What kind of foodie are you?

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?

Recent blog posts
Help! Stuck in a big food rut
Ming Tsai: You still got it
Oh nooo! GoShiGo
Saimin: I get it
What is it about saimin?
Are you on Twitter?
Oh yum! Discovering Chinese food
Local foodie: What you have to eat
Food meets moment: Mooncakes
I’m sorry
Blow by blow: The real story behind the fun
Pizza revisited: This time, the ranking
No sympathy