I love breakfast. I recently wrote a comment on social media about work Christmas lunches and parties and how I’d much rather we had more work Christmas breakfasts. This prompted comments from what transpired to be deeply divided public opinion. There are those who spring out of bed and attack the shit out of breakfast, and those who would rather chew on toenails before 10am. No other meal causes such divisive debate or has so many experts jumping on either bandwagon telling us why it’s vital to eat, or not eat, the first meal of the day.
We get initiated into breakfast pretty much as soon as we start eating solids. In the Western world, it’s one of the mandatory things that happen pre-leaving the house in the morning*. Growing up in my house it was fairly standard stuff – aside from when I was very young and my parents went through a millet and goats yoghurt stage, but that’s a whole other story. We had weetbix, porridge, sometimes cornflakes and the odd smattering of toast in the weekends.
I’ve always been orally inclined toward breakfast, when I was little the sight of a bowl of cocoa pops on TV would get the saliva churning in my mouth. Look at those lucky arseholes, I’d think as I watched the kids munch on their chocolatey breakfast, they don’t know how lucky they are. As it turns out I owe my parents a solid high five for not feeding us tooth rot for breakfast every morning. As I got slightly older I’d look forward to staying at mates houses who I knew had mint fucking breakfasts. One friend had parents who would lay out the whole kit and kaboodle. Cereals (note the plural – great selection as well), toast, bacon, eggs, and even fruit salad occasionally. To be fair it was probably just a weekend thing but it still used to blow my greedy mind that there was so much variety to a breakfast meal.
Once I became an adult with unlimited agency when it came to the food choices I could make, I spent decades perfecting my versions of the perfect breakfast. I spent a good part of my twenties chowing down on cereals that tasted like they’d been handcrafted by Willa Wonka. I suspect this was a throwback to those earlier yearnings for a nutritious bowl of sugar that ‘tastes like a chocolate milkshake only crunchy’. In my thirties, as I learned more about ‘we are what we eat’, I trended towards healthier options. Granola (organic with no added sugar that cost about a million dollars for a gram), yoghurt and fruit. Porridge with cinnamon and raisins, and occasionally toast as, let’s face it, cooked bread with shitloads of butter and a spread of your choice is insanely, utterly fucking the best thing ever. In the weekends I’d do the brunch thing, being a massive fan of bacon and eggs on toast (streaky, poached and sourdough if you’re asking). Sometimes I’d even branch out and do a full English or go really crazytown and order pancakes. So yeah, it’s safe to say that I’m a fully-fledged, paid up member of the breakfast brigade.
But I have to acknowledge that for many of my friends, and in fact, for millions of other people that I’ve never met, breakfast is a bad word. An example; I was on holiday with a bunch of mates in July and the first morning I got busy making my current fave, porridge, loads of natural yoghurt and chopped fruit (sounds gross, it’s amazing). My best mate stared at my large bowl of warm goo and said, “If you tried to make me eat that I’d fight you.”
I believed her.
It’s when you look at breakfast through a financial lens that things start to get a bit screwy. Food companies with their eye on the bottom line barrage us with sponsored nutrition advice about the benefits of breakfast. Advertising is a key revenue stream for corporations to maximise profit so of course they relentlessly churn out ads showcasing amazing new breakfast treats. Not to mention the billion-dollar diet industry with continuous promotions extolling the virtues of their new and improved low-fat shite on fat-free, joyless cardboard. A perfect example of true Machiavellian intent was the multinational food manufacturing company Kellogg’s who ran their ‘drop a jean size diet’ campaign in 2012. This basically involved replacing either lunch or dinner food every day of the week with their Special K. Like, seriously guys, do you really think that humans are so gullible that we can’t see this as a blatant attempt at getting us to buy more of your extremely fucking average cereal?? Worryingly, this campaign ran for a really long time……
Speaking of cereal, the crunchy stuff was an American invention developed in the 1860s by a gent called James Caleb Jackson. However, it wasn’t until those canny Kellogg’s folks introduced sugar into their cornflakes in the early 1900s that things really hepped up. Since then it’s basically been a no-holds-barred approach as to who can come up with the sweetest, crappiest, say its low-in-fat and market it to kids, cereal that money can buy. Companies who have legitimised the practice of eating dessert for breakfast are the main culprits in the rise in obesity in Western countries, in my opinion. What a cluster fuck.
On a cheerier note, I did a bit of googling earlier and it turns out that a lot of the food we tend to associate with breakfast exist for practical reasons harking back to ye olde days. Eggs, because chickens lay overnight and they would be collected fresh in the morning. Cured meats over fresh kills as, let’s face it, no one wants to chop a large beasts head off first thing in the morning when you’ve got hungry mouths to feed. And get this, in Europe during the middle ages, breakfast was seen as low rent because the only people who ate it were children, the sick, and labourers who needed the sustenance. How on earth did we get from there to here? I’d take a wild guess and say it’s when we attached a price tag and commodified the whole experience of breaking our fast.
So that’s that really, I’m always going to be a breakfast lover but I won’t judge you breakfast haters for your preferences. I get it, sometimes it’s just the wrong time of day to be eating. And I think it’s great to exercise some resistance against the might of global corporates who try and tell us how to run every minute of our lives. Fuck it, breakfast is a social construct, bring on the revolution!!
*This blog post is intended as lighthearted commentary that’s written by a middle-class woman living a privileged life, with money for breakfast food (me). There are thousands of people in NZ who can’t afford to eat breakfast due to their limited financial circumstances. I haven’t mentioned this above as it would be trivialising the issue of our dire poverty statistics to include it in a post that’s just been written for shits and giggles.