What is a Food Snob?

caviar2.jpg It’s pretty obvious I have a problem with food. I have 4 kids ages 7 through 13, I’m a partner in a good-sized law firm with a busy practice, I coach, I run several times a week, and I read and watch TV. Yet I still take the time to write on this blog several times a week, even if I do it at 3 in the morning. I read about food, write about food, and — oh, yeah — I cook a lot, too. So to say that I’m somewhat obsessed about food is quite evident.

But does that make me a food snob? I wonder about this quite often, as I hear the term thrown around all the time. What is a food snob? To folks who aren’t into food, any “foodie” is often, by default, also a food snob. Is it the case that all foodies are also food snobs?

The most relevant definition from Merriam Webster says that a snob is “one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste. ” So, a food snob is someone who offensively acts superior in their food knowledge or their food tastes. OK, that’s easy enough.

Merely being more knowledgeable about food does not make one a food snob. You have to be offensive about it. Knowledge can be measured objectively, and I know lots of people who know a ton but are not at all offensive about it. However, no one likes a know-it-all, so when you start showing off your culinary knowledge, it may become inherently snobbish. When you feel you’re superior, you are a walking, talking S-N-O-B (and the fact that’s just one letter from an SOB is not a coincidence to many).

Although knowledge is quantifiable, “taste,” on the other hand, is not a trait subject to objective measurement — it’s inherently subjective. In fact, anyone who argues that taste is objective is likely arguing that they know what “good” and “bad” taste is, which may by default make them a snob. But I digress. Based on the dictionary definition, I would argue that acting superior about your food tastes earns you your official “Food Snob Merit Badge.”

So, the question now turns to, “Am I a food snob? ” My wife certainly thinks so, and it’s not because I know more about food. It’s because every once in awhile, I find myself judging others because of their tastes. For example, I don’t understand people who refuse to try new things (and I’m talking adults). I don’t fully comprehend why, given a choice, most people would choose Moe’s over Los Cuates.

I can understand when people don’t like something. My wife dislikes — no, abhors — cilantro. There’s a lot of other things she doesn’t like. I can understand that, as she’s tried them several times and just has decided she doesn’t care for them. A complete food snob would think that it’s now her duty to continue trying these nasty bits until she grew to like them. I’m not that bad — quite. I expect that of myself, but not others.

Ultimately, I think being a food snob occurs when your beliefs and actions fall quite far outside the mainstream, and the actions of the masses irritate you. It’s not that you don’t like the same thing as Middle America, it’s just that you always think there’s something better. I actually enjoy McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. Moe’s, too. I’ll eat a Jessie Jones pink hot dog with canned chili. Hell, I even like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. But everytime I eat those, I’m thinking of what I COULD be eating that would be so much better. And every time I go to Food Lion, I wince — as I know the food I get from the farmers market is a lot better (i.e, more flavorful and healthful).

I asked my 13 year old son the other day if it’s weird that I like to hunt out new restaurants and explore new places rather than try the same old comfortable tastes. After only a moment’s thought, he told me it wasn’t weird, but it was different. I asked him what he’d prefer to do, eat at a Red Lobster in suburbia or venture downtown for some seafood cooked by a chef who developed the recipes herself. He chose the latter. I asked him if it’s weird that we get our vegetables fresh from the farmers who grew it. I asked him if it’s weird that he prefers my burgers over the restaurant versions. You can probably guess how he responded. Ultimately, I realized that because his decisions made me happy, that his thinking was “correct” and “proper” means that I’m a food snob.

If that’s the case, then I’m ready for that Food Snob Merit Badge. And so might my son, thank goodness.

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14 Responses to What is a Food Snob?

  1. Crescent City Clown says:

    Dean, you’re no snob. I would testify to that in court. Certainly you enjoy the finer things (as defined by “food snobs”) but I also happen to know that you’ll eat bbq, fried pigs ears, tamales of uncertain origin, whole hogs that you cook yourself (though you insist on demeaning your own work, though I’ll leave that for another discussion), pimento cheese, and jambalaya. So, when you ask what a food snob is, I can’t answer except to say that I know that you’re not one.

