Last night, I ordered steak, baked potato, and broccoli from a chain restaurant and I began to ask is familiar better? It was late. I had just returned from 3700 miles of driving. I was tired, dirty, and hungry. I was grateful a restaurant was open.
From the first bite, I recognized the taste and smell even though I’d never ordered that meal from this restaurant before. The moment seemed weird until I was struck by the fact that much of the food from chains simply tastes the same. That’s what was familiar – the taste of chain food.
Is it the same? Possibly. A shared distributor could mean I would eat the same steak at 3 different restaurants within a few blocks of each other. And if it comes pre-seasoned, of course it’s going to taste the same.
Is there some particular food additive that homogenizes flavors? Also possible.
Or could it be that the food is the same because several brands are owned by the same corporate parent? That could be as well.
Whatever the reason, I’m pondering whether familiarity makes food more appealing?
There’s something that pulls people into popular chains over and over again. Some theories say it’s added fat and sugar that causes us to crave prepackaged food. And much of the food in chain restaurants is at least partially preprepared.
Others might say the food is the best ever! And maybe it is. I relate better to fresh food prepared on site because it agrees with my tummy more. Or maybe I’m picky.
I could come by pickiness naturally. My mother took a strong stance on saltine crackers and vanilla wafers. According to Mom, the only good saltines were Nabisco Premium Saltines. Anything else was inferior and not allowed in our house. Keebler Zesta® – not even elves could sell her on them. Lance- never. They weren’t fit to be crumbled into chili. And you certainly wouldn’t eat them with a piece of cheese.
Nabisco Nilla Wafers did not meet Mom’s exacting standard so brand loyalty in the way we currently think of it was not at play. And yet the remnants of my memories surrounding these foods drive me toward to buy the brands she preferred. Or at least they did before I had to choose gluten-free brands.
I don’t just gravitate toward things my mother liked. I also gravitate toward familiar foods I ate as a child – fresh tomatoes, okra, corn, potatoes, lettuce, beef, ham, chicken, blackberries, huckleberries, apples, cornbread, and ginger snap cookies. I crave my grandmother’s beef and noodles. I love vinegar-based coleslaw like my mom made. Familiar binds me to tradition as well as food.
All of this leads me to think that carefully considering which foods we allow to become familiar to our children could be an effective way to set the stage for lifelong healthy eating. And if that happens, I feel like we can definitely say familiar is better!