Peanut Butter

March 14 2010

Okay! How many of you out there love peanut butter? It turns out March is National Peanut Butter Month.

I got home from work on Friday and Diane was cooking up luscious hamburgers from some of Jane Bush’s ground beef. It was a very appealing scene to see her cooking up some supper that she had every reason to think I would relish. And there was also something quite satisfying about the sound of those burger patties sizzling in the pan. I realize I may be offending some of the vegetarians out there with this (like my children), and possibly some climate activists, too. But hey! Those cows were pasture raised. They had (or so I believe) a happy life, and there were no petro-carbon based feeds in their diet. And she was serving the burgers on whole grain local bread, too. So Diane was really walking the walk in cooking up a couple of hamburgers.

Insensitive boob that I am, however, I took a look at those burgers and they just didn’t look right, at least not right at that moment. I wound up toasting some of that local whole-grain bread and making a peanut butter sandwich. Just to comply with the rules of full disclosure here, I should indicate that the peanut butter came from the East Lansing Food Co-op, the butter I added came from Calder Dairy and the jelly I put on it was Poorrock Abbey Wild Bilberry Jam that we got from the monks up on the Kewanee Peninsula when we were up there summer before last. This was good stuff, not the peanut butter-on-a-bright-orange-cracker-out-of-a-cellophane-wrapper routine that (I confess) I am occasionally guilty of. Again, cut me some slack, here!

Now before I start pimping for peanut butter I had better make yet another revelation in the interest of full disclosure (remember, in my real life I am a food ethicist). Diane’s mother has a peanut farm in Georgia. If I could just get all the members of Thornapple CSA to start eating peanut butter sandwiches once or twice a week, it would probably make us very, very rich. I expect we make a buck or two off of every peanut butter sandwich that is eaten in the United States. So start slathering that brown stuff and we can start watching the chips roll in!

My problem is that I was actually brought up to think of peanut butter as kind of a lame substitute for real food. In defense of my late mother, it’s not so much that I was literally brought up that way as it was that this is what I somehow took from growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Sure, I had my share of peanut butter sandwiches out of wax paper bags at school lunch hour. It’s not like she was trying to shield me from peanut butter or something. I’m sure she was fully satisfied that this was a healthy lunch for me–even if it was made on Butternut Bread, Denver’s version of the mushy Wonder substance that we latter learned was full of toxic partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. She was not the least embarrassed about sending me to school with a peanut butter sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and it don’t recall being embarrassed about eating them. Everybody was eating them.

Still and all somehow, I wound up as an adult thinking that peanut butter was only something that you hauled out when you were not prepared to make an actual meal. I suppose it was always in the cupboard, even when I was a bachelor, because after all a cupboard is supposed to have some peanut butter. But I bet there were years that passed without needing to buy peanut butter more than once or twice, at least until I had kids myself and it was time to send them off to school (but with a plastic baggie that kept the Iron Kids Wonder Bread much, much fresher!). This is what we took to be progress in the 1980s. So maybe it was just that this was somehow kids food. Not something that I was supposed to eat as an adult.

So imagine how surprised I was a couple of years ago to discover that I actually like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’ve had to wean myself off the Wonder Bread, though I still buy some once a year for old times’ sake. Now that I’ve done that successfully, I’ve learned to admit that I really like a peanut butter and bilberry jelly sandwich on nice fresh (or slightly stale and toasted) whole grain local bakery bread. This is a difficult admission, because it just doesn’t fit my self-image as a crusty and skeptical curmudgeon. Maybe this is just a sign of aging: It’s not so much contrary to my image as it’s the case that I now really am a crusty old curmudgeon who stands up his lovely wife for a lousy peanut butter sandwich. But what the hey, I’m going to quit blogging and go make myself another one right now.

I did, by the way, eat that very acceptable burger yesterday for lunch as a “leftover”.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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