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Travel Nevada, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Travel Nevada, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The Best Diner in All 50 States

Travel Nevada, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Travel Nevada, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Diners have played a big part in the history of American dining, but they’re not just a relic of the past. Today’s diners serve tasty, inexpensive food that hearkens back to a simpler time. From greasy spoons in small towns to famous restaurants in bigger cities, here are some of the best diners in all 50 states.

1. ALABAMA // SALEM'S DINER

Location: Homewood, Alabama

Famous for its mouthwatering cheesesteak, Salem's Diner has delighted customers with diner staples such as hot cakes and Philly cheesesteak since 2006. Be sure to also get Salem's hash browns, which online reviewers describe as perfectly seasoned.

2. ALASKA // CITY DINER

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

The good food, friendly service, and '50s vibe make City Diner the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing meal. You can chow down on everything from blueberry hot cakes and white cheddar grits to short rib hash and reindeer sausage.

3. ARIZONA // COFFEE POT RESTAURANT

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Named after Coffee Pot Rock, the scenic red rock formation behind the diner, Coffee Pot Restaurant specializes in delicious breakfast and lunch food. Sip a cup of freshly ground Colombian coffee as you decide which of the 101 distinct omelets, from ham and cheese to peanut butter and jelly, you feel like ordering.

4. ARKANSAS // NEIGHBORHOOD DINER

Location: Harrison, Arkansas

If you’re craving simple, down-home diner fare, look no further than Neighborhood Diner. Since 1952, this unpretentious spot has proudly served American staples such as meatloaf, grits, and Frito pie. The chicken-fried steak is particularly popular; it’s hand-battered and comes with hash browns mixed with onions and jalapeños.

5. CALIFORNIA // MARLENE & GLEN'S DEAD FLY DINER

Location: Plymouth, California

Located off of Highway 49 in northern California, this diner will satisfy your breakfast and lunch needs, thanks to its 12 eggs Benedict dishes, dozens of burgers, and addictive jalapeño poppers. The classic diner décor is great, too, with its black and red checkered floor, red booths, and cute counter stools.

6. COLORADO // SAM'S NO. 3

Location: Multiple locations, Colorado

With locations in Glendale, Aurora, and Denver, Sam’s No. 3 boasts a huge menu of tasty dishes that will fill you up. Favorites include the breakfast burritos, Country Fried Steak Skillet, and the Pecan Waffle Sandwich, which is topped with two eggs and your choice of breakfast meat.

7. CONNECTICUT // VERNON DINER

Location: Vernon, Connecticut

Vernon dIner
Yelp, Steven P.

Vernon Diner sells quesadillas, paninis, and wraps galore, but their desserts are in a league of their own. Besides the dozens of cakes, pies, and cheesecakes from which to choose, there’s even an espresso milk shake, made with espresso, chocolate ice cream and syrup, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry.

8. DELAWARE // SEAFORD EAGLE DINER

Location: Seaford, Delaware

Seaford Eagle Diner is the perfect spot to enjoy an unpretentious, no-frills meal with good friends and family. Open seven days a week, the restaurant excels with simple, down home food such as the Creamed Chipped Beef, Cheese Steak Hoagie, and Homemade Rice Pudding with whipped cream and raisins.

9. FLORIDA // 11TH STREET DINER

Location: Miami Beach, Florida

11th Street Diner
Yelp, Michael U.

At 11th Street Diner, a classic railroad car, breakfast is served all day and (bonus!) there’s a full bar. While the retro diner serves the standard hamburgers, fries, and shakes, customers also rave about the honey grilled barbecue wings and Argentinian skirt steak.

10. GEORGIA // MARIETTA DINER

Location: Marietta, Georgia

This large, bustling, 24-hour restaurant serves upscale specials ranging from veal piccata to chicken fettuccine alfredo to rainbow trout almondine, though you might not guess it from the multi-colored neon lighting outside. Opened since 1995, the diner also has an impressive dessert case with cakes, pies, and cheesecakes galore.

11. HAWAII // DOWNBEAT DINER & LOUNGE

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii

Downbeat Diner
Yelp, Quyen N.

