Breakfast in America by Chef Lippe

Breakfast in America by Chef Lippe

You might think bacon and eggs have been breakfast in America forever, not so. Breakfast in America is the result of a string of personal interests, special interests, and greed. Fasten your belts and read on.

Coffee owns its participation on the American table partly thanks to the 1773 Boston Tea Party, and the subsequent boycott by some colonists who made a point of shunning tea and turning to coffee instead. In a 1774 letter to his wife, Founding Father John Adams wrote, “I have drunk coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced.” 

Cereals are the effort of one Will Keith Kellogg, a Seventh Day Adventist, who discovered the process of turning oat into flakes by chance in 1894. Second Day Adventists founded the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where they manufactured and promoted wholesome cereals as part of a puritan diet designed to suppress sexual desire and lead America away from sin, reaping good profits by promoting cereals as healthy food. Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1906.

Oatmeal is much older than breakfast, and its invention may have changed the course of human history. When humanity switched from a hunter-gatherer model of society to a model of grain and livestock farming, early settlers were able to create cereal-based mush that could be fed to children. Researcher Alistair Moffat claims that this freed women up from breastfeeding children whose milk teeth could not manage tough food, which led to a population explosion that allowed for the rapid spread of humanity. Quaker Oats was registered as a cereal trademark in 1877 and, by 1885, oats were being sold in boxes, not just in bulk. "Quick Oats" were introduced in 1922, and "Instant" Oatmeal in 1966.

Orange juice was the result of marketing by the Sunkist company in Florida, who had just launched orange juice in a can breaching the barrier of oranges decaying during transport. In 1916, a surplus of oranges gave birth to the advertising slogan, “Drink an orange,” which aimed to convince people that juicing an orange (or a few oranges) was a healthy way to start the day. Two years later, the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic prompted consumers to drink more orange juice as a supposed deterrent of the flu.

Bacon at breakfast was the work of one Edward Bernays. For many people, the combination of bacon and eggs forms the basis for the archetypal hot breakfast. Eggs have long been a popular breakfast food, perhaps because fresh eggs were often available early in the day, but their partnership with bacon is a 20th century invention. Bernays persuaded doctors to promote bacon and eggs as a healthy breakfast to promote sales of bacon on behalf of Beech-Nut, a packaging company that had diversified into food production. Bernays convinced 5,000 doctors to sign a letter recommending a hearty breakfast, and publicized this conviction in newspapers, with bacon and eggs presented as the ideal start to the day. Sales of Beech-Nut bacon increased, and we have been eating bacon for breakfast ever since.

Pancakes are an old habit, very old, so old that Humans as a species may have been eating pancakes since prehistoric times, according to analysis of stone age tools, as a delicious way of getting energy-rich starchy grains into our diet. In fact, Otzi the Iceman, the world's oldest naturally preserved human mummy, is thought to have eaten a wheat pancake as one of his last meals. Pancakes have been a staple part of our diets in just about every culture since, so why do we now mainly eat pancakes at breakfast time?

The answer may have something to do with how pancakes have changed over time. In Europe they tend to be thin, but American pancakes got fat in the 18th century with the addition of pearl ash as a leavening agent. These thicker pancakes were easy to make first thing in the morning, but at dinner people preferred bread with their meal, and cooks had all day to bake fresh loaves. For that reason, historians theorize, pancakes were consigned to the morning meal, and now it is hard to imagine any breakfast diner or brunch restaurant that does not serve up thick stacks of pancakes.

Waffles originated in Belgium and the rest of Europe. They were a form of street food, eaten by hand, and especially popular during religious festivals. Waffles only really came into the home with Cornelius Swartwout's invention of the stovetop waffle iron in 1869, followed by the electric waffle iron in 1911. But the real breakthrough for waffles' popularity as a breakfast food may have been the invention of frozen waffles by the Dorsey brothers, who had made their fortune as mayonnaise manufacturers under the brand name Eggo and found still greater success when they built a machine that could produce 1,000 frozen waffles in an hour!

Doughnuts originally introduced by the Dutch as sweet dough fried in pork fat (known as "oily cakes"), the doughnut has been around a very long time, although its popularity surged with the doughnuts served to solders in World War I. The term "doughnut" either comes from the small balls of dough that looked like nuts, or a recipe from a mid-19th century cook who added nuts to the center of her fried dough and therefore referred to them as dough "nuts." The legend goes on to say that her son, a sea captain, did not like the nuts so he had them cut out, creating the famous doughnut shape that we know today. Doughnuts remained as snacks, not breakfast -- often served in theaters -- until the doughnut machine was invented in the 1930s. By the 1940s and 1950s, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Doughnuts had been introduced, and the pairing of coffee and doughnuts secured their place in the breakfast repertoire.

As you can see, the breakfast you take for granted today, in whatever combination might please you, is the result of a long history of events and the people who for one reason or another made your Breakfast in America happen.

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