  2. durhamfood says:

    There’s a difference between foodie and food snob. The former is knowledgeable and curious, whereas the latter is a show-off who thinks the food he/she cooks and eats is necessarily the best in the world.

    I don’t eat at McDonald’s for political reasons (and because I think Cookout is awesome), and also have very little desire to go to $7 Chinese buffets. I cook quite a bit, and generally like my own food, though I have made some absolute atrocities.

    I consider myself a foodie, rather than a food snob. My partner called me the latter the other day because I wanted to get a loaf of bread from Whole Paycheck rather than Food Lion. I guess it’s a thin line…

  3. Varmint says:

    Yes, it is a thin line, and the point that I was trying to make is that I don’t care anymore. I used to argue until I was blue in the face that I was NOT a food snob — because I’ll eat anything. Even Spam. But it’s because I snicker when I say I eat Spam or will hit the Food Lion “when I’m desperate” that I realized that I have decided some things are simply better than others. I truly believe the produce at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market is better than what you can get at Whole Foods, which is better than Harris Teeter’s which is infinitely better than Food Lion. That alone doesn’t make me a food snob, but where I may cross the line is that I wonder why — if price is equal — someone would prefer to shop at Food Lion instead of Harris Teeter. I don’t act outwardly snobbish or rude, but my inability to comprehend accepting what I think is patently inferior gnaws at my core.

    Ultimately, the definition of a food snob may be dependent on who is doing the defining. For most of my friends, many of them who are not foodies, I’m not a snob. I’m knowledgeable, but only rarely will I have an air of superiority. However, to mainstream America, I, like most foodies, am clearly a food snob. And if we go by the mainstream definition, I’m happy to be a food snob.

    I’ll end with a story. When I took my kids to New York City last spring, I dragged them over to Brooklyn to get pizza at Grimaldi’s. It was cold and there was a long line. They complained, wondering why we couldn’t just get some pizza closer to where we were staying. They complained about the cramped table they squeezed us. They stopped complaining once they took their first bite of that lovely pie, and they keep asking when we can go back. Most people would not make the trek to Brooklyn, as the corner “by the slice” joint would be just fine. It wouldn’t be memorable, and that’s part of my point. Life is too short to settle for the familiar and benign, especially when you have the opportunity and the ability to choose what could be much better. Mainstream America likes mediocrity — no, they seek it out. I, for one, am not going to settle for the familiarly average.

  4. Maura says:

    I guess it depends on how you define food snob. I’ve called myself a food snob because I expect my food to be good, even if it’s just a hot dog. I still haven’t recovered from the food trauma I suffered when I tried to eat an overcooked soy dog. The first and last soy dog I’ll ever eat.

    I don’t consider myself a foodie. Again, it’s about connotation, and I’m not sure my skills are sophisticated enough for me to be considered a foodie. I just like great, well prepared food. I also have a streak of reverse snobbery, courtesy of my parents. If something becomes too trendy, I steer clear of it.

    I try not to be judgmental, but I find myself thinking “why eat packaged when you can have fresh in the same amount of time?” More to the point – “How could anyone eat that?” But I keep myself in check because I have a weakness for McDonald’s hashbrowns, which I have about twice a year.

    I think the real difference is whether you make of point of criticizing how someone else eats. When you attack people’s taste in food, it’s no different than attacking their taste in music, books or movies. You’re attacking who they are.

    Durhamfood, I wouldn’t call you a food snob for wanting bread from Whole Paycheck instead of Food Lion. You can’t get decent bread at Food Lion. My solution is to just make my own.

    Also, my husband says the words “Chinese” and “Buffet” are words that should never be uttered in the same breath.

  5. detlef says:

    Interestingly enough, some dodge the label “foodie” as much as they do “food snob”. in the “Site that shall not be mentioned” manifesto, they go to great lengths to say that theirs is not a site for “foodies”. It is their opinion that foodies follow trends rather than their better instincts. I think that is silly. I have no problem with the label and think foodies are anyone who simply takes food seriously enough to consider eating and/or cooking as entertaining and fun. People for whom going to a great restaurant is the night out rather than the thing done before or after the show. People who look forward to their day off so they can hang out and cook mole or something.