Downbeat Diner serves classic diner food made with high quality ingredients. Start with the Chili Cheese Fries and Pesto Chicken Salad, or try the Teriyaki Burger for a Hawaiian spin on the standard hamburger. The diner is next door to Downbeat Lounge, a bar and live music venue where you can sip cocktails and catch performances four to five times a week.

12. IDAHO // JIMMY'S DOWN THE STREET

Location: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Jimmy's Down The Street in downtown Coeur d’Alene may be Idahoans’ favorite diner, bar none. More than 50 years ago, it opened in its current location as a soda shop, and today it serves southern comfort food such as chicken fried steak, pecan rolls, corned beef, and biscuits and gravy. There’s usually a line of people on weekends, so get there early.

13. ILLINOIS // THE 50'S DINER

Location: Peoria, Illinois

When you’re in the mood for Americana nostalgia, head to The 50's Diner, a spot that plays oldies songs and serves bottomless coffee. Daily specials include Swiss Steak and Beef Tips and Noodles, which you can finish off with Funnel Cake Fries or a classic chocolate malt. And, there's an adjoining gift shop so you can shop after eating.

14. INDIANA // EDWARDS DRIVE-IN

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Edwards Drive-In has a long history that dates back to 1957. Today, customers can eat burgers, sandwiches, and corn dogs (and wash them down with a growler of root beer) in the retro dining room or opt for curb service (carhops included). The side of Breaded Pickles is always a hit.

15. IOWA // THE BLUEBIRD DINER

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

This Midwestern soul food spot opened in 2008 and has been delighting hungry guests ever since. Highlights of The Bluebird Diner's creative menu include the buttermilk French toast and Green Chili with Smoked Pork soup.

16. KANSAS // PARADISE DINER

Location: Overland Park, Kansas

Paradise Diner provides an upscale, modern take on classic American diner favorites. The Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff and Chicken Fried Steak aren’t too greasy, and recipes are made with local, sustainable meat and eggs.

17. KENTUCKY // RICK'S WHITE LIGHT DINER

Location: Frankfort, Kentucky

Ricks White Light Diner

Christopher, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Built in 1943, Rick’s White Light Diner is the oldest restaurant in Frankfort, and it's stuck around for good reason. Customers chow down on Cajun omelets, beignets, and jambalaya, and the small dining area creates a social, friendly atmosphere.

18. LOUISIANA // LIZ'S WHERE Y'AT DINER

Location: Mandeville, Louisiana

Liz Munson worked as a waitress for 15 years before opening her own restaurant, Liz’s Where Y’at Diner. Favorite breakfast items include three egg scramblers, a variety of Benedicts, and shrimp and grits.

19. MAINE // MOODY'S DINER

Location: Waldoboro, Maine

The story of Moody’s Diner goes way back to 1927, when Percy and Bertha Moody opened three cabins and, the next year, a lunch wagon. Today, the Moodys's great-grandchildren continue their legacy, serving simple meals such as pastrami and Swiss on grilled rye bread. Moody’s chocolate and pumpkin Whoopie Pies are so popular that the restaurant ships them all over the continental U.S.

20. MARYLAND // THE BLUE MOON CAFE

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Blue Moon Diner
Yelp, Janine T.

Located in Fells Point, The Blue Moon Cafe specializes in creative breakfast dishes, from Captain Crunch French Toast to bacon and apple pancakes. The potato cakes are killer and are served with bacon, peppers, onions, applesauce, and sour cream.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // MIKE’S CITY DINER

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Mike’s City Diner has served huge portions of delicious grub for nearly two decades. The Pilgrim Sandwich, a Thanksgiving-inspired sandwich with homemade cranberry sauce, is massively popular, but Mike’s also offers an amazing French Toast dish. Diagonal slices of French bread are dipped in a mixture of egg, milk, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and vanilla, then topped with bananas, strawberries, and blueberries.

22. MICHIGAN // THE LESLIE DEPOT DINER

Location: Leslie, Michigan

Located next to the Michigan Central Railroad tracks, this converted train depot serves everything from onion straws and chicken strips to deep fried pretzels and country-fried steak. If you have a hankering for a sugary breakfast, get the BTS Waffle, a huge waffle topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, pecans, hot fudge, caramel, and a cherry.

23. MINNESOTA // BAND BOX DINER

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Bandbox Diner
Yelp, Dan C.

