Did the pandemic break breakfast?
The Toronto Star had a piece over the weekend about the rising costs of breakfast staples and the lack of choice on grocery-store shelves, owing to a host of both pandemic- and climate-change-related issues. According to Statistics Canada’s latest consumer price release, Canadians will pay 6.5 per cent more for groceries than they did a year ago. (We talked about this in a previous NEXT.)
Focusing on breakfast foods — from coffee to oat milk to bacon — makes sense, as supply-chain issues seem to be disproportionately affecting the first meal of the day. Just ask anyone who has tried to buy Corn Flakes or Rice Krispies lately.
Certain kinds of cereal have been hard to find in stores lately. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)
But — and I am about to say something extremely controversial, here — did you know you can eat whatever kind of food you want, at any time of day? I know. I know!
“Breakfast food” is a completely made-up concept, like Valentine's Day or the 40-hour work week. It’s also a very North American thing.
Back in 2019, Thrillist writer Kat Thompson argued there’s no such thing as breakfast food, pointing out that the morning meal looks different all over the world.
“In my native country of Thailand, breakfast looks like rice porridge with garlicky pork meatballs, tom luad moo (which translates to boiled pork blood — and is a protein-rich soup composed of exactly what it sounds like), and lightly sweetened soy milk filled with beans, jellies, and basil seeds.”
Such is our adherence to specific foods at specific times of day that, in 2019, the Egg Farmers of Canada launched an "Eggs Anytime" campaign, the tagline for which was: “eggs for lunch/dinner isn’t weird.” Because it’s not. As if that had to be said, let alone form the basis of a marketing campaign that won awards.
Of course, egg farmers would have a vested interest in getting Canadians to eat more eggs, but the campaign hits on our rigid thinking around food and mealtimes. It’s not weird to eat eggs for dinner just as it’s not weird to eat a salad for breakfast. It’s just a mental barrier.
I used to be big cereal eater. Cereal, of course, is the true feat of marketing at the breakfast table — a riot of sugar and bright colours and cartoon mascots and sometimes it would come with a toy. Those multipacks of little individual boxes — you know, the one your parents would shotput into the sun if you tried to sneak them into a grocery cart — have a particularly difficult-to-ignore siren song, offering both variety and novelty. You can pour the milk directly into the box!
In my early twenties, breakfast (and sometimes dinner) was vanilla-almond Special K with almond milk, or a truly horrifying protein smoothie — a slurry of banana, berries and this protein powder that activates my gag reflex thinking about it. Neither were particularly satisfying, but both were products of rigid thinking around food. Diet culture is wild. It will convince you that cauliflower is pizza crust.
As I’ve discussed frequently in this newsletter, the pandemic exploded a lot of our regular routines, and therefore, a lot of our rigid thinking — around work, around rest, around how we spend our time. Breakfast, too, seems like another a site for reimagination — especially if “breakfast foods" have never really worked for you, or your favourite cereal is stuck in a shipping container somewhere.
My work wife Erin Lebar is a pioneer on this front; she regularly ate leftovers for breakfast as a kid because she didn’t — and doesn’t — like many so-called “breakfast foods.” Her mom knew fed was best, so if that meant last night’s tortellini, so be it.
Tortellini — it’s what’s for breakfast! (Debra Brash / Victoria Times Colonist files)
“The saddest part is sometimes we would get dismissed for recess in a ‘fun way’ and the teacher would be like, ‘If you had toast for breakfast you can go’ or ‘If you had juice for breakfast you can go,'” Erin tells me. “And I would always be last because, like, I had stir fry for breakfast.”
While I haven’t swapped out all “breakfast foods” during the pandemic, I’ve certainly become more “intentional” about the first meal of the day — making something I actually want to eat, and then sitting down at the table to eat it. I happen to love oatmeal for breakfast. My go-to lately is rolled oats cooked on the stove, spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and vanilla, with a diced apple chucked in there for good measure. Butter to serve. It’s cozy and nutritious.
But oats are on the list of things that tricky to find, so maybe I’ll broaden my horizons. Stir-fry for breakfast sounds pretty good, actually.
Jen Zoratti, Columnist