How does this sound for a breakfast menu: blood sausage fried in onions, head cheese thinly sliced, salatka kartofli (Polish potato salad), hard-boiled eggs, blintzes, pickles, beet horseradish sauce and rye bread? If you have turned up your nose, you are clearly American and probably fully indoctrinated into the sugar/carb-loaded morning menu that we have come to embrace.
The above fare was served to my wife and me (and two other guests) during a recent brunch hosted by Gosia and Andrew Stypko of Uvalde. The Stypkos are originally from Poland, and the food we ate was typical of that country and many other European nations where breakfast food is barely distinguishable from other meals.
Which actually makes perfect sense since most cultures eat in the morning what was leftover from the previous day. We largely followed the same practice in this country until the late 1800s when a couple of brothers named Kellogg invented Corn Flakes. The new food was a byproduct of John Harvey Kellogg’s work at his Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. A medical doctor, Kellogg was also a staunch member of the Seventh Day Adventist faith, which insisted on a bland, vegetarian diet and abstinence from caffeine and alcohol.
Without other developments taking place as a result of the Industrial Revolution, such as the advent of refrigeration, cheap sweeteners and the explosion of advertising, Corn Flakes might have gone stale. As it turned out, the first half of the 20th century cemented cereal into the national psyche as something inexpensive and good for you. As we now know, “good for you” is a relative term in the sense that most cereal has about as much nutritional value as balsa wood. But drown it in milk and pop in a little fruit and just maybe … it might not be so healthy but the taste is right.
Of course a traditional American breakfast might also include fried or scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. High in protein – and fat – and maybe not so good for you either, but at least it’s hot. And more nutritional than a wad of pancakes floating in butter and syrup or giant biscuits bobbing on a sea of gravy. Or how about a plate of shrimp and grits for breakfast? Now we are talking about regional fare, but doesn’t it sound more appetizing than a bowl of milk-logged Corn Flakes?
Truth be told, no meal in America today is as influenced by time – or the lack thereof – as breakfast. We are a nation driven to move, and the morning for most people, especially mothers of school-aged children, is a Chinese fire drill.
When visiting our daughter in Austin, I am always struck by the machine-like delivery of breakfast to three kids (13, 10 and 5) whose tastes are as varied as their ages. And yes, sometimes it is cereal or other simple breakfast food, but it gets the job done.
And that, for the most part, is what breakfast is about: expediency. In that regard, it is certainly not the most important meal of the day (and never has been since that fiction was spawned by a New York ad agency) unless you are from Poland. After eating breakfast with the Stypkos, you might not need to eat for a couple of days. It is that good.