Over the summer I collect ‘little stories’; these scenarios that might seem normal to an American living in the United States, but they are my stories because they are situations, conversations, images of how Americans approach food and meals that seem culturally different to my adopted France. Here is the fourth ‘little story’ about an American sliced bread called Wonder Bread and a mom with food nostalgia. Like my last ‘little story’ about Philadelphia Cheesesteaks, this foodie example shows that we have something in common with the French: food that bring good nostalgia for our childhood is all good for the soul.
If you want to read the ‘little story’ series, you can start here: Differences in Food Cultures: Why Can’t Parents Say No?
Differences Between French and American Food Culture: Wonder Bread or a Baguette?
This ‘little story’ is about food nostalgia of a basic food staple: le pain or bread.
I find it amusingly foodie fun and culturally inspiring to observe the food on the grocery store shelves in whatever place I am living or visiting. In general, the grocery store’s inventory represents a food culture snapshot of what the consumer will buy in that area.
In France there is a segment on the grocery shelves for sliced bread, called pain de mie. It is a smaller selection than in American stores, where sliced bread is king. We don’t have Le Boulangerie bakery on ‘every street corner’ that you make a daily stop for your baguette. Bread is sacred in both France and America. And eating a good slice of bread or a piece of baguette is part of daily life in both cultures.
It is this nostalgia for our childhood bread that brings this ‘little story’ onto the blog. Because even if the baguette reigns in France (albeit if sliced bread is taking a larger piece of the market), sliced bread is what Americans want to eat and grew up eating, like this mom I brushed against at the grocery store.
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We don’t miss a lot of French foods while here at the Jersey Shore all summer, we eat well mostly thanks to Grandma’s good cooking. But we miss one main French food staple: Le Baguette. We can buy French baguettes and Italian long breads at the American grocery store, but they don’t taste the same. And recently I got food (nauseous) freaked out when I opened the roll drawer at the bakery aisle in the Acme and a moth flew out. (Those moths that like flour and leave larvae in the grains, looks kind of like this).This made me feel so turned off that I zipped over to the sliced bread aisle to take purchase of more sterile offerings.
That is when I saw this cute little boy with his mom. They were buying some sliced bread too.
“Look mom,” the boy said. “Wonder Bread. What is that?”
“Ah, I grew up on Wonder Bread.” the mom replied, with a happy sigh of remembrance. “Let’s get some.”
Back when this mom was young, Wonder Bread was ‘the’ bread to buy and make PB&J sandwiches (for foreign readers PB&J is Peanut Butter and Jelly). It was soft and stayed fresh and the bread was a very white almost artificial color. Although I remember my mom never buying Wonder Bread (she made her own bread or bought the less expensive store brand), I do have nostalgia like this mom thinking about growing up on sliced bread.
That bright and distinctive balloon coloring packaging, this sliced bread was an American phenomenon and culinary innovation: “The greatest thing since sliced bread.”
And I will admit to ‘defend’ Wonder Bread here, because even if I am a foodie simplest and promote the more natural ways to eat bread, like a true French baguette traditionale, the nutritional and food history behind Wonder Bread (and other sliced breads) meant that it was perfect for its time in history. (Read about “The Quiet Miracle” here).
Differences in Food Cultures: Wonder Bread or A Baguette?
Wonder Bread or Baguette?
Both Wonder Bread and a typical French baguette have had their economic ups and downs. Wonder Bread has recently been saved from bankruptcy and is now remanufactured by Flower Foods. The soft and cheaper French baguette has also seen the French government backed bread industry financially supporting advertisement campaigns to get more French to eat this food staple.
But ask any middle-age French or American about the bread when they were growing up and I know they will be nostalgic. The French for their soft baguette, white inside and crunchy on the outside and Americans for white and soft sliced bread, manufactured on an industrialized scale, delivered by bread trucks (my grandfather’s job) and sold in colorful and decorative plastic packages.
I don’t want to dispute what is better for us to eat, that isn’t the point of the article. But when it comes to food nostalgia and happy smiles for enjoying one of the oldest food staples in the world, bread, there is no right or wrong.
And for this we are just like the French. And the French are just like us. For these treasured and grateful gestures of passing on food nostalgia and food memories of our childhood to our kids and grandkids.
Are you reading and want to read about differences between the French and American food culture? My next article is about eating samples for lunch at Costco. Follow the ‘little stories’ series this summer to read about these American food warehouses and how they can either save you from buying lunch or packing on the pounds (or both!). You can receive new articles directly in your inbox by subscribing below. Your email will remain private and you won’t miss an article or the monthly newsletters. Subscribe by clicking here: Subscribe to BrightonYourHealth or on the button below. And I always appreciate when you share my articles.
Thanks for your support. Warmly, Mary