How does that old saying go: you are when you eat? No, that's not it at all. I like to think that 'I am' even when I'm not eating. You are where you eat? No, that's not it either; that would make me a KFC. All right, so you know where I'm going with this, but how is it that you can be what you eat?
For years the expression has been in reference to physical fitness and health of body. For example, if all I eat are donuts then I'm going to see a donut around my midsection. I will become the donut. Of course, this way of thinking often leads to giggle fests in which we point at our friends and declare what foods they must be. It's all rather ridiculous when you think about it; I mean, sure a salad is healthy but ... who wants to be a salad? Apparently, there's a new twist on the old saying that makes a little more sense but is a lot less reliable—if not a little humorous.
Recent studies have been conducted which indicate that the foods we choose are related to our personality types. I've always known that my love for fast food was a direct reflection on my laziness but these new theories take it farther than that. In fact, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, the Neurological Director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, has been heading up such a study for the past eight years. In a recent interview with CBS News Early Show anchor Bryant Gumbel, Dr. Hirsch—in response to how he came about the idea to do the study—said, 'What we found after people lose their sense of smell and taste, they develop a variety of disorders and the idea came, there might be a link between food preferences and personality.'
So let's say that there is a link and I like certain foods because I am a certain way. Well, as Dr. Hirsch points out, people develop their food preferences between the ages of one and seven, which is the same general time that people's personalities begin to form. But is that really proof or just a coincidence? Aren't a lot of things decided in those first seven years of life?
Whether you believe in it or not, the study suggests that people who prefer potato chips are persistent and will vigorously go after what they want while cheese curl lovers tend to be reliable and contentious. It also names fans of meat snacks (such as beef jerky) as fun socialites; apparently meat snack eaters are the life of the party. Dr. Hirsch goes into the details of his study in his book: What Flavor is Your Personality?: Discover Who You Are by Looking at What You Eat. Also of interest, the Snack Food Association underwrote Dr. Hirsch's study—which answers the question: why pick snack food for a personality study?
With my interest peaked, I set out to discover other related theories, that is: food types as personality indicators. A University of Illinois marketing professor, Brian Wansink, did a study on soup choices and their reflection on one's personality. In an interview, Wansink said, 'Because soup is one of America's favorite comfort foods, we thought it would be interesting to examine personality types based on strongly expressed soup preferences.' The study focused on these four popular soups: chicken noodle, tomato, minestrone and vegetable. To put it simply, preferring chicken noodle means you're stubborn and religious; preferring minestrone means you're probably in good shape and enjoy a strong family spirit; preferring tomato soup means you're adventurous and social; preferring vegetable soup means you're a homebody.
However, that's not all I found on soup. One very amusing Web site—E.D. Foods—hosts a 'Soup Personality Survey' in which picking one of four ways you consume soup can give you insight into your personality. The four ways are: 'I eat my soup with a large spoon'; 'I eat my soup with a small spoon'; 'I drink my soup from a mug'; 'I drink my soup from a bowl.' I chose the small spoon option. I was quickly brought to a page that informed me that I was a 'Cautious Connoisseur.' According to the site, because I eat soup with a small spoon I tend 'to be cautious, can be relied on to do what is expected. Avoids making a fuss; can be behind-the-scenes organizers.' I have to say, it's pretty accurate. Then again, after taking the test three separate times, and choosing each answer once, I felt that they all applied to me in some way. After all, who doesn't like to think of one's self as a reliable organizer? I believe it's the same issue many have with horoscopes and fortunetellers—the results are too general.
So I guess I am what I eat, and you're what you eat, and White House interns are what they eat, but does it really matter what personality we have as long as there are people in our lives that enjoy spending time with us? If only changing our personalities was as easy as switching snack foods, everyone would be shopping for their partners and loved ones—picking out the foods they'd prefer to interact with. 'Here honey, I bought you some potato chips for that business meeting you have this morning and then some beef jerky to help you have fun at your ex's commitment ceremony.'