Peanut Butter: America in a Jar

We’ve been away from the United States for fourteen months now. By this point in the trip, one of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “What do you miss most from home?” My answer to this is always simple. Peanut Butter. I miss peanut butter.

Creamy. Crunchy. Salted. Unsalted. Any kind will do, really.

Now look, I know what you’re probably thinking. What a shallow guy. (Or perhaps, what a fat ass). But before you write me off for skipping over my parents, my sister, my friends, or my black Labrador retriever; allow me to present my case. Peanut butter is the one object I can think of that represents all these things and more:

It’s the image of my mom cutting off bread crusts, and spreading PB with honey on toast for my kindergarten lunches.

It’s the memory of my dog Jack, licking peanut butter incessantly out of the top hole in his chew toy.

It’s a representation of different personalities in the people I care about – like how my Dad is old school and snobby, and goes for the all natural stuff like Laura Scudders, while my sister tells him to get with the times and buy Skippy.

It’s my friends sending me off on my journey, by including a surprise package of Reese’s in my luggage. My favorite candy.

It’s an object, so I’ve realized, that is tied up with many personal memories. But perhaps even beyond that, Peanut Butter acts as the ultimate cultural reminder of home. It’s like America in a jar.

Even a quick look at the numbers tells us that Americans consume nearly 857 million pounds of the stuff annually, which comes out to about 3.36 pounds of peanut butter per person. That’s a whole lot of PB. And, well, it starts to make sense when you think about it. Since the 1920’s, PB has become the all-American, Jimmy Carter product everyone can relate to; both the poor college students’ staple, and a taste enjoyed by those at the highest income levels. That you can expect to find PB in any US grocery store is more than a given.

For me, that is why the fact that peanut butter is so hard to find in many other countries (or is so inferior in quality) will always serve as a subtle reminder I am away from home. It is why “Where can I find peanut butter?” was the second FAQ listed in my study abroad orientation packet in Argentina, and why a group of Ex-Pats I met in Istanbul were so jealous I had recently received a care package of Trader Joes Valencia peanut butter from the States.

You see, peanut butter isn’t merely a delicious balance of fats, salts, and sweets (coincidentally, a snack perfect for bicycle touring). It’s the one item I can carry with me on my bike that reminds me most of home.

So please, won’t you send us some peanut butter?   ;)

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