How PB&J Sandwiches Make Dreams Come True

The image of perfection

If you’ve never bought lunch in New York in the milieu of the Midtown workday scene, there are two simple rules to keep in mind:

  • Simple Rule #1: It is nearly impossible to find a decent lunch for less than $12.
  • Simple Rule #2: It is nearly impossible to find a decent lunch for less than 1200 calories.

Midtown lunch options fall into several categories, all of which are solidly mediocre.

  1. Salads: These “healthy” establishments boast jaunty names like “Just Salad!” and “Chop’t.” They offer bespoke bowls of greens whipped up right before your eyes. The guys behind the counter must be on speed — I don’t know how they don’t cut off their own fingers on a regular basis given the rate at which they chop the ingredients of your salad. (Stray index finger? That’s one ingredient more than is offered with the basic salad bowl, so it will cost you an additional $1.50.) These places feature gigantic lines that run halfway down the block, so you need to budget at least 30 minutes to pick up your lunch. You know the regulars immediately, for they come toting their very own reusable salad bowls in bright hues of orange and green. They pride themselves on being that person at the office who is better than the rest. Interactions with them go like this: “Monica, what did you get for lunch today?” “Oh, just a salad.” “Wow, you’re so disciplined. I wish I had your self-control!” (Monica flips her lush chestnut hair and walks away, Louboutins purchased with the entirety of last year’s bonus clicking as she struts.) I wonder if Monica realized just how many calories were in that lite bleu cheese dressing…
  2. Sandwiches: Meatball sub! Chicken parm! Club sandwich you can’t even open your jaw wide enough to eat properly! You know there’s enough food here for three meals, but you can’t help yourself. It disappears before you even finished formatting your cash flows on the excel spreadsheet you’ve been wresting with all morning. In trying times, only bacon and melted cheese on pretzel roll will do. Besides, who wants to model designer evening gowns when you can model project finance cash flows?
  3. Organic meats and accompanying organic sides: Classic examples of this category include Roast Kitchen and Dig In. After waiting in a very long line (almost as long a line as the salad places but significantly slower service), you pick a meat with a lemon herb, barbecue, Sriracha, or other vaguely Asian marinade, and two hot sides — choose between garlic green beans, baked sweet potatoes, or grilled kale with pine nuts — all of which are far too salty. Your typical customer is the Managing Director and avid Iron Man racer who claims to love working out but only puts himself through the pain and suffering to avoid spending any time with his kids whatsoever.
  4. Food trucks: Taco Tuesday? Try Taco Tuesday, Wiener Schnitzel Wednesday, Tzatziki Thursday, and Fro-Yo Friday! This is where you can find the former frat-stars-turned-finance-hipsters lined up on a 90-degree July day at high noon. Plates of greasy food come out of little windows in trucks that haven’t been cleaned in God knows how long (sure New York City health inspectors, we believe you when you say they are cleaner than restaurants) and disappear down the gullets of the hungry bros sweating through their suits beside the truck’s exhaust vent.

Now that we’ve assessed the edible options, let’s return to Simple Rule #1 above and do some math. Let’s use “Dan the Analyst” as our subject. If Dan the Analyst buys his lunch every day this month, assuming there are 20 workdays, how much money will he spend on lunch? Dan the Analyst will have spent $240. If Dan the Analyst buys his lunch every day this year, assuming he works on average 20 days each month, he will have spent $2,880. $2,800! Just on lunch! (I don’t think we even want to know how much that is in calories.) And the food isn’t even that good!

Which brings me to the moral of this story: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are creations of perfection.

You may be asking, Aren’t you a little too old to be eating PB&Js? My answer to that question is a resounding “Certainly not!” Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are very tasty, economical in both monetary and time value, nutritionally perfect for a mid-day meal, lead to romantic encounters, and they even help to advance your career.

Ever since I had teeth, my lunch has been exactly the same. PB&J with Jif peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly (not jam) on wheat bread, accompanied by apples slices, four crackers, a piece of cheese and two Milano cookies. I ate that exact same lunch in grade school, middle school, and high school. I would even make it in the dining hall in college (though the bread was disappointingly squishy) and when I went to graduate school in England. I see no reason to change my habits just because I scored a fancy job in finance. As a wise man once said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are delicious. You have to start with good, firm, fiber-rich, grainy bread. I recommend Catherine Clark wheat bread. I can’t find it in New York, much to my chagrin. Regular wheat bread is far too spongy and the fancy no-salt no-gluten brands just aren’t the same. Whenever I go home to Chicago, I bring a loaf of Catherine Clark bread back with me in my suitcase. Apply equal amounts of Jif creamy peanut butter — never organic peanut butter or almond butter — and Welch’s grape jelly. The proper peanut-butter-to-jelly ratio is crucial. Mess this up and you’ll ruin your day. Cut diagonally, and enjoy. It’s the right combination of salty and sweet, perfection on a plate.

Not only are PB&Js gastronomically perfect, they are also inexpensive and take no time to slap together. Remember how much Dan the Analyst spent on his lunch this year? Almost $3k. The PB&J and its aforementioned complimentary sides cost roughly one-eighth of what Dan the Analyst would spend on his Midtown lunch. PB&Js also have the added value of being minimally time intensive to prepare. The reason many people resort to buying their lunch every day is because they can’t overcome the morning inertia and haul themselves out of bed to make lunch. However, you can make a PB&J the night before and it keeps perfectly overnight. Furthermore, I never have to waste time thinking about what I want to have for lunch because I already know exactly what I want to have. Another wise man once said, the most successful people are those that stick to their daily routines so they don’t have to waste time and energy making trivial decisions. Clear out all the mental clutter so you have cranial space to think about big ideas!

