The Baby Boomer generation grew up taking their little kids to McDonalds instead of to the local diner. What happens, one might ask, when all the kids of all the Boomers are grown and the Boomers are on their own? A recent visit to our local Panera reminded me of the answer to that questions.
It’s been obvious for a while that McDonalds and Panera and those other chain food restaurants that offer breakfast are the new version of the old-fashioned diner. Gone are the long counters with stools, gone are the sassy middle aged waitresses. The menu is now standardized, it may not be great but it’s consistent: you know exactly what you’re going to get even if it isn’t quite as yummy as momma made. Or maybe it’s better than momma made, if momma didn’t like to cook, or maybe if she took you out to McDonalds instead of cooking.
On a recent Saturday morning we actually went to a Panera shop for a bagel and coffee. I could not get over how jam packed the place was with seniors and middle aged folks idly enjoying their morning gab session with friends over a cuppa joe and a nosh. We don’t do all that many coffee shops, but it really struck me on that morning how much the fast food industry has done to change the landscape of dining options. And how we, as a population, have made it so.
Mind you, I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand why in the U.S. we seem to have Cheddar, Mozzarella, CoJack, and not many other kinds of cheese while in France they have more than 365 registered cheeses and more besides. I don’t understand why, in the face of infinite variables in cooking, the majority of the population would rather chow down on standardized fair with a minimum of choices. Just because we buy things that are mass produced by machines do we have to also eat mass produced food? Are we so brainwashed that we prefer uniformity to diversity?
And is that part of what carries over into our problems with human diversity? Do we not like people who are different from us for the same reason that we choose a breakfast muffin with sausage and cheese over a plate with eggs, cheese, and a slice of toast?
I don’t have the answer. But I do know that brains follow established pathways. We like our habits. And the things we choose we choose by force of habit. Maybe we are teaching ourselves to be increasingly less tolerant of all diversity by limiting what we eat to a narrow range of predefined choices?