Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series diving into different aspects of Disney food, attractions, and history, and how those things impacted the culture of Disney fandom.
Sometimes being a Disney fan is a hard thing to explain. From the near-obsessive preoccupation with new attraction announcement and an undying faith in a corporate company, to the almost unbearable whimsy and nostalgia, and even the food. Theme park food for the most part gets a bad rap. Chicken tenders, burgers, fries and a whole lot of soda. In all of those calories, there’s a beacon that stands for way more than that; and that’s Disney food and the history and culture that surrounds it.
The question that remains is, why is Disney food such an integral part of the experience? Why does it have such a following? A fanatic, almost frenzied approach to all things Disney is common, almost expected. But why is Disney food so special? Why does it leave an impression on nearly everyone that steps into a Disney park? Well, unsurprisingly, it all started with not a mouse, but with Walt Disney himself.
“From the moment Disneyland opened it’s gates on that fateful day in July of 1955, there was a shift in paradigm. At a time when American cuisine was uninspired”
When Disneyland was in the planning stages, Walt made sure that he was clear about the standards and expectations he was setting on every single thing in that park. Walt had a hand in the food specifically. A man known to have a complex mind and imagination, happened to be a man of simple tastes.
From the moment Disneyland opened its gates on that fateful day in July of 1955, there was a shift in paradigm. At a time when American cuisine was uninspired, Walt Disney changed two very important things. He changed the way amusement parks and their guests interacted with food, and the way that Americans saw food as a whole.
Disney saw eating as a powerful way for people to connect to places, different times in history, and cultures from all around the world. It’s also worth noting that in most societies all around the world, food is a natural focal point of their culture. Disney and his Magic Kingdom created something essentially the same in its dynamic with visitors of the park. A culture.
If you asked any Disney fan to share a memory having to do with a Mickey-shaped ice cream bar or Tonga Toast, their face almost immediately lights up, and they can easily access that happy memory. Food is something Disney does on a grand scale, and does it well. It reminds us fans of childhood memories, adult memories, all the trips we’ve been lucky to take with our families, significant others, and friends.
Most importantly, Disney food did something that I think not even he could have foreseen. It created another piece of the Disney park culture that all of us now, strangers from all over the world, can connect over.
I hope you never forget that it’s not just about attractions, FastPasses, fireworks, and souvenir shops. It’s a culture. A culture of acceptance, imagination, adventure, and whimsy. That is why Disney, and specifically its food, prevails. It’s not just delicious, its a conduit for connection and it’s absolutely inspiring. There is magic in the power to do that in any capacity, but food is something few can master with such grace.
I hope you’ll join me each week for a Dole Whip float toast, and cheers to a deep-dive and understanding of more delicious culture, memories, and ingenuity that will bring joy for generations to come, just as it has for visitors since the day Disneyland first opened its gates.
Until then, you can whet your appetite with some of our recent articles on a few of the many unique foods and food experiences that Walt Disney World offers.