A recent study found the majority of American adults increased their consumption of comfort food in 2020, and expect to continue the habit post-pandemic. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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After a traumatic year that saw more people reaching for comfort food, Erika Brekke is on a mission to learn more about snacking habits in Portland.

Brekke is a freelance film producer working on a project for Dig, an Illinois-based consulting company that will document the snacks enjoyed by Mainers across different ethnic groups, genders, and ages.

Brekke said last week that Dig creates projects for clients based on people’s “habits, behaviors, and what makes them tick.” She is in the final stages of scouting people in Portland. 

Erika Brekke is a Portland-based freelance producer casting a documentary project about people’s snacking habits. She is still looking for black and Latinx Portland residents to answer questions about the snacks they like to eat. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

The final video will be for a large food manufacturer that Brekke said she could not identify publicly. The video will be used for the client’s internal purposes, not for a TV commercial or other public use.

So far, Brekke said, there have not been any “crazy revelations” she has gleaned from her interviews, although several people have said the pandemic threw their regular snacking habits “a curveball.”

Many, for instance, told her since they are home more often it is easier to “run to their pantry and grab something,” and they have moved away from eating three meals a day in favor of increased snacking.

Some people have also reported having more of a salty palate during the pandemic, and Brekke said snacks like chips have come up frequently as favorites. 

She has also noticed Mainers are very active and seem to gravitate to snacks that are portable, like beef jerky or granola bars. She has also heard praise for what she called “high-caloric snacks” for the same reason. 

Data, meanwhile, has shown that last year took a toll on healthy eating habits for many Americans.

According to a recent survey conducted by market research firm OnePoll in partnership with the snack company FarmRich, Americans reported opting for more comfort food in 2020 compared to the year before.

Young and middle-aged adults showed the largest increase, with 75 percent of those ages 26-56 reporting they ate more comfort food in 2020 than the previous year. In the 18-25 bracket, 54 percent of people reported eating more comfort food, and 57 percent of people age 57 or older reported the same.

The survey also found that on the whole Americans spent 30 more minutes per day cooking in the kitchen compared to 2019 and that 69 percent of respondents believed that after the pandemic they will continue to eat the same amount of comfort food they ate last year.

Because she has already cast several people, Brekke is now only looking for Portland residents who are black or Latinx to answer questions about their snacking habits. Respondents should be what Brekke called “unbiased eaters,” meaning no vegans or vegetarians, and no one with food allergies or dietary restrictions. People who are interested in participating can email her at [email protected]

Brekke is having what she called “initial conversations” with the people she selects and creating profiles about them, which are then sent to a colleague in Chicago who is conducting 20- to 30-minute “pre-interviews” for the video via Zoom. If Brekke’s colleague selects someone to be involved, he or she will receive a $100 stipend for participating. From there, Brekke’s colleague will narrow that group down to fewer than 10 people who will be in the final product; each of them will receive $800 for their time.

Although she said she is not certain, Brekke thinks the food company wants to use the video to better understand the types of snacks people enjoy today and what flavors they like best.

She began scouting for the job last month, “grassroots style,” sending emails to establishments such as independent grocery stores and the YMCA to get the word out. She received an influx of interest, however, after she posted on the NextDoor community message board the week before Christmas.

Dig chose Portland, Brekke said, because of the city’s low rate of COVID-19 compared with other areas around the U.S. 

Brekke, who moved to Portland from San Francisco a year and a half ago, said she has enjoyed casting for the project around the city. She said Portlanders are “really open and friendly,” and more than one conversation has ended with her being invited to a book club or to go on a walk.

“It’s been really nice working on this project, just being able to talk to Portland-area residents,” she said last week. “It’s been a nice sense of community.”

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