This small diner, the last surviving location of a Minneapolis diner chain that was popular in the '50s and '60s, serves fantastic breakfast entrees and burgers. Order the much lauded Lunch Box Burger, a cheeseburger with coleslaw and Shoestring fries.

24. MISSISSIPPI // COUNTRY DINER

Location: Foxworth, Mississippi

Customers rave about the roadside Country Diner as the best spot to find authentic, home-style southern cooking. It’s not fancy, but the otherworldly flavors of the fried chicken, collard greens, and corn bread speak for themselves.

25. MISSOURI // MEL'S HARD LUCK DINER

Location: Branson, Missouri

If music and food go hand in hand for you, head to Mel’s Hard Luck Diner. Waitresses sing as they walk around the restaurant, and customers rave about the chili cheeseburger and onion rings. Pretzel lovers should order Mel’s Hard Luck Pretzel Burger, a half-pound patty with onions, bacon, and nacho cheese that comes on a perfectly cooked pretzel bun.

26. MONTANA // WOLFER'S DINER

Location: Havre, Montana

Wolfer's Diner is a '50s inspired spot complete with a jukebox and posters of old film stars on the walls. Each morning, chefs cut and grind locally sourced beef to make the burgers, and the hand-scooped milkshakes are divine.

27. NEBRASKA // LINCOLN HIGHWAY DINER

Location: North Platte, Nebraska

Locals love the Lincoln Highway Diner, a down-to-earth eatery that prides itself on fast, friendly service. Whether you order the corned beef hash, French toast, or hot roast beef sandwich, you can't go wrong.

28. NEVADA // THE GRIDDLE

Location: Winnemucca, Nevada


Travel Nevada, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Since 1948, customers have flocked to The Griddle for homemade meals made with quality ingredients. Don’t miss out on the cream cheese-filled Pecan Crepes, which are topped with chopped pecans and a sweet, salty, bacon caramel sauce.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // LITTLETON DINER

Location: Littleton, New Hampshire

Since 1930, Littleton Diner has served home cooked meals to customers from all over New England. Politicians including John Edwards, Mitt Romney, John Kerry, and John McCain have visited the diner, which serves specials such as ribs with potatoes and corned beef hash.

30. NEW JERSEY // POMPTON QUEEN DINER

Location: Pompton Plains, New Jersey

New Jersey has tons of great diners, but Pompton Queen might be the best. Opened in 1987, the diner serves breakfast all day and is (thankfully) open 24/7/365. Our recommendation? Start with the Cheddar Jalapeño Poppers, move on to the Crab Cake Sliders, and top it all off with a gooey Fudge Brownie Sundae.

31. NEW MEXICO // THE PANTRY

Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Since 1948, The Pantry has put a Southwestern twist on classic American diner food. The family-owned spot makes amazing buttermilk pancakes stuffed with berries and whipped cream, as well as a Huevos Rancheros dish with perfect proportions of eggs, fries, beans, chile, and cheese.

32. NEW YORK // LAKE EFFECT DINER

Location: Buffalo, New York

Lake Effect Diner
Yelp, Kelly K.

Housed in a restored dining car from the '50s, Lake Effect Diner is the epitome of authenticity. The diner smokes and cures meat from local farms, bakes its own baguettes, and even has the Guy Fieri stamp of approval. Don’t miss out on the Berry and Quinoa Granola Pancakes, a stack of three pancakes served with berries, maple butter, and whipped cream.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // TRUE FLAVORS DINER

Location: Durham, North Carolina

This inventive spot near Research Triangle Park offers customers sophisticated twists on classic diner food. Case in point? The house special, Howling Moon French, consists of buttermilk battered French Toast served with vanilla bean ice cream, brown sugar, and a moonshine sauce from North Carolina’s own Howling Moon Distillery.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // THE SHACK ON BROADWAY

Location: Fargo, North Dakota

If you have a hankering for delicious diner grub, look no further than The Shack On Broadway. Order the Hooligan Omelet for a taste of The Shack’s homemade chili, or get a strawberry or blueberry shake or malt. Besides regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare, the diner also offers a kid’s menu and a senior menu, so everyone in your party will be happy.

35. OHIO // NUTCRACKER FAMILY RESTAURANT

Location: Pataskala, Ohio

Nutcracker Family Restaurant
Yelp, Giovanna A.

