Breakfast vs. Brunch vs. The World
I first learned about the decadent concept of brunch from the Simpsons. As part of his seduction tactic on Marge, the flirtatious homme fatale Jacques insisted on a brunch date, calling it “not quite breakfast, not quite lunch; but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end”. Like Marge, and most other Millennials, I too find it substantially difficult to resist an indulgent brunch outing.
What exactly is so appealing about this meal hybrid? My hunch is the fluidity of the concept itself makes it outshine the other “square” meals. Breakfast is too strict, too punctual, too boxed in. Lunch is too rushed, too health-conscious, too perfunctory. Brunch on the other hand is the right amount of rebellious, artistic, and open-minded. It doesn’t care whether you eat at 10am with your early bird flock, or at 2pm with your parliament of hungover night owls. It doesn’t care if you drink a black coffee and green smoothie or knock back some hair-of-the-dog mimosas. It doesn’t segregate ingredients into distinct columns of “morning food” vs. “afternoon food”, because it frankly doesn’t give a damn about labels. It cares about freshness, ambiance, and yes, avocadoes.
Here’s where I’m going deviate from the secret script all Millennials receive with their first Instagram account, and say some things that may ruffle a few feathers. Brunch is divine, but breakfast is still the champion. Breakfast may seem tame now with its conservative exterior, but it’s got a wickedly exciting past. Take for example its bad reputation in the European Middle Ages, where Catholic priests like Thomas Aquinas condemned breakfast as a cardinal sin (gluttony) because it was “praepropere”, the sin of eating too soon. Morning meals were only given to the young, the old, and the sick, so breakfast was seen as a sign of weakness. This, of course, made those hardboiled Medieval men feel ashamed if they were caught chowing down too early. Who’s the guilty pleasure now, Brunch?
Aristocrats put pressure on the Catholic Church to bend the rules once foreign imports like chocolate, coffee, and tea began driving European tastebuds crazy. Pretty soon, exceptions were being made for “liquid” breakfasts (proto-Shakeology?). It was a slippery, buttery slope from there until full banquets became the norm for upper class families. Some of these rise-and-shine feasts are cited as having up to 24 courses in well-to-do Victorian households. How’s that for a treat yo’self montage, Brunch?
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that breakfast’s reputation shifted from indulgence to necessity, when the 19th century jumped into the factory and office worker labor economy. The preference for heavy breakfasts coupled with more sedentary lifestyles led to indigestion and obesity problems, issues which Clean Living Movement purists like Sylvester Graham (cracker man) and John Harvey Kellogg (cereal man) took upon themselves to fix, along with all the other salacious carnal sins that they saw multiplying in society. It’s not surprising that they equated appetite as closely linked to lust, particularly with stimulants like coffee, which could literally make your heart race. Who’s got the sexy reputation now, Brunch?
But seriously, let’s take a step back from these “mainstream” history records for a second. Why should Brunch continue to get so much credit for the Western-centric assumption that it breaks some default tradition in food boundaries? Whose tradition are we looking at? In Japan, it’s quite customary to consume miso soup or rice soup in the morning, and in Vietnam you can slurp up savory pho for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The only group who has historically concerned itself with isolating arbitrary ingredients to a small window of consumption is the self-flagellating Western Europeans.
When you look at the world at large, the idea of debating these trendy portmanteau meal fusions seems laughable. And indeed, it’s a “First World Problem” discussion for gastronomists and nutritionists to continue deliberating all the variables surrounding the ideal morning meal routine. Light breakfast? Heavy breakfast? Liquid? Solid? Early? Late? It’s a luxury for us to investigate so many dimensions of a simple meal that for many has very little measurable sustenance, let alone variety, to offer.
Much bigger discussions can surround both breakfast and brunch beyond this petty popularity contest. Had I room here for a dissertation, I’d jump into topics like:
FEMINISM: The post-war climate that began opening gender role debates once women entered the workforce suddenly made breakfast a sore topic. Feminists like Betty Friedman equated all cooking to the systemic oppression of women. So it wasn’t long before “manlier” ingredients like eggs and bacon became popular household staples after being featured in cookbooks targeting a male audience.
GENTRIFICATION: Low-income neighbourhoods are not considered truly “gentrified” until a new trendy brunch place begins offering expensive dishes garnished with the latest superfood trend. The natural progression of the urban tourism that follows these developments is seen as responsible for displacing ethnic communities who cannot keep up with the rent hikes.
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: It’s not uncommon to find themed brunch restaurants latching onto another ethnicity’s cuisine and hyping up the “elite” factor of the dining experience to mask the cultural appropriation taking place. Whether serving up a Turkish brunch, Moroccan brunch, or the fanciest plate of fried chicken and waffles you’ve ever seen, it’s difficult to ignore the privilege and power dynamics at play in these establishments.
MILLENNIAL CULTURE: The past few decades have brewed a perfect storm of socio and economic forces that now harkens a bleak projection of Millennials’ future earning potential. As such, Millennials have naturally traded the Boomers’ prized vice of materialism for one focused on collecting experiences (rather than things), and practicing conscious consumerism. Despite picking and choosing their luxuries carefully, older generations are still quick to latch onto convenient scapecoats like brunchtime favourite, avocado toast, as the source of Millennial financial woes.
PROFITEERING: Breakfast is known as the “most important meal of the day” thanks to a 1944 marketing campaign from Grape Nuts cereal. It’s actually the most marketed meal of the day, since there’s more profit to be made from gaining consumer loyalty to a breakfast routine (favourite cereal or fast food egg sandwich), than from influencing lunch or dinner habits. Government nutritionists teamed up with biased cereal companies to discourage skipping breakfast for the sake of army recruits, but ended up touting “balanced” breakfasts that were full of sugar.
Honestly, I could go on with world trade issues like the environmental and political concerns surrounding 2017’s avocado shortage; or Portlandia hyper-hipster topics of choice responsible farming and local food economies, etc. But, all that being said….
This was intended as more of a light, fluffy, surface exploration of some identity politics surrounding modern day morning meals. And how a slight shift in context (time of day, ingredients, portions, etc.) can make all the difference for what’s seen in a negative light, and what’s seen as a natural pleasure.
Thank you, dear reader, for indulging me in this modest tribute to MY favourite meal of the day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look up a deviled eggs recipe for a (gasp!) late night potluck.