Brand Loyalty Begins at Home

Biting into a corned beef sandwich I instantly recalled the voice of my beloved, departed grandmother, bossing around the man behind the deli counter in her brash Brooklyn accent. “I want a pound of Swiss sliced thin enough to read a newspaper through it.”  She also often ordered – to our never-ending horror – tongue.  Actual cow’s tongue, displayed intact in the glass case like a ghastly hunting trophy. Luckily, there were other more pleasurable items to be had, of course – creamy potato salad, crisp and pungent cole slaw, and fresh chewy rye bread dotted with caraway seeds.

My earliest memory of a taste that made me sit up and take notice involved a popular sandwich spread. My mother was a Hellmann’s mayo woman all the way. I had never given much thought to mayo; it was just a regular household staple, like milk.  That all changed the day I had a tuna salad sandwich at Marcia Brown’s house. What was this delightfully tangy taste sensation that lingered upon my taste buds? I had to know. A jar of Miracle Whip was produced and I was hooked. I badgered my mother to buy it, to no avail. It was declared “sickeningly sweet” and unfit for our table, which of course only heightened my desire for it. I started to vet my playmates based upon the brand of sandwich spread they favored, and the likelihood of being offered lunch at their houses. I’m not sure when my lust for Miracle Whip waned, but now that I can purchase it myself, it no longer holds me in its thrall.

It was at another friend’s house that I discovered an even more tantalizing treat; grilled cheese with pickles cooked into the sandwich. This was a twist so shocking and bizarre that I was not bold enough to request it from my mother. It was a forbidden love I dared not mention. It was a love extinguished too soon, I regret, when my pal Martha moved away. I was never really sure if it was the loss of her company I mourned or my inability to recreate the yin and yang –sweet and salty, gooey and crunchy – of that amazing sandwich.

Other taste memories from my childhood probably match up more closely with those of my fellow survivors of the ‘70s. Remember Space Sticks? That wholesome snack of the astronauts? Dense, brown cylinders about the size of a number 2 pencil that smacked vaguely of waxy chocolate, individually wrapped in lightweight foil that was itself a modern marvel. And of course, Tang, the brilliantly hued powdered drink of the astronauts that was meant to replace a full serving of orange juice. It was like nothing anyone had ever had before, so completely unnatural in taste and appearance that it could only have been produced in a scientific laboratory. I have never since ingested a food with that intensity of color.

As an adult, I’d like to think I am now free to explore whatever foods I please, to go boldly where my taste buds have not gone. However, I am puzzled a bit when I pass up Peter Pan for Jiff, Miracle Whip for Hellmann’s, Kool-Aid for Cranapple. Was the power of my mother’s choices so indelible that I am not actually able to choose anything different? Maybe taste is really in the DNA and there is nothing we can do about it. Or, maybe the real legacy of the 1970’s was brand loyalty, which – like charity – begins at home.

Jennifer Proe is a feature writer for Shaker Life.  She lives in Shaker Heights Ohio with her husband, two daughters and two cats.  Her background is in marketing and communications.