The Taste of Nostalgia

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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Cari McGee

My full name is Carol Marie McGann McGee. Most people just call me Cari. But, I answer to Pumpkin (my mom calls me that), Carol Love (from my brothers), Love (what my husband calls me), McGee (many of my real estate colleagues call me that) and, my favorite title, Mom.I love to read, run, and sell real estate. And laugh. I really love to laugh.

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  • This is my favorite post so far. I agree 100%! The taste of a soy burger instantly puts me back in my high school cafeteria. I find the same phenomenon with music. A certain song can make you feel 12 years old again. It can take you back to a specific time and location complete with all the feelings that accompanied that point in your life. Music pairs with experiences in a way that acts like a trigger, allowing you to relive certain emotions (good and bad) with the simple push of a play button.

  • Steve – thanks so much! I think it’s so interesting that a taste, smell, or song can instantly catapult you back to another time. It’s like time travel without a DeLorean!

  • Yep, I can’t eat popcorn and drink hot chocolate without thinking about my college roommate. That was our evening tradition one summer we worked there between school years. (I know, hot chocolate in the summer sounds odd, but it was Canada, what can I say?)

    Or A&W burgers. That’s another big one that transports me back to high school. And Tim Horton’s donuts. Oh no. Now look what you started, Cari! Good thing we’re going to Canada in a month!

  • Ha! Sorry?? šŸ˜‰

  • No need to apologize! šŸ˜€

  • Fun read. It’s interesting how some people have a taste for nostalgia more than others. I know some people who have no use for it and don’t get excited about stuff like this at all, while others almost seem to want things to be nostalgic before they’ve even had a chance to age properly.

  • Cari: I know I already told you in person what a great post this was. But it’s nice to have it in writing: LOVE this. I kind of feel nostalgic 40% of the time. šŸ˜‰

  • I love this “while others almost seem to want things to be nostalgic before they’ve even had a chance to age properly.”. That’s very true. But I think, sometimes, we do have those moments when you just KNOW it’s going to be a moment you look back on years later and you can say to yourself “that was a great moment”.

  • Thanks, Elsie! It’s funny – I think we actually feel more nostalgic when we’re younger, and have less to be nostalgic about. I think that as we navigate through adulthood, nostalgia serves as a touchstone for us. Something to hold on to for a second to remind us who we are and where we’ve been, then we can go confidently forward. Thanks, again!

  • Absolutely!