Today is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. What an absolutely “pure” American food. When I lived in Germany, some locals befriended me and sometimes over good beer, we’d engage in cultural exchange. In our very first “session,” they explained to me what trash items went in the blue bin, the black bin, and the yellow bags, how I needed to haul all my glass items to the village’s central collection point and separate them by color, and what days the metal collector swept through the village. It boggled my mind how seriously they took waste disposal, to the point they gave people citations and charged fines for failure to follow the rules.
Needless to say, trash day was very stressful for me.
But the one thing they wanted to understand about us Americans was our fondness for PBJ. They couldn’t understand how we could mix the saltiness of peanuts with the sweetness of jelly. The faces they made, too, when they asked…kinda how a person looks when they get a whiff of skunky beer (another unheard-of thing to my new friends because why would beer sit for so long?).
I couldn’t explain my country’s love of PBJ. Just like they grew up eating liver and stinky cheese, we went straight from baby formula to PBJ. Not only were the sandwiches cheap, but they didn’t require refrigeration—perfect for school or work lunches. Moms and Dads, or even older siblings could make them, too, and by the time we turned five, we could feed ourselves.
When out of the nest, PBJ felt like a hug from a distant or departed parent. And when time got the best of us, we could slap one together in less than a minute. So, we never outgrew them. Even now in my middle age, I eat them a few times a month—my eighty-five-year-old Dad every other day.
Because the US is a melting pot, it’s hard to come up with “American” foods. I once taught English to a refugee family and asked them what American dish they’d like me to bring to the next lesson. After a few minutes of debate, they settled on lasagna. They’d served me paprikosh and burek, but in their minds, something American had origin from the old country. When I really thought about what American food was, the list I came up with was: hamburgers, fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and… I gave up. Few of our foods originated here without some influence “from abroad.” Even hotdogs, those wonderfully salty links of processed whatever that we consume while watching America’s pastime, have roots from Germany.
But PBJ? 100% U S of A.
So, like we associate beer with Germans, they think of Americans and PBJ. And I’m okay with that. Better than stinky cheese!