From hard experience I learned that I am single at heart, a phrase borrowed from Bella DePaulo, professor at UCSB, author of several books on singlehood, and author of the column Living Single at Psychology Today. I would have spared myself much grief (and perhaps one or two others some grief) had I learned it sooner, but better late than never. Much as I enjoy company, I also enjoy that, unlike a cohabiter, company leaves. It’s important to my peace of mind to be able to get drunk and crank up the stereo at 3 a.m. (I have no close neighbors either) without having to negotiate it ahead of time or explain it afterward to someone else. I don’t actually do that very often (the day after isn’t worth it) but the freedom to be able to do so without consequences (other than a hangover) matters. That example is, of course, a stand-in for every other aspect of normal daily life: no negotiation or accommodation required. Very relaxing. Once again, I’m not a hermit or misanthrope (well, maybe a little of the latter); company is great, just so long as it is less frequent than solitude.
There are nonstandard practices that tend to creep into a single person’s life, and some of them involve food. Meals tend to be haphazard and at any time of the day or night. The first meal of the day (whenever that might be) could be a Stromboli and the last pancakes. You never know. It depends on what is in the fridge, which is not stocked to accommodate anyone else. Once or twice a week, though, I actually go out to breakfast: typically with a friend (again, not a hermit) and most often at The Minuteman, a reasonably priced local spot with good food including a variety of baked-in-house pies. (Someone there must be a fan of the 2007 movie Waitress.) Because of my nonstandard breakfasts on the other 5 or 6 days of the week, the menu always raises the question of why these particular foods are regarded as breakfast foods. Yes, many diners offer “all day breakfasts” but “breakfast” is still right there in the description with the implication that ordering one off-hours is somehow bending the rules. The question arose this morning when I ordered the “Breakfast Brigade” which has several of the usual items: pancake, French toast, hash browns, eggs, and bacon.
The answer to the question, of course, is habit. We grow up with certain foods for breakfast and it just seems natural to have them in the morning. Yet, their initial arrival on the menu is not so very far rooted in the past. Many have written of the bizarre origins of corn flakes as a health food in Kellogg’s sanatorium. Sylvester Graham (as in Graham cracker) was also a fan of cereals and strict vegetarianism, which he thought would prevent masturbation. (You can’t make this stuff up.) Waffles and pancakes, previously as likely a dessert as breakfast food, fit into the whole grain prescription for breakfast. A counterattack on grains didn’t take long. Eggs and bacon along with other meats long had been common on the farm, but they became an urban breakfast staple as part a deliberate campaign in the 1920s.
Faced with a surplus of bacon, the Beech-Nut Packing Company hired Edward Bernays. Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Bernays is regarded as the founder of modern public relations and advertising techniques. His 1928 book Propaganda is still worth a read; he was in favor of propaganda because he thought common folk were unable to think for themselves and needed to persuaded by those who knew better. He managed to find 5000 doctors to say the high protein farmer’s diet was right all along and included this “study” in advertisements. Bacon and sausage sales took off. (He also helped tobacco companies sell to women by associating cigarettes with suffragists, but that is another story.) Fruit companies similarly promoted the health benefits of vitamin C in orange juice. By the end of the 1920s breakfast menus were what they still are today.
However they got on the menu, I like standard breakfast fare in the morning. So, I’m sure I’ll continue to order it once or twice per week. If the mood should strike for a pepperoni and onion breakfast pizza though, I can order one the night before and heat it up in the morning. There is no one to whom to explain it.
Supertramp - Breakfast In America