It’s that time of the study abroad experience again, when I get desperate for a real burger, cheese, real yogurt, poptarts, cheesecake, and pancakes. It’s made me think about what I mean when I say I crave American food, and what I’ve realized is that the only thing that is truly American is….
More commonly known as the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the PB&J is a hallmark item for Americans. It’s so frequently found in lunchrooms and cafeterias that even at Wofford, we have a PB&J bar for those special days when we really crave that familiar taste, or when the other 95 options aren’t agreeable to our “delicate” American palettes.
There are only three ingredients in the sandwich, but of course the peanut butter is the most important. Its sweet stickiness makes the sandwich great, just like how it contributes to the greatness of various other foods and snacks.
For example, take the humble toasted peanut butter sandwich. Considered by many as, quote, “weird,” the toasting of the peanut butter renders the sandwich infinitely better, and while not very innovative, it is much more imaginative than just a plain, boring, peanut butter sandwich on flaccid white bread.
And why shouldn’t we like toasted peanut butter? Just because it has some flair to it is no reason to dismiss it. Lance has made enough money from its toasted peanut butter crackers to buy a small European country- probably a former Soviet state, but that’s not the point.
Peanut butter is good for other reasons as well. For starters, it’s cheap. As such, it is a staple of the college student’s diet and the feature entrée on any young bachelor’s menu. It’s also healthy. A person could survive their entire life living on nothing but water, bread, and peanut butter. Yet at the same time, peanut butter can be incredibly detrimental because of its absolutely massive sugar dosage.
Yes! The brown-gold invention of George Washington Carver is the derivative of American deliciousness and the only food, and any food with peanut butter, that can truly be called American. (Bonus points for anything with peanut butter that is deep fried, jackpot if you can also coat it with sugar and dunk it in butter). We stole the rest of our diet from everyone else, mainly Europe. (Yes, there are Mexican and Chinese restaurants in America, but they don’t serve authentic food). But stealing their menus wasn’t enough. After stealing Europe’s menu, we tossed out the imaginative and vibrantly tasty items in favor of the bland meal structure of meat and bread, or something like peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. The simple, healthy, amiable food that is born and bred into Americans because everyone likes it and it’s easy to get along with.
We like peanut butter because it’s salty and sweet (a combination that guarantees the Chinese will never fall in love with it). It’s simple, cheap, easy to make, easy to use, easy to store, goes down easy and doesn’t elicit stares from the people at the next table when we eat it. In many ways, it’s like duct tape in the South, beer at a tailgate, and eye-rolling in Congress.
Peanut butter defines the American diet. It epitomizes it. The American diet would be nothing without peanut butter. The graham cracker would still be single and lonely, southerners would have nothing to paste bananas to bread with, and children would have nothing to complain about: No scapegoat when telling mom that her hastily packed lunches are getting boring. And if they do complain about that soggy ham sandwich, I bet the next day they get peanut butter. So when I say I’m craving American food, it turns out I’m really just craving authentic Western food, because peanut butter I can get here.
Thought of the moment: Instead of thirteen sticks and fig leaves, maybe the Eagle should have clutched between its razor sharp talons a mega-size jar of Jif.
Peanut butter. It’s more American than apple pie. After all, we stole that from the British.