Editor's Note: For Love of Hated Things is an occasional column in which we will stand in proud, sometimes guilt-stricken defense of the things we love despite all better judgment and wisdom, and a place for the lovers of white bread, canned meat and iceberg lettuce everywhere to come together in greasy-fingered joy and good fellowship.
You know what's really been pissing me off lately? Bread snobs. Those people for whom "bread" no longer means just bread (the end product of flour and water and yeast and heat and time), but has become a status symbol or quasi-political high ground. Those people who would never deign to eat a sliced and bagged loaf of major-distributor grocery store white bread but can brag for hours about the amount of whole grains and fiber and magical artisan pixie dust they're getting in every $6 loaf of 12-grain, sprouted wheat, uncut, bakery-fresh, farmers market boule or batard.Don't get me wrong. I love good bread. Love it like a 30-year-old manga geek living in his grandmother's basement loves the wide-eyed anime body pillow he keeps in the closet--in a truly passionate and yet creepily disturbing kind of way. I used to work in the kinds of restaurants that still kept full-time bakers on staff--guys who'd work overnight, doing batch-work and pumping out hundreds of loaves at a go--so understand the power of walking into a kitchen at six in the morning to that overwhelming smell of fresh bread, just out of the oven, floating on air alive with yeast and roiling with cumulus clouds of flour. I once told my wife (back when she was just barely my girlfriend) that if she could be happy with nothing more than a used car, a bottle of wine, a loaf of good bread and some cheese to go with it, then I was the guy for her because I sure wasn't in any position to promise her any more than that. And even now, on weeks when I barely have the cash to pay my rent, I will still lay down the shekels for a good loaf when a good loaf is required.
But what bothers me is the bad rap that plain old supermarket white bread has been getting in this age of small-batch this and heirloom that and artisan everything. What bothers me is that some people (you know who you are...) will now pass up that Wonder Bread, Iron Kids, Sara Lee and various store or local brands out of reflex--just automatically dismissing them out of hand because they are somehow not...I don't know. Cool enough or real enough or wholesome enough to match with the "I gave up half my paycheck to Whole Foods" design style of their home kitchens where a single loaf of bleached and processed white bread would stick out like a World's Greatest Grandma coffee mug at Williams-Sonoma.
The best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are made on plain anti-artisan white bread. No kind of bread toasts up better in the pan for a grilled cheese sandwich than cheap white bread, because cheap white bread is full of sugar and makes for a beautiful, caramel-colored exterior. Pulled pork sandwiches are best presented on sliced and bagged white bread from the nearest Piggly Wiggly, and middle-of-the-night spaghetti sandwiches (a personal indulgence made of leftover spaghetti in tomato sauce taken cold from the fridge, slopped down on buttered bread, topped with parmesan cheese and then microwaved) can only be made with the cheapest and most pasty white bread because, frankly, nothing else tastes quite right and my enjoyment of said sandwich will decrease in direct relation to the number of grains involved in the making of it.
Is supermarket white bread the only kind of bread I like? Of course not. But it has a noble place in my kitchen, serving a role that no other bread can. It is one of my many trashy indulgences, one of the pleasures of my table for which I feel no guilt whatsoever.
And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.