This retro, '50s style diner features great coffee, homemade pies, and a bunch of colorful nutcrackers on display. Although it was once an ice cream parlor, Nutcracker Family Restaurant now serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To thank people who have served our country, the restaurant lets veterans eat free each Veteran's Day and the day after Memorial Day.

36. OKLAHOMA // SID'S DINER

Location: El Reno, Oklahoma

This greasy spoon outside Oklahoma City is serious about burgers. Specifically, Sid's is serious about the Fried Onion Burger, a beef patty with caramelized onions cooked into the beef and topped with pickles and mustard. Enjoy a thick milkshake and handful of piping hot fries with your burger, and marvel at the hundreds of old photos of life in Oklahoma that are on display.

37. OREGON // PATTIE’S HOME PLATE CAFE

Location: Portland, Oregon

When you dine at Pattie’s Home Plate Cafe, you’ll feel like you’re in a small town where everyone knows one another. Besides their heavenly biscuits and gravy, Pattie’s is famous for the quirky mannequins positioned throughout the restaurant.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // DINER 248

Location: Easton, Pennsylvania

Diner 248
Yelp, Starvos G.

With its rotating menu of daily specials, Diner 248 keeps guests’ taste buds and stomachs satisfied. Try the egg and cheese sandwich, served with fresh cut home fries, and save room for a slice or two of the chocolate peanut butter pie.

39. RHODE ISLAND // THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE DINER

Location: Exeter, Rhode Island

The best diners promise good comfort food and friendly service, and The Middle of Nowhere Diner is no exception. Its impressive menu offers tasty burgers and sandwiches, but don’t overlook the Belgian waffles. They come with your choice of toppings including blueberries, strawberries, peaches, chocolate, and bananas.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // EARLY BIRD DINER

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

Locating on the Savannah Highway, Early Bird Diner serves southern comfort food such as steak and eggs, a catfish po' boy, and country fried steak. Be sure to check out the diner’s walls, which feature cool artwork from local artists.

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // PHILLIPS AVENUE DINER

Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Phillips Avenue Diner

Richie Diesterheft, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Phillips Avenue Diner in downtown Sioux Falls is all about fun. Monday nights are Burger Night, Wednesdays are Waffle Wednesdays, and you can watch milkshakes being made if you sit at the counter. Don’t miss the Banana Bread French Toast, which comes with bananas and a sweet whipped topping.

42. TENNESSEE // ELLISTON PLACE SODA SHOP

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

At Elliston Place Soda Shop, which has been open for more than 75 years, the biscuits are warm and the service is friendly. Grab a seat at the counter to enjoy a butterscotch malt, or get the tuna melt and chili cheese fries for a more filling meal.

43. TEXAS // ORIGINAL MARKET DINER

Location: Dallas, Texas

Since 1954, Original Market Diner has morphed from a drive-in to a burger shop to a sandwich spot. Today, the diner serves simple, classic food to hungry Texans. Order an Old Fashioned Sugar Cane Soda, and don’t miss out on the Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Bread French Toast.

44. UTAH // RUTH'S DINER

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Ruths Diner
Yelp, Gina S.

Started in 1930 by a cabaret singer named Ruth, Ruth's Diner has become the best spot to grab diner chow. The outdoor patio has plenty of shade and seating, but the menu is equally impressive. Try the Pulled Pork Benedict, Cinnamon Roll French Toast, or Reuben sandwich.

45. VERMONT // CHELSEA ROYAL DINER

Location: West Brattleboro, Vermont

You’ll eat like royalty at Chelsea Royal Diner, a vintage diner near Vermont’s Green Mountains. The menu features eggs and vegetables from the restaurant’s own backyard garden, and you can’t go wrong with the homemade ice cream, which comes in flavors such as Key Lime Pie and Rum Raisin.

46. VIRGINIA // METRO 29

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Since 1995, Metro 29 has given customers the delicious food and friendly service that befits a great diner. Whet your appetite with a basket of onion rings before moving on to the Triple Decker Chicken Salad Sandwich. The restaurant is open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight, and the on-site bakery offers a variety of pastries, cakes, and pies.

