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Picky vs selective--how do you define it?

There are lots of posts on these boards about "picky" eaters, but people seem to define the term in different ways. It can mean anything from "won't try anything new" to "only eat whole foods" to "food snob" to "severely disordered eating." I'd always thought of myself as a picky eater, but what I really mean is please don't serve me any flavored coffee--white chocolate--American cheese--cake from a box--fake sugar--stuff from a dirty kitchen, but yes, I'll gladly try that new Iranian recipe you just got off the web.

If you think you're picky, what do you mean by it?

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  1. The line I would draw is between "don't like" and "won't eat".

    I'm not fond of processed cheese, or instant coffee, and would never buy or eat them voluntarily, and I like my eggs and my steak done a certain way. However, if I'm served any of these things, I'll eat it without complaint. Same with restaurants - the big chain restaurants or places with mediocre food won't be high on my list to go to, but if the group chooses to go there, I'll go and I'll order and I'll eat.

    I tend to define it as pickiness when there isn't a medical or religious/moral reason behind it, and when it pushes itself onto other people's notice. If people don't notice, then you're not picky.

    3 Replies
    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

      I'm with you, tastes -- you nailed it. I would add that the more frequently someone has something negative to say during a conversation where food is mentioned, the likelier I am to label them "picky". I have two friends who are guaranteed to say, "EEEWWW!" every time that food comes up in conversation. Recently, one of them was completely nauseated by every menu item at Babbo in NYC.

      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

        I agree, but I think everybody is allowed one or maybe two things to go in the "won't eat" category and still not be labeled picky, as long as it's small. I don't consider myself picky, but I absolutely, positively can't eat cashews. Some nuts I love (pistachios, peanuts), some nuts are good at times (almonds), some nuts I'll eat but would rather leave out (walnuts), but if I so much as smell a cashew, I feel sick to my stomach, and there's no moral or religious reason behind it. (I suppose there's a small possibility it could be a weird allergy, but I haven't eaten a cashew in about 35 years, so I wouldn't know.)

        1. re: Mestralle

          I agree with this. Although I describe myself as a picky eater, I'll eat just about anything to be polite, but I cannot even put white chocolate in my mouth. It is just not food to me. Same with Velveeta and its ilk. But everything else, I'll at least eat if I have to.

      2. Pickiness is done for attention. Selectiveness is more private and discrete..

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sharuf

          I agree, picky eaters make a fuss and a face, selective eaters quietly push an item they dislike to the side of the plate or don't help themselves to that item. Selective eaters ask for no onions on their salad, picky eaters question the server on every little thing in a dish, then ask about 5 more dishes in the same way and continue to make faces and noises and eww expressions.

        2. Interesting. Well I suppose it depends on one's own food philosophy. I love food so to me a picky eater is someone who cannot appreciate a great range of foods, has several foods that they absolutely refuse to eat, and are hard to accommodate--at least at my table!

          Conversely, I had never thought about it but the same could be said for me. Ha! I am hard to please but from the other end of the spectrum. I guess the difference is that I will eat almost anything and I know how to be courteous and act like a grown up when I am out. However, I prefer finer foods and prefer to not eat bologna and processed cheese sandwiches or whatever. So I see that as selective. But I try not to let my food preferences rule the day. When I am out or I can cook, then I will choose what I want. When at a friends' house, etc., I do not expect to be given preferential treatment as do most picky eaters that I know who expect someone to plan the meal around them or they WILL NOT eat.

          1. "Selective" is a term for people you like. "Picky" is for people you don't like ;)

            2 Replies
              1. re: nofunlatte

                Indeed. I was trying to come up with a concise way to express this - yours is perfect. Kind of like defining an alcoholic as someone who drinks more than you do.

              2. The difference? One word: perspective.

                1. I'm selective. Other people are picky. Just as I'm generally driving the correct speed, and everyone else is either reckless or a slowpoke. :)

                  I think pickiness is, maybe, selectiveness taken to an extreme.

                  1. I'm not picky. I really will eat just about anything put in front of me. There are definitely foods I prefer, but I will never scrape something off a plate served to me by a friend. Even if it is Velveeta.

                    There are people with whom I will no longer dine because of their pickiness. To me a picky eater is someone who complains too often about food and/or service. Life is too short to be that hard to please.

                    1. Degree of pretension?

                      1. People who are fussy about things that do not matter to you are "picky" but those who are fussy about things that matter to you are "selective."

                        1. Obivously, I'm selective. Other people are picky. Perspective '-)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: linguafood

                            In many cases....Picky/selective=poor, unaware traveler

                          2. A selective person has tried something and decided he doesn't care for it.
                            A picky person won't try it in the first place.

                            By this definition I am selective and my sister is not.

                            2 Replies
                              1. re: iluvcookies

                                Interesting topic.

                                - I have a daughter that I consider a selective eater.

                                As a toddler she was very picky, did not want to taste the food, and without tasting she would pronounce in advance, she did not like the food.

                                It was indeed difficult to sit at the table with her, always complaining

                                We made sure to cook the vegetables she likes often, and in different ways. The first vegetable she told us she liked was… Broccoli !

                                So I found a lot of different recipes for broccoli, and served a lot of broccoli in the next period. Many of the recipes introduced new vegetables to her.

                                Our motto became: I know you don’t care much for XX, but I cooked it in a new way, so try it you might like it. (Vegetables can be served in a lot of different ways. As an example carrots and be braised, baked, served raw, shredded with other ingredients in a salad - add different spices, or herbs, and the taste will be different.)

                                Today she is 9, and I would consider her a selective eater. That is, she does not eat fish, but will always take a bite and taste it. She never complains about not liking the food, just leaves it on her plate.

                                She loves almost every vegetable we serve, her favorite vegetables being kale, red cabbage, green beans, onions, and celeriac. She loves beans and lentils, and things like capers and olives.

                                She does however not care much for meat, and this make it difficult for her when visiting friends. I do believe she will choose to be vegetarian when she grows up.

                                Other people might consider her a picky eater, but in my book she is a selective eater, since she eats many types of different foods, even if she does care much for the diet her friends eats.

                              2. Instead of the Selective Service, perhaps our military should refer to it as the Picky Service.

                                1. My mom has been on this whole "Completely healthy and all natural is the way to go!" Diet craze and as she does the shopping and makes the meals and I am a minor that does not have enough money to buy my own, I have had to deal with it. I really do love my mom and so I have tried to eat everything and complement her on what she makes, but two months in and I am completely done. Everything tastes like it came out of a horses back end to me but she loves it. Moral of this story is that it is okay to not like stuff. My theory is that what we do and do not like is based on what we ate when we were growing up. She is an older woman whose parents owned a farm and ate mostly fruit and vegetables, I grew up eating preservatives and sugar. She loves the food while to me it is dry and tasteless. You can be as picky as you want while still being polite, if there is some things you like at the table eat that and compliment the cook. If there isn't just tell them that you already ate and stop at subway afterwards. As long as you are open to trying new things no one can fault you for not enjoying or even liking a food.