Jar of mayonaise with 'mayo' labelApproximately one hundred years ago, when I took an intro to psychology class in college, my professor said he was going to do an experiment to show us why, if we went into psychology as a profession, we needed to know about a client’s history. The client, he told us, might insist that he was only seeing us for some recent trauma, but we needed to know more because without building a full picture of who they were, we could never understand their reactions nor help them to understand what they were going through.

In a class of about 125-150 students, he asked all the Christians to stand up. Not practicing, he said, but anyone who grew up with that background. Even if you wouldn’t mention it in general, just get on your feet. Probably 2/3 of the room stood up, maybe a bit more.

“Now,” he said, “if you’ve ever tried Miracle Whip, like it or not, remain standing.” Maybe one person sat down, but if they did, I didn’t notice.

“Okay,” he said. “Everyone sit down. People with Jewish backgrounds, on your feet.” I looked around at the other thirty or so people standing in that room with me and though to myself that Miracle Whip was disgusting, something I was certain of though I had never tried it myself.

“Same question,” he said. “If you’ve eaten Miracle Whip, remain standing.”

All of us sat down.

He went on to discuss why this was, the fact that Jewish culture, even in the most reformed communities, has had food restrictions for such a long time that they have become ingrained. Even when people who would eat a pork chop, or a bacon-cheeseburger, still wouldn’t eat any mayonnaise other than Hellman’s.

There was a lot more, too, but it’s been about a hundred years since my Freshman year in college. Still, the idea has stuck with me. So next time you’re writing a character, ask what foods s/he grew up with, and more importantly why. And don’t go for the easy answer.