I don’t care what people say about their juice cleanses or kale salads, PB&Js are the ideal midday meal. They provide the perfect balance of carbohydrates, protein, fruit, sugar and salt to give you the energy you need to get through the rest of the afternoon without dozing off around 2 PM. The peanut butter fills your poor hungry tummy so well that you won’t find yourself ferreting around for a snack by 3:30 and thus reversing any of the benefits of your juice cleanse or kale salad. If Wheaties are the breakfast of champions, PB&Js are the lunch of legends.

Though the lunch of legends may not be considered an aphrodisiac like oysters or chocolate, it is a little known fact that they present enormous romantic potential. When I studied in England for graduate school, I quickly learned that peanut butter does not hold a sacred place in the British palate the way it does in America. In Britain, there is a myth swirling around that claims peanut butter is extremely unhealthy. I find this hilarious coming from the country whose national dishes are fish and chips (fried, of course) and meat pies, and considers the potato to have great nutritional value. You can find peanut butter at Sainsbury’s, but Sun-Pat (a British brand) and the version of Skippy that is sold in Britain do not taste at all like American domestic peanut butter. British peanut butter has gritty texture that makes you feel like you bit into a sand sandwich. No wonder they all think it’s disgusting. (As a useful aside, when I asked a Brit where I could find a jar of Jif peanut butter, he looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. In England, “Jif” is a brand of dish soap. Consider yourself forewarned.) For weeks I struggled on in vain chomping down on my sandy sandwiches. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, a handsome young man in my course on Cold War politics came to my aid in my time of need. It just so happened that this tall, blonde gentleman with a sparkling wit and charming personality was a fellow American graduate student and an officer in the Marine Corps. As we walked home from class one day, I told him of my plight. Ladies, fairy tales are real. Dashing officers do to come to rescue young maidens from the depths of despair! As a Marine, he was required to check in regularly at the nearby British/American airbase. This airbase had a commissary full of American food products, including Jif peanut butter. I batted my eyelashes like a damsel in distress. He graciously agreed to become my peanut butter runner, just like Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, who slipped through the blockade to bring Scarlett O’Hara illicit silks and perfumes in an attempt to win her heart. Well, perhaps it wasn’t as dramatic as all that, but he did have to carry the heavy jars of peanut butter several miles on his bike on a monthly basis, usually in the pouring rain. The gifts of peanut butter led to friendship, and friendship turned to romance. After we both moved back to the States, he still brought me peanut butter from the commissary on his base, because, like all things, it’s way more expensive in New York.

If the above attributes of the PB&J were not compelling enough, remember this: the best advice I can give anyone starting his or her career at a large corporation that employs thousands of minions and enforces rigid hierarchies is to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. The PB&J is the ultimate conversation starter. (For even better results, bring it in a lunchbox.) I have gotten to know a number of Managing Directors and heads of business units at my company, people with whom few analysts would have any reason to interact, because of my sandwiches. The scenario usually goes something like this: I am in the kitchen area preparing my daily lunch of legends, arranging the sandwich and its accompanying crackers, cheese, apple, and cookies on a paper plate. A Managing Director walks in to get a fork with which to eat his organic meats and accompanying salty sides. He looks over and notes there is another person (me) preparing her lunch. He pauses, considers my plate, and says, “Is that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” to which I reply, “Why yes, it is.” Mr. Managing Director continues, “That’s hilarious! Why do you bring a PB&J for lunch?” And I say, “Because it’s my favorite. I have eaten this exact same lunch practically every day since I was in grade school.” “Wow, you never get tired of it?” I shake my head. He notes the New York Yankees lunchbox to my right.[1] “Oh, you’re the person with the awesome lunchbox! Man, that’s so cool, good for you! Which group do you work in, and how do you like your experience at the firm so far?” And just like that, Mr. Managing Director and I have begun a conversation. Now, Mr. Managing Director knows who I am, unlike the rest of the bland, nameless rabble of Analysts. After several lunchtime conversations, Mr. Managing Director passes my boss in the hall and tells her that she has a great Analyst working for her. My boss is pleasantly surprised that her lowly Analyst took the initiative to get to know a senior person at the firm, and when Mr. Managing Director needs an Analyst to speak on a panel in front of other senior Managing Directors about developing young talent at the firm, whom does he call? That’s right, me. The PB&J has helped me more than all the Analyst Program networking events, career coaching sessions, public speaking drills, and mentoring conversations that my Firm has ever provided.

And there you have it. Despite New York’s best efforts to overcharge me, over tax me, and take half my salary in rent, I have remained financially solvent. All my clothes still fit even though I lead a sedentary Analyst life. I have managed to successfully avoid all use of dating apps. And Sheryl Sandburg & Co. would surely applaud the way I have “leaned in” and taken the corporate world by storm. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make dreams come true.

[1] Note: The New York Yankees are the only thing about New York that I actively like and always have liked, ever since I was little. The Yankees maintain a tradition of excellence and high standards, unlike the rest of the city with its crumbling infrastructure.

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