Understanding Red Lobster’s Popularity Among Black Diners

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A study, Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke, reported recently in the medical journal “Neurology” found that African Americans eat far more fried fish than whites. Researchers collected data from 21,675 participants.

“Specifically, what we found was that African Americans were three and a half times more likely than whites to eat two or more servings of fried fish each week,” said the study’s author, Dr. Fadi Nahab of Emory University. “African Americans on average were eating twice as much fried fish than whites.”

Nahab believes these differences may account for a higher incidence of stroke among blacks in the so-called “stroke belt” – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The region has a 20% higher rate of death from stroke than the rest of the nation, and in the so-called “buckle” of the stroke belt – North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia – people are 40% more likely to die from stroke, he said. Nahab cited another study that found that 90% of African Americans fry their fish.

Fish fries are popular paper-plate affairs across the South, gatherings where “working people’s food” gets cooked, according to food author John T. Edge.  Using traditions or even recipes traced back to slavery, fish fries often are organized against a backdrop of family reunions and are popular campaign stops for political candidates. House Majority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC), arguably the most powerful black politician in the nation after President Obama, has served as host of an annual fish fry in Columbia, South Carolina, since 1992. Popular items on the menu: presidential politics – and fried whiting.

“I think more than anything we are more concerned about flavor. A lot of fine dining experiences aren’t fine dining to us because we like our food seasoned, sometimes overly seasoned,” said Lewis of Little Black Box. “In fried food, that’s one way you can spread the flavors all the way through and cook it fast and quick, and you can cook again for the masses. You can deep fry a whole bunch of shrimp faster than you can grill it.”

To be fair, Red Lobster’s success is not entirely due to fried fish, but to its wide choice of cooking methods. The menu in fact is a study in diversity, with blackened, grilled, broiled and fried dishes and a variety of fresh fish available daily.

In 2008, the chain installed wood-fired grills in its restaurants. The oak wood grills are designed to bring out the natural flavor of seafood. Darden reportedly trained, certified and dispatched 3,500 “grill masters” to handle the cooking platform. (The company doesn’t skimp on training; Olive Garden sends its chefs to a culinary institute in Tuscany, Italy).

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