Nothing makes me feel quite as American as a perfectly concocted peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The toast is crispy, the peanut butter is creamy, and the jelly is racing you down the side of the sandwich so you have to keep rotating the cursed thing. Everyone associates American food with steaks and hamburgers and fat, but there are plenty of other countries now whose youth enjoy these cardiovascular disease inducing delights. Name anywhere else in the world though where a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is such an acceptable and embraced childhood staple. Call me ignorant but I can’t think of any. We even have our own mascot Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana, who could top that?
Living in the deep south while I was younger is an experience that I will probably never completely grow out of. Everywhere I went was a reminder of why I was “different”, “exotic”, and often “exploitable”. I was never quite American enough to wholeheartedly be one of the group, and while I wasn’t too bothered by this it was still one of those facts of life you couldn’t ever deny. When trying to list similarities and differences, my mind always created a list of differences a mile long, and a list of similarities that could fit on a sticky note. Sure, we all went to the same school, but the teachers didn’t slow down to speak to the rest of them. Many of us lived in the same apartment complex, but the landlord didn’t give the rest of them such a hard time. Looking back it really is amazing what a child can pick up from their surroundings, and the differences I picked up continued on even though I may not have been consciously aware of what they meant. Don’t curse in front of your kids or talk about sensitive material, parents, it’ll come back to kick you in the ass.
And this is where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches save the day. On my little sticky note list of similarities, there was always a little corner exclusively for PB&J. It wasn’t just an American food that I ate, it was one I liked, and the sheer fact that I liked it meant to me that somewhere behind my foreign face and broken accent was an American kid, just like my friends and classmates. Spout out patriotism and constitutional rights and whatever other sound clip you hear on the news about being American, but perhaps eating a simple sandwich is better at bringing us together than waving a flag you got at the dollar store.