Fathers of America, it’s time for us to unite and leave the crusts on the bread of our progeny. This, I know, will be unpopular with the child community. There will be protests. But we should persist nonetheless. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Crusts – as my 4- and 5-year old sons remind me often – are yucky. Those two, prodigious loaf munchers, are loath to consider a sandwich or slice of toast if the aforementioned bread is ringed by crust. They demand nothing but the good stuff. They demand nothing but the highlights. But life is not like that. Food is not like that so I have begun to say no. “You don’t have to eat them,” I explain, “but I’m not cutting them off either.”
I could really use some backup on this because it’s going over poorly — and also because it matters.
There are a few ways in which it matters. Lets start big. Roughly 133 billion pounds of food are wasted each year. That’s a lot of waste. That’s a lot of land, a lot of crusts. And the problem won’t get better if we don’t cultivate the idea that food is to be eaten in its entirety. Should we do this by force-feeding kids crust? Of course not. That’s cruel and it will give them all weird complexes. But we don’t have to help children be wasteful either. We can explain the deal to kids and they can make their choices. The key is to not be a facilitator or a pusher.
As a child of the bullshit “Clean your Plate. Kids are starving in Africa!” dinner table philosophy, I can attest it was no bueño. The intention may have been noble but the execution was, as it often is with all things guilt-driven, garbage. Parents – or at least my rental units – never bothered to build a bridge between that first sentence and the second. And so, as a kid with steamed broccoli swishing around his mouth, I wondered how my consumption helped or hurt anyone. Do they ship leftovers to Africa? No, they do not.
So I am not advocating for forcing a child to eat crust. What I am asking is that we do not edit out of a child’s culinary experience that crusts exist. In crust, there are valuable lessons about life to be had. This is the smaller argument, but also the more compelling one.
As a boy, I was naturally a crust-hater, but I was also a puzzler of crusts. How and why, I wondered, did they form? Was the crummy crust – and even worse, the ends of a loaf of bread in which the crust:non-crust ratio was damn near 2:1 – all that necessary when the rest of a loaf of bread was so delicious? Young and callow was I when I learned that crust is not formed from a second type of dough. Crust forms when dough is baked, a result of the Maillard Reaction in which enzymes and acids and sugars in the dough are turned dark by the intense heat. It’s evidence of process. It’s proof that food doesn’t just appear.
Crust also helps. Crust protects the inside bread. In fact, the soft and carefree crumb of the inside dough would not exist at all if not for the crust. The dough that became crust gave up its doughiness so that other dough could live. It is Gallipoli dough. It’s soldier dough. It’s savior dough.
By cutting the crust from the sandwiches and toast presented to your children, you are robbing them of that lesson and teaching them that it’s okay to live within a food system and never grapple with its particulars. For both moral and very practical reasons, this is not so. Children of crust cutters privilege pleasure over agency and understanding. There’s danger there. Not, you know, real danger, but danger nonetheless.
That lesson doesn’t need to be explicit but it’ll be there. Simply by showing you can’t have bread without the crust, you can’t have freedom without those who defend it, you can’t have life without death, you are saying you can’t have light without darkness. Look, breakfast and toddlerdom might all be too early to lay some heavy Jungian shadow stuff out on the table. But a slice of bread is a tidy metaphor for reality. Trust your kids to take a bite.