47. WASHINGTON // BIG AL'S DINER

Location: Blaine, Washington

Located in northern Washington, Big Al's Diner puts the joy into simple, comforting breakfast and lunch fare. As you eat everything from French toast and pancakes to omelets, burgers, and sandwiches, make sure to save room for a slice of apple pie or a root beer float.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // MOUNTAIN VIEW DINER

Location: Charles Town, West Virginia

Owned by a Greek family, Mountain View Diner serves omelets and corned beef hash alongside Spanakopita and Moussaka. And thanks to the diner’s in-house bakery, you can pick up decadent chocolate, red velvet, and carrot cakes on your way out.

49. WISCONSIN // MISS KATIE'S DINER

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Named after the owners’ grandmother Katherine, Miss Katie's Diner is a '50s themed diner that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. Located near the I-94, the diner has hosted politicians including Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, and John Kerry. You can’t go wrong with the Corned Beef Hash Skillet, vanilla shake, or the cinnamon roll.

50. WYOMING // JOHNNY J'S DINER

Location: Casper, Wyoming

With two locations in Casper, Johnny J’s is your best bet for an authentic '50s diner experience. Sip a French Vanilla Cappuccino between bites of Banana Pecan Pancakes, and take in the colorful, retro vibe of the place.

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The Science Behind Why We Crave Loud and Crunchy Foods
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A number of years ago, food giant Unilever polled consumers asking how the company might improve their popular line of Magnum ice cream bars. The problem, respondents said, was that the chocolate coating of the bars tended to fall off too quickly, creating blotches of sticky goo on carpeting. Unilever reacted by changing the recipe to make the chocolate less prone to spills.

When they tested the new and improved product, they expected a warm reception. Instead, they got more complaints than before. While the updated bar didn’t make a mess, it also didn’t make the distinctive crackle that its fans had grown accustomed to. Deprived of hearing the coating collapse and crumble, the experience of eating the ice cream was fundamentally changed. And not for the better.

Smell and taste researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D. refers to it as the “music of mastication,” an auditory accompaniment to the sensory stimulus of eating. “For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness,” he tells Mental Floss. Humans love crunchy, noisy snacks, that loud rattling that travels to our inner ear via air and bone conduction and helps us identify what it is we’re consuming. Depending on the snack, the noise can reach 63 decibels. (Normal conversations are around 60 dB; rustling leaves, 20 dB.)

When we hear it, we eat more. When we don’t—as in the case of Magnum bars, or a soggy, muted potato chip—we resort to other senses, looking at our food with doubt or sniffing it for signs of expiration. Psychologically, our lust for crispy sustenance is baked in. But why is it so satisfying to create a cacophony of crunch? And if we love it so much, why do some of us actually grow agitated and even aggressive when we hear someone loudly chomping away? It turns out there’s a lot more to eating with our ears than you might have heard.

 
 

The science of crunch has long intrigued Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Food companies have enlisted him and consulted his research across the spectrum of ingestion, from packaging to shapes to the sound chips make rustling around in grocery carts.

“We’re not born liking noisy foods,” he tells Mental Floss. “Noise doesn’t give a benefit in terms of nutrition. But we don’t like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important.”

In 2003, Spence decided to investigate the sonic appeal of chips in a formal setting. To keep a semblance of control, he selected Pringles, which are baked uniformly—a single Pringle doesn't offer any significant difference in size, thickness, or crunch from another. He asked 20 research subjects to bite into 180 Pringles (about two cans) while seated in a soundproof booth in front of a microphone. The sound of their crunching was looped back into a pair of headphones.

After consuming the cans, they were asked if they perceived any difference in freshness or crispness from one Pringle to another. What they didn’t know was that Spence had been playing with the feedback in their headphones, raising or lowering the volume of their noisy crunching [PDF]. At loud volumes, the chips were reported to be fresher; chips ingested while listening at low volume were thought to have been sitting out longer and seemed softer. The duplicitous sounds resulted in a radical difference in chip perception. It may have been a small study, but in the virtually non-existent field of sonic chip research, it was groundbreaking.

A view inside a potato chip bag
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For Spence, the results speak to what he considers the inherent appeal of crunchy foods. “Noisy foods correlate with freshness,” he says. “The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it’s retained. It’s telling us what’s in the food.”

