The Food Community Tropes

I’ve been a huge fan of TVTropes.org. The premise of the site is to catalog the various memes and tropes that one can find in movies/television/literature so that people can recognize these meta-concepts when they see them elsewhere.

Never one to shy away from somebody’s idea and repackage it in a food concept, I thought how this could relate to the food community. This was particularly relevant in regard to our recent discussion on the definition of Foodie a few weeks back. Below are a list of some of the common themes I see when dealing and talking with people about food.

This list is not comprehensive, and deals with generalities, and perhaps even a stereotype or two. This is not a bad thing, as in fact, stereotypes in of themselves are a trope. I will note that, my added opinion aside, a trope in of itself is not a bad thing.

Feel free to add any categories you see that I’ve missed to the comments.

Internally Focused: These are the food folks who care mostly about how food affects themselves as individuals.

The Hedonist: They want to enjoy food for the sake of the bliss that great food creates. They wish to replicate that bliss as often as possible. These folks will go anywhere their resources allow for a great meal or a great product.

The Bookworm: These are the folks who are information savvy, and look various media in order to understand the context that the food has been created. The collection of information can border on obsessiveness. People who collect cookbooks also fall into this category, often in pursuit of knowledge.

The Food Porn Aficionado: Buys the mags for the pictures, and watches food TV for the visceral thrill. Rarely pursues these foods in real life, as the fantasy of the food is often far more effective than the reality. Sometimes people resort to food porn simply because they do not have access (either through lack of resources or lack of proximity) to shops and restaurants.

The Perfectionist: Out there, somewhere, is the best barbecue pork shoulder/porter stout/ratatouille/whatever. The perfectionist is likely the person who created these products. Their worst judge is themselves, and their food has to be perfect. Oftentimes these folks can make tremendous chefs, as long as their passion/neurosis doesn’t get in the way of the business.

The Mad Scientist: The first person to eat a raw oyster was a mad scientist. The first person who decided to try Guinness in an ice cream recipe was a mad scientist. If you’ve ever wondered “I wonder what taste I would get if I added pickles to chocolate” and then acted upon that question, then you’re a mad scientist as well. Driven by curiosity, a mad scientist looks for new flavors or tries to coax old flavors out of new food products.
The sub-category here is the Novelty Taster. These are the people who tend to look outside of their own culture and into others for new taste experiences. I would say that some Absinthe drinkers fall into this category, as well as people here in the States who put mayonnaise on their french fries. Sometimes these folks are innovators in the food world who can initiate changes in culture.

The Dieter: Sees food as either their key to weight loss, or their anchor that keeps them heavy. Relates to food purely in a body-image aspect.

Externally Focused: These are the type of people who look toward how food affects, not only the person that they are, but the people around them.

The Family Person: Are you looking for ways to introduce new culinary experiences to your children? Perhaps your partner is getting tired of the same eight dishes your prepare, and you are looking to increase your menu repertoire in order to liven things up at the dinner table.

The Budget Gourmet: These are the types of people who are looking for ways to extend their paycheck, yet still eat well. Often these people are looking out for their family, and research various cookbooks and recipe sites in order to find culinary short cuts.

The Bandwagon Rider: These people who show up at the latest trendy restaurant. They never seem to visit places that haven’t been reviewed in the newspapers. The make sure to be seen by their social circle as being “in the know” in regard to restaurants. For them, it’s not the food of the restaurant that’s important, but rather that status of being seen at the restaurant.

The Know-it-all: Knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and there is a fine line between being knowledgeable and being a know-it-all. The people who fall into the latter category want others to recognize their vast array of trivial tidbits regarding olive oil, wine, (ahem) whiskey, or cheese. These are the type of people who often do not care that most people simply aren’t interested enough to want to know how balsamic vinegar is made. They will force their knowledge on you. The sub-category here is the faux-know-it-all; people who pretend to know about food, but really don’t know jack about it. Another sub-category here is the celebrity know-it-all: Think Alton Brown or Anthony Bourdain (remember, neither of these folks are famous for their cooking).

The Food Snob: Relative of the know-it-all, these folks are more dangerous and more annoying. They use their knowledge to establish status. To these folks, their food choices are better than your food choices simply because they know more and thus can “appreciate” the food better than you can. This manifests itself in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all. Think of people who only eat at Michelin-rated restaurants, drink only single malts, or only eat out at non-franchised places. It’s not these choices that make them a snob, it’s that they make these choices and then belittle others when they don’t make the same choices.

The Activist: These are the people who think that the world could be a better place if only… (fill in food cause here). They could be a locavorist, vegetarian, organic food advocate, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they wish to institute some measure of change upon the world in regard to food. The sub-category here is the Food Fundamentalist. These folks often reject any other food philosophies aside from their own, often with great vigor.

The Farmer: This is the person who is passionate about how the food comes out of the ground, or how livestock can be raised to provide higher quality meat. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty, and are unfazed by the site of blood/worms/filth/excrement. It comes with the territory, and in some cases, are worth their weight in nitrogen. There is one sub-category – The Gardener, the farmer on a much smaller scale. These folks can typically be discerned by their generosity (they always seem to be giving away their excess tomatoes and zucchini). I would put people who own a few chickens for the eggs into this category as well.

The Celebrity Chef: People who enjoy cooking for other people. They could work the line at a restaurant or run a efficient grill at a barbecue party. If they have control over the food that gets into people’s stomach and bask in the glow of the subsequent compliments, they fit into this category.