Two months ago I came to work to find, adjacent to my desk, a peculiar sight: eight bowls of mayonnaise arranged in a straight line. There sat, in perfect succession, enough creamy white condiment to eat a bowl's worth a day for a week, and then some. The sight conjured a strange excitement in me. That is so much mayo, I thought. I hope at least some of it is for me, I thought. Maybe, if I’m on my best behavior today, I’ll get some mayo, I thought. My relationship to the mayonnaise in front of me was turning suddenly, strangely Pavlovian.
But I wasn’t alone. Other coworkers began to gravitate toward the mayonnaise, drawn first by its superfluity and then by the promise, the sweet, sweet possibility, that they might get a taste. My coworker Emma ripped open three bags of gleefully misshapen Five Guys French fries. “Today, we’ll be blind taste testing eight different kinds of mayonnaise to determine what we think is the best.”
I found myself thinking back on this day, with all its whipped egg and oil strangeness and splendor, when an article titled "How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise" in Philadelphia Magazine started making the rounds online. In it, Sandy Hingston laments the fall of mayonnaise as America’s condiment of choice. What was once the darling of the summer barbecue—holding together potato and pasta salads alike—is now an object of derision. Who else does she blame for this decline but millennials? It’s the younger generations, she claims, who have tarnished the name of the condiment she holds so dear, opting instead for chimichurri, sriracha, and gochujang.
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Her argument belies a thinly veiled anxiety centered around shifting demographics (“Just because something is old and white doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. Look at Shakespeare. Look at me.").
Hingston certainly touches on something real for many. There are—and I’ve seen them—plenty of people who rail in the face of mayonnaise, who shiver at its almost gelatinous texture, who turn away from its almost overwhelming creaminess.
But this isn't always the case. Nor does it have to be.
Can you guess the secret ingredient?
I remember the day of Emma’s taste test. While some coworkers shied away from the event, many, many more jumped at the opportunity, dipping French fries into mayonnaise with reckless abandon. I watch my friends (all millennials, mind you) swirl mayo into their tuna salads, ask for an extra swipe on their bodega sandwich, and whisk it into inventive new dressings. Even today, I profiled the Food52 staff, asking whether or not they liked mayo. 28 responded positively, 8 negatively.
“My mom used to pack me ham and mayo sandwiches all the time. It’s so simple (just white plastic bread, thin refrigerator ham, and Hellman’s). But I think it helped me develop a taste for the stuff. Sometimes she’d cut my sandwich into a teddy bear. That tasted the best,” my editor Eric mused in response.
The modern palate is in flux, and mayo may not hold the pantheonic importance it once did, but why lament? Why not save that energy for celebration—to rejoice in the cadre of flavors, textures, and cultures we’ve welcomed—and continue to welcome—to the pantry, to the fridge door, to the deli counter? Or better yet, channel that energy into familiarizing yourself with some of these new flavors. Who knows? Your new mayo could be among them.