Naturally, this signal becomes slightly misguided when it reinforces the quality of a potato chip, a processed slab of empty calories. But Spence has a theory on this, too: “The brain likes fat in food, but it’s not so good at detecting it through our mouths. Noisy foods are certainly fattier on average.”

Fatty or fresh, raising decibels while eating may also have roots in less appetizing behaviors. For our ancestors who ate insects, the crunch of a hard-bodied cricket symbolized nourishment. In a primal way, violently mincing food with our teeth could also be a way to vent and dilute aggression. “There are some psychoanalytic theories related to crunchiness and aggressive behavior,” Hirsch says. “When you bite into ice or potato chips, you’re sublimating that in a healthy way.”

 
 

All of these factors explain why crunch appeals to us. But is it actually affecting what we taste?

Yes—but maybe not the way you’d think. “Sound affects the experience of food,” Spence says. “The noise draws attention to the mouth in the way something silent does not. If you’re eating pâté, your attention can drift elsewhere, to a television or to a dining companion. But a crunch will draw your attention to what you’re eating, making you concentrate on it. Noisy foods make you think about them.”

That crunch can also influence how much food we consume. Because noisy foods tend to be fatty, Spence says, they’ll retain their flavor longer. And because the noise reinforces our idea of what we’re eating, it affords us a sense of security that allows us to keep consuming without having to look at our snack—not so important in a brightly-lit room, but crucial if we’re in a dark movie theater. “It becomes more important when you can’t see what you’re eating,” Spence says.

Thanks to this hard-wired feedback, the snack industry has made it a priority to emphasize the sounds of their foods in both development and marketing. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay funded extensive work at a Dallas plant that involved $40,000 chewing simulators. There, they discovered the ideal breaking point for a chip was four pounds per square inch (PSI), just a fraction of what we might need to tear into a steak (150 to 200 PSI). The quality and consistency of the potatoes themselves is also key, according to Herbert Stone, Ph.D., a food scientist who has worked with companies on product development. “Too thick, too hard, and people don’t like them,” Stone tells Mental Floss. “Too thin and they just crumble.”

The right potato sliced at the right thickness with the right oil at the right temperature results in a solid chip—one resilient enough to make for a satisfying break when it hits your molars, but vanishing so quickly that your brain and body haven’t even processed the calories you’ve just taken in. “If they pick it up and put it in the mouth and the crunch is not what they expect, they might put it down,” Stone says. “It’s about expectation.”

A shopper examines a bag of potato chips
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Walk down the snack aisle in your local supermarket or glance at commercials and you’ll find no shortage of claims about products being the boldest, crunchiest chip available. For years, Frito-Lay marketed Cheetos as “the cheese that goes crunch!” Even cereals try to capitalize on the fervor, making mascots—Snap, Crackle, and Pop—out of the sound their Rice Krispies make when submerged in milk. One ad for a brand of crisps drew attention for “cracking” the viewer’s television screen.

For most consumers, the promise of sonic flavor will draw their attention. But for a small number of people diagnosed with a condition dubbed misophonia, the sound of a co-worker or partner crunching on chips isn’t at all pleasurable. It’s insufferable.

 
 

According to Connecticut audiologist Natan Bauman, M.D., the average noise level of someone masticating a potato chip is between 25 to 35 decibels. (Other sources peg it as closer to 63 dB when you're chewing on a chip with your mouth open, or 55 dB with your lips closed.) When you hear your own chewing, the sound is being conducted both via the air and your own bones, giving it a distinctively unique sound. (Like talking, hearing yourself chewing on a recording might be troubling.)

For someone suffering from misophonia, or the literal hatred of specific sounds, it's not their own chomping that's the problem. It's everyone else's.

When we chew, Bauman says, the auditory cortical and limbic system areas of our brain are lighting up, getting information about freshness and texture. But people with misophonia aren’t struggling with their own sounds. Instead, they're affected by others typing, clicking pens, or, more often, chewing. The sound of someone snacking is routed from the cochlea, or cavity in the inner ear, and becomes an electric signal that winds up in the brain’s amygdala, which processes fear and pleasure. That's true for everyone, but in misophonics, it lands with a thud. They’ve likely developed a trigger, or negative association, with the sounds stemming from an incident in childhood.

