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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.