Mac N Cheese Please: A Lesson in Understanding Differences


Who knew mac n cheese could be so controversial? As a child, my memories of mac n cheese include only my mother’s carefully crafted homemade concoction with real white cheddar bubbling up along the sides of a CorningWare dish. That is until the summer of my eighth year when I joined a friend’s family for dinner. Her mother placed a bowl of elbow noodles coated in a bright, almost fluorescent, orange liquid in front of me - a far cry from sauce, in my young opinion. In all innocence, I asked, “what do you call this meal?” Her mom, looking puzzled, responded, “Well dear, it’s macaroni and cheese. Haven’t you ever had it before?” 


I stared at my bowl dumbfounded, silently questioning how anyone could call this mac n cheese? Nevertheless, I politely ate the orange noodles masquerading as macaroni and cheese. Years later I would understand that when prompted with the words, "mac n cheese", not everyone envisions a baked noodle casserole oozing with real cheese. Some people picture the word, Kraft, written across a blue box.

From an early age we become accustomed to the food, traditions, and styles introduced in our homes. The whats, hows, and whys of life are initially shaped by that which is familiar and framed by what takes place in our families. Our earliest memories are likely peppered with the foods, styles, and traditions around which our families were centered. If those memories are positive, when confronted with an idea outside of what's familiar, the memory is often viewed as negative. To encounter a foreign way of doing something is to lift the veil, exposing our limited thinking. 

Is boxed mac n cheese wrong? Of course not. There's no right and wrong when it comes to noodles and cheese, only subjective opinion. But my reaction to the noodles from a box coated in orange told me otherwise. It felt wrong, because it was different.

Does homemade mac n cheese taste better than its boxed counterpart? I’d answer with an emphatic “heck yeah.” That is unless I’m pregnant. When with child there’s something about that powdered cheese that I crave. As it turns out, people hold some pretty strong opinions when it comes to noodles and cheese. Some prefer it homemade, some the gourmet alternative such as lobster mac n cheese, and some feel comforted by the boxed version.

These preferences may be based in familiarity, taste, or even convenience. I may have looked down my nose at that Kraft mac n cheese as a kid, but now as busy mom, there are nights where I say, give me the box. Sometimes convenience trumps taste as the reigning value of the moment.

So, the next time I find myself faced with a situation or idea that feels strange, I’m going to run it through the mac n cheese test - does it feel weird simply because it’s different or unfamiliar to me? If I acknowledge that my aversion to an idea is connected to my lack of familiarity with it, then I might view it with more openness and less disdain. If I learn more about a tradition or way of doing something, and why others choose it, my circle of familiarity expands. And perhaps, like boxed mac n cheese, I might even choose it myself some day.