Recently I posted on my Facebook page the following status update – “I was thinking about In-N-Out Burger earlier today, and now I really want one. Really, really want one.”
The comments were varied – “In-N-Out doesn’t compare to Smashburger!”, “5 Guys is almost as good and that’s coming soon!”, “Come visit me and we’ll go for one/two/every meal while you’re here”
I got to thinking, what IS it about In-N-Out that makes it so delicious to me? Why do I sometimes fantasize about hopping in my car and driving the 9 hours and 11 minutes (if I take suggested route 1 on GoogleMaps) to the closest location?
Are there better burgers out there? Probably. Do I have access to them in the Tri-Cities? Possibly. There are loads of good restaurants here and some make very good burgers. Heck, my husband can make a mean burger when he tries. So, what IS it about In-N-Out?
Their secret ingredient is nostalgia. Here’s why –
I have two older brothers, Jon and Jim. They are six and five years older than I am, respectively. We grew up in southern California during the 1970’s and 1980’s and had a pretty fun life. Jon had a friend named Brian who was also six years older than I was and upon whom I had a crush with the immensity that only a fourteen-year-old can muster.
One summer Sunday night in 1982, Jon, Jim, Brian, and I were at one of the outside tables at our local In-N-Out. I remember it being late, but it was probably only 8:30 or 9:00. I looked at Brian and I wanted to kiss him. Desperately. Overwhelmingly. With every particle of my fourteen-year-old self. I remember wondering what would happen if I gave in to the impulse. Would Brian kiss me back? Would my brothers freak out? I stopped looking at Brian, took a deep breath, let the conversation flow around me. When I looked back up, the desire had paused, and I smiled, relieved.
Do I think of that every time I go to In-N-Out Burger? Absolutely not. I hadn’t recalled it, actually, until I began to write this post. But there is a connection in my mind between In-N-Out, summer nights, possibilities, and a yearning for something more. That connection causes the food to appeal more to me than food from elsewhere. It literally tastes better to me.
Nostalgia flavors all kinds of meals; the bologna sandwich reminding you of the school cafeteria, the chocolate chip cookies reminding you of Saturday afternoons baking with your best friend, the hot cocoa reminding you of caroling with your youth group. Foods and feelings combine to create a unique situation where it’s not simply about the food on the plate. It’s about the palatability of nostalgia.
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