What Does the Word “Foodie” Mean? It Depends Who(m) You Ask

Fancy FoodWhat (or who) is a “foodie”? Is it a compliment or an insult to be called a foodie? Is it a real word with its own unique meaning or just a synonym for “gourmet”? These are some of the profound philosophical questions Shelf Life Advice is about to take up, so don your thinking caps and alert your appetite. This site about to consult the experts—dictionaries, food websites, scientists, and the average person (best example: myself) to learn about the origin, denotations, and connotations of this ubiquitous word.


Dictionaries cannot ignore the word, but they have managed to demean it by labeling it slang.  Clearly, it’s a fairly new word, coined in 1981 by Ann Barr and Paul Levy.  It began to achieve national attention when it was used in the title of their 1984 book—The Official Foodie Handbook. Here’s how the authors defined the word: “Foodies consider food to be an art on a level with painting or drama.  It’s actually their favorite art form.”  The website Foodie.com is on the same track, defining a foodie as someone who lives to eat and disdains eating just to live.  These are not very complimentary definitions.


But there are other definitions that don’t make the foodie sound like someone obsessed and narrow. Yourdictionary.com (quoting Webster’s New World College Dictionary) calls a foodie “a person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of fine foods, especially in restaurants.” That may include 90% of us. (It certainly includes me.) Merriam-Webster has a somewhat different take on the matter, calling a foodie a person with “an avid interest in the latest food fads.”


The Boston Globe describes a foodie as someone “in the culinary fast lane, where surprises are expected and foodies expect to be thrilled.” Wow!  That’s rather a lot to expect from one’s dinner. You  may still be wondering if a foodie is a person focused on food and almost nothing else or simply a person who enjoys (and sometimes cooks) good and unusual food. 


Some sites have raised this question: Is a “foodie” the same person that used to be called a “gourmet”? Once again, some say yes, some no.  It seems to us that the “gourmet” is clearly a snob, but the foodie may or may not be.  (But that’s just an opinion.  I can’t quote any scientific studies to back it up.) Wikipedia makes this helpful distinction: “”Gourmets are epicures of refined taste…whereas foodies simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news.”  Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food.”  If Wikipedia is right, then there is a clear difference between the two.


Then there’s the question of whether a foodie must be an amateur food expert or could be employed in a food-related occupation. This is also a disputed matter. Wikipedia says that foodies are amateurs, but then it lists them as involved in many food-related occupations such as food science, food distribution, and restaurant management.  One of our Advisory Board scientists (Tim Bowser, a food process engineer) calls himself a foodie, so that settles the question for us. 

What further light can the Shelf Life Advice Advisory Board scientists shed on these questions? Here are their views in their very own words:


On the positive side:


Dr. Catherine Cutter: “Someone who enjoys eating food, reads up on food-related terms (via cookbooks, magazines, blogs, research papers, etc.), explores new and novel methods for the preparation of food, and derives pleasure in sharing food with others.”


Dr. Tim Bowser: “A foodie is a person who enjoys food and has a hunger to learn about it beyond meeting his or her basic needs. Anytime one’s positive interests are acknowledged by another, I feel that a compliment has been given. Food is an important aspect of everyone’s life, and being interested in food is a worthy pursuit that can benefit mankind as well as the individual. I never thought of it before, but based on the definition I’ve given, I definitely consider myself a “foodie.”


And speaking for the opposition:


Dr. Karin Allen: “The label is pretentious. I think foodies are food snobs that are not open to all types of food.  They want everyone else to think they know a lot about food. There’s a time and place for the entire range of food from Kobe beef to McDonald’s hamburger.  I can enjoy both. I would not want to be called a foodie.


Dr. Joe Regenstein: “With respect to foodies – I consider it a negative term.  Foodies are people who pay a lot of attention to the finer points of food – often as food snobs and otherwise as self-indulgent pampering. So I’m just not into that stuff.” 


I know you’re wondering: What about your ShelfLifeAdvice editor?  No foodie I.  I never miss an opportunity to escape from the kitchen. My favorite meal is one that someone else has prepared. However, when eating out (and, on occasion, making food preparation efforts at home) I do find it exciting to eat a dish I’ve never tasted before. My intense interest in food safety borders on the fanatic, I’ve been told.  So am I a foodie after all?  Maybe someday, if time allows, I’ll become one—as long as someone else does the dishes.




Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D. , Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science


The Official Foodie Handbook by Ann Barr and Paul Levy, 1984 


metroactive.com “Fessin’ Up to the ‘F’ Word: Proud confessions of a foodie” by Heather Irwin


wikipedia.org “Foodie”


merriam-webster.com “Foodie”


wordnik.com “Foodies”


yourdictionary.com “Foodie” (from Webster’s New World College Dictionary)






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