Americans rank snails low, Mexican and Italian food high

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Of 1,540 adults queried in a Gallup poll on unpopular foods, 43 percent of them wouldn't touch snails, 41 percent wouldn't eat brains, and following in unpopularity were squid, shark, tripe, beef kidneys, beef tongue, oxtail, squab, and mussels. One might suppose that liver would be on this ``dislike list,'' but only 5 percent of us won't eat that item.

When it comes to a food with probably the most rapid rise in taste popularity, Northerners may be surprised at the US's secret taste treat -- catfish. Sixty percent have tried it and came back for more.

Food tastes are always changing, as is the American home. The kitchen, once the coziest and most aromatic room in the house, may now be uninhabited much of the day. The hours a homemaker has to spend in the kitchen have been greatly reduced. Frozen foods that have minimized cooking time were introduced just over 50 years ago; cake mixes a little over 30.

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Fifty years ago we bought our flour in 25-pound bags. Today the five-pound bag is the most popular; for households of one or two, the two-pound bag suffices.

All of this data indicates that there is much less cooking from scratch with many more breakfasts, lunches, and dinners eaten away from home, compared with the 25 percent of meals eaten out 20 years ago. Seventy-seven million of us eat out 3.5 times a week in one or more of the US's almost 300,000 restaurants.

Sixty percent of women work outside the home and will of necessity spend less time in the kitchen and probably eat breakfast or lunch, perhaps both, on their way to work or near their workplace. Over 40 percent of these meals will be eaten in fast-food restaurants to save time.

Those who eat out for enjoyment compose 23.4 percent of restaurant patrons, and most will opt for a family-type place. Forty-six percent of this group will choose an ``atmosphere'' restaurant.

The rest of those who eat out do so because they are traveling, attending business meetings, or shopping. Sixty-nine percent are celebrating and consequently are interested in ``atmosphere.''

There was a time when the term ``fast- food restaurant'' suggested burgers, fried chicken, or pizza. Now with more knowledge of various foods and interest in ethnic foods, most communities in the United States can provide eat-in or take-out places serving Mexican, Chinese, and Italian dishes, which are considered ``best'' by 80 percent of those surveyed by the National Restaurant Association.

It is not surprising that 94 percent of us have eaten Italian food judging by the preponderance of Italian restaurants and pizzerias across the US. Chinese and Mexican foods come next, with about the same percentage of people having sampled both. Only about 18 percent have sampled Middle Eastern food. Twelve percent have tasted Russian food, with African food well to the bottom of the list, having been sampled by only 5 percent of us.

Regional preferences can make quite a difference in the overall picture. Hush puppies, grits, and chitterlings won't have folks in New England standing in line, but they would sell like hot cakes in the South.

And while some Georgians consider red-eye gravy ``lickin' good,'' other Americans would turn their noses up at a concoction made of ham fat and thickened with flour.

Still, Americans nowadays are more open-minded and adventurous in their eating habits than they were 25 or even 10 years ago. In states where there's much ethnic diversity, it is possible to sample a wider variety of foods.

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