably throw off the curve, but you have to love food in order to be a chef. It's the difference between having a "job" or a "career." If you do it just for money, it's a "job," but if you enjoy doing what you do, then it is a "career," so named because you would be content with doing it for the rest of your life.

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@808marv from what i've seen here, i'd say u're def avid. EVERYBODY (except @nctrnlbst) thinks their foodie rating is a notch lower than i think it actually is. they all say they're not as knowledgeable, obsessed etc. as the next person, just like @thedailydish. how come?

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@edmorita @Melissa808 i'd say u're AT LEAST a high avid. i can see how the social element plays a big role for u, tho, since u're an extrovert. most extroverts i know wd say the same abt the company shaping the experience more than the food.

edmorita
edmorita moderator

@Melissa808 Moderate foodie says the person who writes for Fodor's. =P

edmorita
edmorita moderator

@nonstopmari I wasn't one of the people at Tartine with my luggage, and I do think it is a pilgramage because I go to pay homage at least once a year. Melissa's already been there twice this year.

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@edmorita ed ed ed, i need to point out that u are a professional baker, and thus extreme foodiness and pilgrimages are part of the lifestyle. for a pro baker, going to tartine is not a pilgrimage, it's more homing instinct.