Thanks largely to the astounding number of unsubstantiated and/or deceptive claims made in its name, the truth about breakfast may never be known. Take, for instance, the idea that it is the most important meal of the day. That assertion was first put forward not by doctors but a magazine—and not an upstanding magazine like this one, but a magazine run by John Harvey Kellogg. Orange juice’s reputation as a healthy, vitamin-rich concoction is largely an invention of Sunkist, and a recent Harvard study touting coffee’s many health benefits, widely reported in the media in March, was in part funded by coffee lobbyists.
And so, breakfast is the Rashomon of daily repasts. Indeed, the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the average American spends 12 minutes each day eating breakfast, which coincidentally is about the time it will take you to read this essay, assuming of course that you periodically stop and ponder the more trenchant thoughts on offer. Perhaps some of you will even read this essay while eating breakfast, thereby leaving yourself an extra 12 minutes to gossip about coworkers in the break room. This is completely permissible. There are essayists who bridle at the notion of readers dividing their attention between a writer’s deathless prose and, say, a frozen artificial strawberry waffle. But I am not of this elitist camp. Rather, the impact of my essays only grows with the ingestion of sodium aluminum phosphate and modified cornstarch, so feel free to toast something up before we proceed. I’ll wait.
Ah, the aroma is glorious, no? As I always say, there’s nothing quite like the smell of a frozen factory waffle emerging pristinely from icy preservation, looking and smelling just as it did at the moment of its death by mass-fabrication in a Big Food laboratory. Watching it vault from the toaster, one feels something akin to that of the archeologist stumbling upon a woolly mammoth in the Arctic tundra. You hesitate to bring the golden disc to your lips, so awestruck are you by this cryogenic marvel. The taste cannot fail to disappoint by comparison.
And so it does, spectacularly. The Kellogg’s Eggo strawberry waffle is in a word awful, detestable even. Mealy, flavorless and as appetizing as rust, it is perhaps the most compelling argument for skipping breakfast altogether. Indeed, to bite into it, to feel one’s tongue slowly bathed in palm oil and red dye No. 40, is to wonder forever why we put food in our bodies at all.
As I say, this should not surprise you, for breakfast has been the province of grifters and mountebanks since at least the beginning of the last century, when PR genius Edward Bernays—bankrolled by the pork industry—successfully convinced the American public that a heavy breakfast of bacon and eggs was the healthiest thing it could eat. (Not having done enough damage, Bernays went on to persuade women that their standing in society could be improved by smoking cigarettes, or “torches of freedom,” as he termed them.)
The problem with breakfast, as elsewhere, is that “we are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of,” as Bernays once put it. The only remedy for this appalling state of affairs, I think you’ll agree, is to rely solely on Houstonia magazine for your breakfast wisdom. We may not be any less biased an authority, but at least you’ve heard of us.