Food DIY Customization and Combinations

The Lempert Report
July 05, 2016

It this an American craze?

There are 87,000 combinations you can order at Starbucks and that’s just for beverages! Has customization gotten a bit carried away? Or are we just beginning? The Coke Freestyle machine offers 125 flavors but there are endless DIY combinations you can make. It this an American craze? Or as some may say a reflection of one’s own identity? 

A new book, Devoured, written by Sophie Egan a program director at the Culinary Institute of America focuses on what she calls the “a most American element of the American food psyche”: customization.

Along with Starbucks, Burger King is probably the most obvious example of this phenomenon, she tells The Atlantic with its famous “Have It Your Way” slogan.  In restaurants it is common to overhear patrons customizing their salads and main courses with sauces on the side, added or deleted ingredients and substitutions galore, forcing some restaurants to print on their menus – no substitutions allowed. 

In many other countries, this practice of tweaking your order, she reports, known as “cheffing,” would not stand. “We don’t feel we’re insulting anyone,” Egan says. “We feel we’re getting our money’s worth.”

Debra Zellner, a professor of psychology at Montclair State University suspects a lot of cheffing has to do not only with people’s personal preferences (and possibly, fear of trying new foods) but with people tailoring their meals to better fit the health fad of the moment.

We agree with one quote from Egan where she says that much of this is driven by the need of one to feel more important, or better than someone else when their needs are catered to.