The rise and fall of peanut butter and jelly

peanut butter and jelly

Peanut butter, or PB and J, is not just a delectable treat you take to school in your lunchbox. But, it is much more than that; there is a complete history behind this iconic sandwich. And not only does it taste good, it has a rich heritage that is also paralleled with the economic conditions of the US.

There was once when the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich was the perfect and complete meal for anyone. But, ironically, this perfection led to many imperfections in the American economic system. And so came the fall of the might PB and J. Historian Steve Estes wrote that with time, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich went from the classic American lunch item to a symbol of neglectful parents and unhealthy children.

But what made the sandwich from iconic to outdated within a blink of an eye? Let us take a look.

History of peanut butter and jelly

The popularity of PB and J was at its peak during the second half of the 20th century. There were several factors behind this. Steve Estes states that because this sandwich was easy to make and carry, it was considered a bridge between public and private life. The sandwich symbolized home, but it was also a hot favorite at the picnics, camping trips, and school cafeterias.

It was also a symbol of the generational gap. Kids and adults both enjoyed it. And not only this, but it also bridged the economic gap. Anyone from the middle class to the elite class enjoyed this tasty treat equally. The PB and J saved much of the country during a severe financial crisis.

By 1910, the PB and J were considered the solution to any schoolboy’s “lunch problems.” Although it became a staple of the working class, the sandwich has an elite origin. It all started as a fancy tearoom treat for the elites of the society and slowly grew on the rest of the Americans.

The first reference of this sandwich goes back to a 1901 article in the Boston Cooking School Magazine. It described these sandwiches as peanut paste and crab-apple jelly spread on finger sandwiches. And of course, with time, the sandwich was loved by all.

peanut butter and jelly

Peanut butter and jelly, economic friendly

Now that the people knew that they could easily make this sandwich cheaply, the popularity grew. The popularity gave a boost to a lot of factors, and one of them was industrialization. The companies figured out how to increase the shelf-life of bread, peanut butter, and jelly due to the increasing popularity of the snack.

By this time, many Americans had become fond of the combination. And of course, this invention led to the birth of one of the most outstanding ideas ever to hit humanity, sliced bread.

Not only this, by the time of the Great Depression, the US had been going through a severe economic crisis. It was then the PB and J’s time to shine. So the sandwich slowly started to make its way into school children’s lunchboxes and food aid programs.

But Steve Estes says that the rising popularity of this sandwich also had some condescending tones to it. He also pointed a reference in the New York Times, where the government was praised for teaching non-native kids to eat in the “American way.”

So, according to Estes, this also promotes a sense of superiority amongst the Americans. It was not just a portion of food anymore, and it was considered a symbol of “Americanness.”

PB and J as a good choice for families

The sandwich was considered a reasonable and affordable option for American families. And for Baby Boomers, it was considered the best possible option because their mothers made thousands of peanut butter sandwiches. And adding to this popularity, the sandwich also made its way to activist circles. One example of this is the 1963s March on Washington, which suggested that marchers bring this sandwich to satisfy their appetites.

But sadly, by the 1990s, the concern for processed and junk foods kept growing. Allergies began to enter the conversation, and the sandwich’s popularity began to decline. But Steve Estes says that there is much more to this than we might think.

It is no coincidence that the PB and J dropped, as so did the American class system. It shrunk in size, which is why one must think about this. According to him, there is a strong connection between food and American life, and we must pay attention. Or this gap will continue to grow and spread. No pun intended.

No matter the case, we must dig into a big bite of a good old PB and J before starting anything else. We are sure after reading this; you are craving one. We know we are.

Politigory provides in-depth reviews of science, history, humanities, religion, social sciences and arts 🌎

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