    There is a trend element involved, but trends are fun. Nearly every food trend is simply the recycling of some classic food but it mixes things up a bit. For the most part, I have enjoyed the fact that different ethnic foods, for instance, have their place in the sun from time to time at least in terms of representation at higher end places or in the general public eye. I understand that, if you looked hard enough, you could always find those things anyway but have no problem at all with the flavor of the month phenomenon. By the time Applebee’s is running “Southwestern Chipotle Chicken” it has already gotten a bit lame, but of course the foodies are already onto Morrocan or what have you.

    Perhaps someone who gets bent out of shape by the fact that some food they have liked all along is now mainstream due to a trend is one way to define a food snob. This, after all, is a person who is now openly upset by the fact that people who know less than they do are now privy to a cuisine they felt some attachment and exclusivity towards. In reality, the only “downside” of this trend is the fact that the sleepy little pho house they used to be the only white guy eating at (something the food snob will always make a big deal about) is now harder to get into. Is that so bad? This Vietnamese family now has a thriving business because the next tier of food knowledgable people are now hip to pho? Only a snob would hold their bragging rights as more important than a good restaurant making a nice profit.

    In short, I think I define a food snob as somebody who gets caught up about the wrong things and essentially sees dining as a competitive sport rather than something to provide nurishment and happiness to ourselves and friends. This does not mean that if you engage in debate over food you’re a snob, just an opinionated foodie. However, like any other version of snobbery, if you use your higher knowledge of food as a way to define you as somehow better than others, you’re a snob.

  6. durhamfood says:

    For once, detlef, I entirely agree with you. 🙂

    Maura: you are totally a foodie, since you fit deflef’s definition!

  7. Joe says:

    For some reason, the word “foodie” has always grated on my ear. Since I’m already happy with self-describing as a geek, I’m also happy to call myself a food geek. But I’m not going to complain if someone calls me a foodie.

    To me, a snob is someone who looks down their nose at another.

    I almost wrote “another’s taste” there, but I didn’t: It seems to me that most of us have strong opinions on food. We’ve probably spent a lot of time making food, serving it to others, gauging their reactions and our own, and seriously thinking about food. We’ve developed opinions, even if those opinions are open to change. For instance, if we get a bowl of soup and it’s burned, we may react negatively. However, we’re willing to accept a certain amount of char on some foods, and probably actually want it sonetimes (say on a black-and-blue steak). It’s pretty difficult for me to say that I have a sense of taste without saying that I think some things taste bad. Yes, you can engage in such a high level of relativism that nothing tastes good or bad: “Oooh, that manure tastes so much more organic than the manure I tasted last week!” If you want to say you’re that way, that’s cool, but I reserve the right to say that I don’t like something, or that something tastes bad. But if you express your sense of taste by saying that eating a hot dog is dé·clas·sé, I will then exercise my sense of taste by saying that you are a snob. 🙂

    WRT detlef’s point about others encroaching on one’s culinary territory: I agree totally. While I may regret not being able to get into that cool phở joint, I’m also going to be happy that others share my taste, and that the place is now doing well. A long time ago, a friend and I seemed to be the only people in the world drinking cream sherry and liking it. I hated that I couldn’t go out and get any sherry, or really any dessert wine at all, at a lot of restaurants. But then the world went through a phase where dessert wines became popular again. It’s good, because now I can go somewhere and have some sweet wine to drink without having to drink diabetic horse piss (there’s my taste cropping up), or nothing at all. Do I look down on those drinking their port or trockenbeerenauslese? No, I don’t think so: I’m glad to see the wines being more available, and I’m glad to have more opportunities to talk about them with other people. At leaat I hope that’s how I act. I’m sure I err sometimes, but generally I think I feel like a rising culinary tide floating all boats.

