Free Breakfast

April 21, 2013

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’m wondering, “How ‘bout breakfast?”

It’s becoming almost impossible to avoid free breakfast when you are on the road. The B&B thing has spread beyond those charming little mom & pop joints where someone rents a bedroom and treats you to ham & eggs in the morning. Of course this was never the reality in the B&B world. I’ve become quite wary of those “strada” pans that come out of the oven pretending to be a freshly made hot breakfast.There are just enough exceptions to prove the rule that however lumpy and smelly the first B is, don’t underestimate the ability of your charming hostess to exceed that limit when it comes to the second one.

But surely both of my regular readers have already begun to anticipate that this B&B thing is just a random excursion inserted primarily to throw the trolling robots off the scent. Some of the robots have gotten clever enough to insert text from your blog into their algorithmically generated comments. I got one for last week’s blog that asked “How long did it take you to make More Poo?” As tempting as it might be to go on at some length in response to that delightful query, I think I’ll try to crawl off the tangent bandwagon and get back to those chain hotels that are trying to lure you in with the promise of free breakfast.

Now my economist colleagues would be quick to point out that such establishments have simply incorporated the average cost of operating their breakfast nook into the room rate, so in fact you pay for the free breakfast when you pay your lodging bill. But frankly, this answer is just not dark and conspiratorial enough for my taste. No, I’m more inclined to point out that those scrambled eggs that the gawking honkies are scooping onto their plates were made from what egg-insiders like me know as “breakers”. They were poured out of a milk carton back in the little closet that the hotel refers to euphemistically as its “kitchen” and warmed to a gelatinous consistency in an electric frying pan. Meanwhile, those sausage patties arrived at the hotel pre-cooked and toasted to that perfect shade of brownish grey, so that they could be warmed in the frying pan or popped into a microwave for about thirty seconds.

There was a time when you could get out of the hotel and skulk down to a little corner dive café where you would be able to eat a decent hot breakfast for about $5.95, but that time is passing us by. It’s too easy to tell the low-wage worker who mops the floor to pour some liquid eggs into a frying pan or pop some refrigerated sausage patties into a microwave. How can you compete with that when you have to break your own eggs? And on top of all that, the bean counters that regulate people who travel on per diem are telling them that they have to eat the free breakfast that comes with the room rate, or else shell out the $5.95 all from their own pocketbook.

There’s a food ethics point in here somewhere. Let’s see if the robots can find it.

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

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