Thursday, May 08, 2008

Would you like fries (or onion rings, cheese sticks or buffalo drum-ettes) with that?

If you hand me a palmful of M&Ms, you may not initially notice anything out of the ordinary about the way I eat them. I don't toss them back the way a lot of people do, but that's not too strange. Watch me long enough, though, and you'll see that I actually choose which colors to eat first.

I guess some people do that too. But they're more likely to do it with candies that have flavors assigned to colors, right? I get that. I do it, too. For instance, Skittles -- I will happily eat all the red and purple ones out of any bag, leaving the citrus ones for my less-finicky husband. Gummi bears -- once again, I'll steal the red ones right out from under your nose so fast, you won't have time to say "Hello, Kitty." Lots of people have particular favorite flavors when it comes to fruit candies. And when it comes to chocolate, some even profess to like the green M&Ms more than the others. I worked with a woman who claimed that she could taste the difference between M&M colors (she was actually surprisingly good at it when we conducted a blind taste test).

Stay with me. My order of operations isn't about what M&M colors I do and don't like. It's not about flavor at all. It's about options.

See, when you hand me a bunch of M&Ms, you're not so much handing me "some candy" as you are offering me a *collection* of candy colors. And what's the hallmark of a collection? Variety, and completeness. So my preferred method of eating M&Ms is to visually assess which color has the most representation in the bunch, then start with that color. After I've eaten a couple candies (say, of the orange persuasion), I'll reassess. Brown dominates? Brown gets eaten next. My aim is to end up toward the conclusion of my snack with a complete set of M&Ms, one in every color. And from there I get even more picky.

In your standard, non-seasonal M&M collection, you've got brown, red, orange, yellow, green and blue. (I miss tan, by the way.) Because brown doesn't add too much (to me) to the color spectrum, I'll eat the last remaining brown one first. That leaves me with another set of options. Do I eat the remaining colors in "ROY G BIV" rainbow-spectrum order? Do I eat the cool colors first (green and blue), leaving the warmer colors for last, or vice versa? Do I get down to the basics by trying to end up with the three primary colors at the end (yellow, red and blue)? For that matter, do I consider "primary" colors to mean "primary" as in art (the above three), or "primary" as in the components of light (in which case it would be red, blue and green)? Do I eat the non-traffic light colors first, so that I end up with red, yellow and green? You see my dilemma.

The thing is, this weirdness isn't just limited to M&Ms (though M&Ms do seem to offer me the most choices in terms of how weird to get, don't they? I just re-read the paragraph above. Wow. That's a lot of crazy). I do this when I choose a cookie out of a variety pack, a Hershey's Miniature out of a selection, an appetizer off of a plate of assorted savories. My primary aim? To preserve as much choice for as long as possible. It's probably why I love buffets -- to me, a buffet represents not so much an opportunity to get as much food as possible for the money, but a chance to sample a nearly infinitely-supplied range of food for as long as I have the appetite. Growing up, my extended family members were always chiding me for eating just one plateful of food when we'd go to our favorite Indian restaurant for the Sunday buffet lunch. "You're wasting money!" they'd exclaim. But I was satisfied on so many levels with just one plate -- because I'd filled it with exactly what I liked, which on some days would be all veggies, or an assortment of potato curry dishes, and on other days might be just spinach and basmati rice.

Yeah, it's weird. I'm cool with it. Because chances are, most of us have some tiny, harmless insanity that we can't satisfactorily explain, and others can't begin to imagine. You do your thing, I'll do mine, and we'll all be ok. Pass the M&Ms, please.

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