As I did the math on how many people were coming to our cookout this week, I realized there was a big question yet to be answered, "Hotdogs or hamburgers?" I still needed to know who was in which camp to figure out how much of each Fourth of July grilled staple to get.
Dogs vs. burgers is an age-old question, not to mention battleground. Hotdogs have a cult-like following and have spawned a variety of destinations and quasi-bizarre tributes. For example, there's the institution of Nathan's in Coney Island, gut-busting hotdog eating contests (dominated by the Japanese), ballpark faves (mine is Fenway Franks), wiener-inspired vehicles, and even a PBS special, "A Hotdog Program."
Hamburgers may be less quirky, but have their own pervasive following. Like the hotdog, the burger has European roots, but has been commandeered and turned into a distinctly American art form. Hamburgers first appeared in writing in a 1926 Delmonico's menu and since, we've consumed them by the billions -- from Big Macs to BBQ sizzlers. And we've brought them with us -- from a McDonald's on Gitmo, a Burger King in Afghanistan (until a general pulled the plug on all fast food), and a faux In-N-Out in Shanghai.
Where did my friends and family land on this important hotdogs vs. burgers question? I tried to guess based on info I had about them already on equally polarizing conundrums of life. For example, my sister-in-law is squarely in the beaches court of the beaches vs. mountains matter. And, my neighbor is adamant about the superiority of dogs on the cats vs. dogs conflict. Seems there are a number more of these "either-or" gems to consider.
This lowbrow culinary question set off the social scientist in me. I pondered whether these preferences might bundle together into demographic (age, gender, etc.) or psychographic (personality or attitude) profiles. Do people who covet hotdogs keep it all in the genus family and prefer canines to felines? Do hamburger lovers vote with red or blue states? What form of horsepower do they drive?
So, I decided to do a totally unscientific experiment that could only be possible in this social media era of immediate gratification. I built a Dogs vs. Burgers Survey Monkey poll and put it on Facebook, asking people the eight most pressing, personality-revealing questions of all time. (Conducted over 18 hours; 43 responses as of this writing; 41.9% men, 58.1% women; 41.9% under 35 years, 58.1% over 35. No third options accepted. The poll is still open, so click here to take it.)
Here's what I learned:
1) Hotdogs vs. hamburgers
66.7% - Hamburgers
33.3% - Hotdogs
2) Cats vs. dogs
72.1% - Dogs
27.9% - Cats
3) Under vs. over (toilet paper roll)
74.4% - Over
25.6% - Under
4) Beach vs. mountains
65.1% - Beach
34.9% - Mountains
5) Ketchup vs. mustard
60.5% - Ketchup
39.5% - Mustard
6) Sports car vs. pickup
81% - Sports car
19% - Pickup
7) Paper vs. plastic
76.7% - Paper
23.3% - Plastic
8) Conservative vs. liberal
88.1% - Liberal
11.9% - Conservative
As a collective, these results said something about my friends and family. I'm surrounded by liberal women who wish they drove sports cars. Sounds about right to me. But the survey also revealed how predilections cleaved around gender and age. For example, men uniformly liked dogs over cats, but women were pretty split on the issue. The under 35 set preferred the beach over mountain (probably because they still have hot bods to flaunt). And both under 35-ers and women were more likely to choose paper over plastic.
What's more fascinating is how some of these preferences traveled together like traits on a gene. So I looked at them as bundled characteristics (what research geeks call cross-tabbing). For example, the men who chose mustard also chose paper at the grocery store, yet being liberal appeared to have less bearing on choosing paper than condiment choice. (Perhaps the environmental movement should enlist French's or Grey Poupon in their efforts?)
Most who put the toilet paper "under," also preferred dogs (pets) and the mountains. Pickup lovers also preferred the mountains. Virtually all conservatives were hamburger lovers and the under 35-ers were three times more likely to choose hamburgers than hotdogs. Mustard eaters were more likely to be in the hotdog camp and under 35 hotdog lovers were more likely to put their toilet paper "under." The conservative profile is a burger -- with mustard -- eater who drives their sports car to the mountains!! (There's a SNL skit in that visual).
Statistically, none of this holds water, but that won't stop me (and you, if you choose) from drawing inappropriate conclusions about people you know from these tidbits of information.
Tomorrow, I plan to watch like a hawk as my guests choose their July 4th protein and condiments, revealing their political proclivities and the "truth" about their environmental consciousness. All the while avoiding heated debates about health care policy, climate change, or whether cats really hold grudges. I'm salivating at this voyeuristic opportunity- - set in the microcosm of my own backyard -- almost as much as I am for my burger on a bun, or will it be hotdog? And, to make my guests feel more at home, I'll switch the toilet paper to "over" for the day (to my husband's delight), because I'm one of those despised "under" minorities.
As we celebrate the birth of our fine country this Fourth of July I wonder, "What is it that makes us truly American?" Is it mom's apple pie or America's pastime? I think it's that in this country you can fully feel and vociferously express your opinion about these (and much more) pressing questions, and it's A-OK.