“If you are scolded by a parent and they happen to be eating, or smacking, it becomes negative reinforcement,” Bauman says. Chewing, lip smacking, and even breathing become intolerable for sufferers, who often feel agitated and nervous, with corresponding increases in heart rate. Some fly into a rage.

Misophonics don’t necessarily recoil at all of these sounds all of the time: It may depend on who’s doing the snacking. Often, it’s a co-worker, spouse, or family member munching away that prompts a response. Fearing they’ll damage that relationship, sufferers tend to vent online. The misophonia subreddit is home to threads with titles like “And the popcorn eater sits RIGHT next to me on the plane” and “Chips can go f-ck themselves.” (The entire content of the latter: “F-ck chips, man. That is all.”)

Bauman says misophonia can be treated using cognitive therapy. An earpiece can provide white noise to reduce trigger sounds while sufferers try to retrain their brain to tolerate the noises. But even the sight of a bag of chips can be enough to send them scrambling.

People with misophonia might also want to exercise caution when traveling. Although some Asian cultures minimize crunchy snacks because loud snacking is considered impolite, other parts of the world can produce noisier mealtimes. “In parts of Asia, you show appreciation for food by slurping,” Spence says. Slurping is even associated with a more intense flavor experience, particularly when it’s in the setting of a comparatively quiet dining establishment.

Western culture favors noisier restaurants, and there’s a good reason for that. Supposedly Hard Rock Café has mastered the art of playing loud and fast music, resulting in patrons who talked less, ate faster, and left more quickly, allowing operators to turn over tables more times in an evening.

Spence believes sound will continue to be important to gastronomy, to chefs, and to food companies looking to sell consumers on a complete experience. Snack shelves are now full of air-puffed offerings like 3-D Doritos and Pop Chips that create pillows of taste. With less volume, you’ll snack more and crunch for longer periods.

A woman snacks on a chip
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But the sound of the chip is just one part of the equation. The way a bag feels when you pick it up at the store, the aroma that wafts out when you first open the bag, the concentration of flavor from the granules of seasoning on your fingers—it’s all very carefully conducted to appeal to our preferences.

“When we hear the rattle of crisps, it may encourage people to start salivating, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Spence says, referring to the Russian scientist who trained his canines to salivate when he made a certain sound. We’re conditioned to anticipate the flavor and enjoyment of chips as soon as we pick up a package. Even hearing or saying the words crispy and crunchy can prime us for the experience.

When we’re deprived of that auditory cue, we can get annoyed. After news reports emerged that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi had mentioned her company might consider a quieter version of Doritos for women—an idea PepsiCo later denied they would label in a gender-specific fashion—women Doritos enthusiasts rallied around the Texas state capitol, condemning the perceived gender discrimination. To protest the possible dilution of their favorite snack, they made a spectacle of crunching Doritos as loudly as they could.

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London Grocery Chain Encourages Shoppers to Bring Their Own Tupperware
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Why stop at bringing your own grocery bags to the store? One London grocery wants you to BYO-Tupperware. The London Evening Standard reports that a UK chain called Planet Organic has partnered with Unpackaged—a company dedicated to sustainable packaging—to install self-serve bulk-food dispensers where customers can fill their own reusable containers with dry goods, cutting down on plastic packaging waste.

To use the system, customers walk up and weigh their empty container at a self-serve station, printing and attaching a label with its tare weight. Then, they can fill it with flour, nuts, or other kinds of dry goods, weigh it again, and print the price tag before taking it up to the check out. (Regular customers only have to weigh their containers once, since they can save the peel-off label to use again next time.)

Planet Organic is offering cereals, legumes, grains, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and even some cleaning products in bulk as part of this program, significantly reducing the amount of waste shoppers would otherwise be taking home on each grocery trip.

Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up in Europe for several years. These shops, like Berlin's Original Unverpackt, don't offer any bags or containers, asking customers bring their own instead. This strategy also encourages people to buy only what they need, which eliminates food waste—there's no need to buy a full 5-pound bag of flour if you only want to make one cake.

The concept is also gaining traction in North America. The no-packaging grocery store in.gredients opened in Austin, Texas in 2011. The Brooklyn store Package Free, opened in 2017, takes the idea even further, marketing itself as a one-stop shop for "everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle." It sells everything from tote bags to laundry detergent to dental floss.

[h/t London Evening Standard]

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