Breakfast: A Manifesto
A Scientific Argument by Reference to Historical, Political, and Cultural Examples
Author’s note: A section of this essay has been interpreted by some as inciting violence against cupcake shops. Following consultation with my attorney, I would like to clarify that it is purely rhetorical and, furthermore, go on record as saying I do not and have never advocated political violence against the proprietors of baked goods stores.
I believe in mornings. I believe in making the most of them. I believe that there is no better way to start your day than to wake early in the morning as the sun still rises, splash cold water on your face, and stand on the scale; then step out into the brisk morning air, jog around the neighborhood, working up a sweat in the solitude of your thoughts; return home, stooping to collect the newspaper from your front lawn, to shower, shampoo, exfoliate, deoderize, and change into clean, pressed, smart clothing; and then head to the kitchen or a nearby restaurant to consume, in the space of a few minutes, hundreds of calories delivered by a vehicle of largely fried grease.
In this world there are a surprising number of people who believe that sliced fruit, or yogurt, or granola — or perhaps, if they are feeling especially bold, some combination of all three — constitutes breakfast. These people are categorically wrong. They may consume these foods at the time of day associated with breakfast, but at best they eat at breakfast or a breakfast; they do not eat Breakfast. We must regard them with scorn, or pity; they worship false idols, they covet their neighbors’ kale.
What is breakfast? Breakfast is the meal which exists in slight variants throughout the English-speaking world and includes eggs and meat and something made of potatoes or bread and a hot beverage. Breakfast is the Full English, or the Full American, or the Full Canadian. Breakfast is a triumph.
Yet breakfast is under threat. Breakfast, besieged by the pathologies of the twenty-first century, is fighting a desperate rearguard battle for survival, and at stake is nothing less than civilization itself.
This is a war of at least three fronts.
The first foes of breakfast are the aforementioned health gurus, the benevolent brownshirts who will one day come for all of us. They must: They are driven to it. Their psychologies cannot rest so long as they know that there are still people out there who sit down in diners, order something knowing full well it is high in cholesterol content, bite into it, and experience a surge of visceral pleasure.
These creeping granola fascists have already infiltrated the New York mayoral administration. First they came for the smokers, but I was not a smoker so I did not speak out. Then they came for the trans fats, but I was not a fatty so I did not speak out. Then they came for the big gulp sodas… I’m also reliably informed that much of the American and Canadian West Coast has already fallen, seized in the terrifying grip of this totalitarianism of prescription.
Know that eventually, in some form or another, they’ll come for you too: Your door will be battered down in the middle of the night, and people in dark, stretchy clothing will storm in (“This tactical operation sponsored by LULULEMON,” their raid jackets will read) to tear your home apart searching for contraband. They’ll rifle through your dressers, taking your jeans and replacing them with yoga pants and bicycle tights. They’ll upend your kitchen, seizing your beer and replacing it with herbal tea. Any tobacco products found will be confiscated, sealed carefully in evidence bags (“Exhibit A: Less than perfect”), and replaced with packets of organic pomegranate seeds.
The second front is Europeans, and by Europeans, I mean continental Europeans and their eponymous “breakfast.” Sure, you could do a lot worse than pastries and sliced fruit for breakfast — no breakfast at all, for example. But, like the European Union itself, the continental breakfast seems resigned to the damnation of faint praise: I guess it will have to suffice.
The biggest perpetrators of the continental breakfast are inevitably the French. As they munch their morning croissants they lament their former imperial gloire, blind to the irony: You can’t rule the world when your day starts with half a croissant and an espresso, and people or peoples who so believe should be regarded with extreme skepticism.
This excludes French Canadians, who, descended from lumberjacks and coureurs des bois, are of much heartier disposition than their francophone brethren on the continent. Fur trappers don’t eat danishes for breakfast. They simply don’t.
I recently played host to two European girls visiting from out of town. Every morning I would offer them scrambled eggs, bacon, toast; and every morning they would decline, choosing instead to eat yogurt, or fruit, or little scraps of bread adorned with strange, ingenious cheeses which they had brought with them. One morning they ate nothing at all. “We’re still full from those veggie burgers we ate the night before,” they explained. I turned aside, my face distorted by disgust, and in that one phrase I suddenly knew the chronic dysfunction of the EU and the tattered economics of the eurozone could never be resolved.
In at least this respect, I believe the people of North America and the British Isles have got it right: breakfast is a serious endeavor, and has political implications of a potentially vast scale. Americans, accustomed to eating a large, satisfying breakfast, mistakenly assume most others in the world do similar. We say “as American as apple pie,” but we would do better to say as American as pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, home fries, and plenty of. We need the caloric fuel if we are going to save the rest of the world from itself.
There are, of course, regional variations: those who survive the American or English breakfast unscathed may proceed to the next level, the Scottish breakfast, and may God have mercy on their souls.
The final front is people who eat cupcakes.
Let me explain.
Cupcakes represent the antithesis of everything that breakfast is. Breakfast is concrete, durable, satisfying. Cupcakes are ephemeral and frivolous. Cupcakes are the saccharine, prepackaged cute that represents so much of what is wrong with our culture today.
I was walking on the street in New York the other day and I passed four cupcake shops in two blocks — and this wasn’t even Brooklyn. (There probably would have been more cupcake shops but all the other store fronts had already been bought by frozen yogurt shops.) Somewhere in North America, right now, an educated person with a university degree, possibly in Cultural Studies, is leaning over a cupcake, earnest expression on their face, spatula or baster in hand, attempting to squeeze as many different pastel tones as possible on what is essentially a tiny, puffy piece of bread.
People who eat cupcakes sometimes eat breakfast, but they’ll probably call it “brunch,” photograph it before eating, and only manage a few bites before feeling full. However people who photograph their food before eating it will presumably die in horrific unicycle accidents and remove themselves from a gene pool which they would otherwise surely dilute.
We inhabit a turbulent era. All around us are the signs of looming civilizational collapse: Uggs, reality television, Auto-Tune, people enthusiastic about Twitter, Abercrombie & Fitch, segway cops, most things associated with Apple. As civilization crumbles around us, we must console ourselves by knowing that there remains at least one thing untouched by the ravages of anarchy and decadence, one unchanging constant, one bedrock which still has rules.
Here are some rules:
1. Breakfast must be consumed with coffee or tea. Tea means black tea: green tea doesn’t count. Orange juice may be served in addition to but never instead of a hot beverage.
2. The breakfast food pyramid is the inverse of whatever the actual food pyramid is. Your plate should be about fifty percent carbohydrates, fifty percent protein, one hundred percent grease, and zero percent arugula. If the First Lady would disapprove, then you are doing it correctly. Go all in or go home: If you look at your plate and there is already a carbohydrate — pancakes, say — then double down with toast, and treble down with hash browns.
3. Tomatoes, orange slices, or other fruit may be added, for color only.
4. Britons and French-Canadians may consume baked beans with their breakfast, as they are considered starch legumes, not fruits or vegetables.
Eat whatever you want, however you want for lunch and dinner — but keep at least one thing sacred.
The counterrevolution starts now. It starts with bacon. Throw down the mango smoothie you were about to drink and run to the closest greasy spoon diner. (Run there; you probably won’t be able to run back.)
And if you pass a cupcake shop on the way, firebomb it.
This essay also appears in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of Utne Reader.