  8. VaNC says:

    Varmint, anyone who will not let their kid put whatever ice cream she wants on the dessert you have made is a food snob in my book 🙂

    But I agree with you on many counts. Knowledge is one thing, but being judgemental is another and I certainly think I am guilty of that…hopefully not to a great extent I am getting better at not cringing when my brother describes his new favorite restaurant by talking more about the quanity than quality, and not immeditately suggest ing somewhere else when a friend wants to go to Applebees. And those that know me, know that I am not good at keeping my mouth shut when I should. BUt I have recognized my shortcomings and am trying to mend!

    But I am amazed by how my fondness of good food affects other people and what they think of me. Most friends just shake their heads when they find out I buy most meat and veggies from local farmers or markets. They are amazed that I cook such things as lamb for my kids and that they eat it, or that we, like you, drag our kids to strange (BUT GREAT) restaurants in other cities, or here. This really hit home when I had surgery a couple of weeks ago and someone was kind enough to bring us dinner and dropped it off with a comment that she was kinda afraid to cook for me, since I was such a foodie. WHAT? I don’t think I am a snob, but I do think my friends (except those of like mind) think I am a freak.

  9. Joe says:

    someone was kind enough to bring us dinner and dropped it off with a comment that she was kinda afraid to cook for me, since I was such a foodie.

    I hate that one. I’d love it of more people would cook for me. I’d happily eat a box of Kraft Mac&Cheez if someone else made it for me. Or made me a grilled cheese sandwich with Wonder bread, american cheese, and margarine. Or opened a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and shared it with me. Waah.

  10. Nibbs says:

    My definition of a food snob: Anyone not the least bit offended to be called ‘food snob’.

    Count me in. I don’t think food snobs are those who demand caviar over bbq; but they would probably have an informed opinion of *which* caviar and *which* bbq. I think the addition of the ‘food’ modifier drops the usual ignorance implied when describing someone as a snob. A regular snob might look down on someone eating a chili dog with the works; a food snob just wants to know if it’s any good.

  11. durhamfood says:

    someone was kind enough to bring us dinner and dropped it off with a comment that she was kinda afraid to cook for me, since I was such a foodie.

    I hate that one. I’d love it of more people would cook for me.
    Agreed.

  12. FuzzyT says:

    The snob judgment is a tough one.

    A guy goes out of his way to sample and explore, builds up a little education and experience and then has the gall to prefer something a little better on his plate and what does he get stuck with but an ugly label by some defensive mug who’s maybe a little stung by how all this makes him feel about himself. Cripes.

    Of course, their are real snobs in this world; judgmental fools whose own self worth depends on stomping on that of others. And these fools should be called out at every occasion and ridiculed roundly, at least until they stop it or go sit somewhere else.

    But if all you’ve done is indulge in a passion of yours and then try to invite others to join you, then one is hardly deserving of the label. Eccentric, maybe. Chubby, perhaps. (I’m looking in the mirror right now) And there may be the “hard to cook for” perception, but that last one’s in the mind of the beholder. As with most things in life, a little grace goes a long way towards letting other folks have good thoughts about you. Even if you do have to sometimes be gracious about some forgettable grub.

    And yeah, it’s hard to call a guy with Spam in his cupboard or a mouth full of cracklins any kind of snob. Even if he did drive an hour and a half to get to the “only cracklin’ joint in the state worth it’s salt”. That’s not a snob. That’s just a man who likes some cracklins.

    I can’t say I’m real fond of the “foodie” label. The term has always struck me as a little bit precious and perky. Perhaps a word that might be used by someone who refers to their car as a “beemer”.

    I have been called by this “F” word on occasion, though I wouldn’t care to label myself that way. To the extent that people identify the term with concepts like “enthusiastic eater”, “has informed and well developed tastes” and “is likely to recommend a really good restaurant or dish” I’ll take it. Maybe it’s better not to ask.

    And trendiness in food looks to me to behave much like trendiness in other matters. Sure, it can be fun and has a way of focusing those who are paying attention. But it can encourage the horrors of “food fashion” and snobbery towards those who aren’t in on it. And the more mundane problem of just being another kind of straight jacket that might deter people from potentially ripe paths of exploration that just don’t happen to be happening at the moment.

