Eating in Another Hemisphere

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.
-Jean Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

“How do you make your ideal a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

I haven’t heard the name of that sandwich in over a year, and suddenly I have been asked that question in two job interviews. Because the people who hire you apparently aren’t concerned with whether or not you like the sandwich (you are American after all), but instead they want to know how you would construct the “perfect” one. As if that would give them insight into the type of employee you would be. You know, because I like raspberry jam better than grape jelly, automatically I’m going to be more difficult to handle. Seriously, all those little seeds in raspberry jam just make the overall experience that much more unpleasant. Yeah right.

This analogy is so inextricably American. Never, while living abroad, have I been asked by my friends, let alone in a job interview how I would make a PB&J . You know why? Because nobody, and I mean NO ONE, outside of the United States enjoys peanut butter. It is a sticky, gloppy mess that has a texture and taste inferior to Nutella. Besides, who in their right mind would use anything else on bread if Nutella were an available option?

Oddly enough, the lack of peanut butter in my daily life didn’t strike me as something strange. Mind you, I say this have always loved peanut butter. (In fact, I had a period where eating it off a spoon like an ice cream was an acceptable substitute for dessert.)

Then I moved to Europe.

It was funny how I never noticed that we didn’t have peanut butter. Then again, there were so many things that were other, that not having a classic American sandwich was near the bottom of my list of things I had to learn to embrace. What boggles my mind is it took me until I moved back to realize that, “Oh my god! Children all over the western time zone are not experiencing a childhood filled with PB&J.”

Not only that, but what in the world do their parents feed them when they have no time to pack them a proper lunch of leftovers in nicely organized containers? (No, it’s not a turkey sandwich because, again, American deli meat is another of our unique inventions.) Of course I can surmise what the answer to this niggling question would be, but that is not the point. The point is that it didn’t occur to me that there were alternatives to this ubiquitous childhood sandwich.

Not that any of this matters enough to insight a hailstorm discussion about the superiority or inferiority of peanut butter; it is just an observation. Funny to think though, what I thought was the end-all-be-all of packaged foods is not even on the radar for much of the world.

At the end of the day, you can be in whichever camp you choose and I will still like you. However I will say to those who don’t like the delicious substance that passes for a main ingredient: sad for you, more peanut butter for me!


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