    Fashion sucks. Style is grand. In food as in everything else.

  13. MB says:

    Okay D, I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now and ever since reading this post wondering about the subject matter. Honestly, I don’t think that I am a food snob but I do know what I like to eat and what I will not dine on period. I don’t care if caviar is expensive I am not eating fish eggs unless they are attached to my sushi. If I wanted to eat fish eggs I can always wait for shadding season and eat to my heart’s content. But I do refuse to buy more than the basics at the local Food Lion and since I don’t have a Whole Paycheck I end up at Lowe’s Foods. However, I hate buying my seafood from there and jumped for joy when a new local seafood market opened. I do like to look into the eyes of my fish prior to purchasing. That isn’t being a snob that is just good common sense just ask Alton Brown!

    One thing that hit me the most after reading this post was how good I had it when I was young. My parents owned a mini-farm which included a garden and several different kinds of farm animals. We milked our goats, raised our own vegetables and killed our cows. Food was fresh or at least you knew where it came from at my parent’s house, granted it may have just been running around the yard earlier in the day only to end up all finger licking good later. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the food and now wish I had.

  14. conciatx says:

    I enjoyed reading this discussion. My husband is a classically trained chef, although he is now working in a different profession. He has always loved to cook for people, try new foods, and explore all things culinary. For the most part, I and our 4 children have enjoyed coming along for the ride. We rarely eat out, choose better foods when available or as our budget allows, and eat things that people consider very strange. We dislike both the term foodie and food snob. We eat very differently per our own preference, but do not think our way is superior. It is just what works for us and what we like.

    The other day I stumbled upon a new term that might have a place in this discussion: It is orthorexia and is actually a psychological term for developing a fixation with healthy or “righteous” eating. When I read the term, I instantly thought of several people we are acquainted with. I don’t know if it would make it any more excusable to think of it as a psychological disorder when people are rigid and rude about their choices; attempting to make everyone else feel bad about eating differently than they do.

    Like MB above, I was raised on a little ranch with an organic garden and our own meat and eggs. My mom has a degree in nutrition from Cornell and I know I ate way better than the average kid. My husband was raised on a typical American diet, which included tons of processed foods and lots of restaurant eating. When our oldest daughter was five, we went to a fancy restaurant while on vacation. They had no printed kid’s menu, but told her a few options they had available for kids. When she asked what a hot dog was, the waiter was appalled, like we were anti-American or something. We had just never cooked them at home and had always fed her whatever we were eating. By the way, since then we have all enjoyed a hot dog or two on occasion.

    I liked what FuzzyT said about people feeling bad when they compare what they eat to what you eat and therefor labeling you as a snob. We have definitely had this happen, not just about food, but about lots of our personal choices. Even though we are not all that conscious of the differences, they are, and therefor WE are being snobbish because our choices make THEM feel inferior or bad.

    One reason why we do not eat at restaurants is that we have family members with allergies to additives, gluten, seafood, and caffeine. Knowing sloppy preparation or a apathetic cook or server who is not paying attention could make a life or death situation for a loved one is a great motivator to avoid frequenting restaurants. It is also a great motivator for us to be more adventurous and explore alternative culinary offerings. Both my husband and I have worked in restaurants (he as a chef and I as a server) so we know first hand the atrocities that can take place out of the patron’s sight — dropped food being picked up off the floor and served, multiple beer taps coming from the same supply or caffeinated tea or coffee being served as decaf, lies about what is in a dish, poor sanitation and hygiene, etc. For us, choosing not to eat mediocre and expensive food in places that could be downright dangerous to our health is not being snobbish, it’s being smart.

    Although we like to eat and explore the amazing culinary offerings that are out there, we do not enjoy most of the cooking or food shows out there because they are rife with snobbery — either about methods or ingredients or someone’s elite status as a “master” chef. We like Jamie Oliver and Alton Brown and a very few others who love food the same way we do and just enjoy experimenting with and enjoying ingredients and ways of combining and eating them.

    Thanks for the discussion.

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