Ode to White Bread

There was a time in this country when you could eat a wonderfully flavorless slice of this substance and not feel like a villain. But that time is long ago, back in the days before iceberg lettuce, white bread’s vegetable companion in blahness, was driven underground. And though iceberg lettuce is now mysteriously in vogue in fancy steakhouses, served with blue cheese dressing for $10 per chunk, no such revival seems remotely possible for white bread.

Thanks to its natural bounty of preservatives, white bread has remained imperishable, even while perishing from the kitchens and restaurant tables of our grim, gourmandizing republic. Only at barbecue joints does it still retain a vestige of its once undisputed carb primacy.

The guy behind the counter has just loaded up your butcher paper with brisket and ribs and oozing sausage when he asks, “Bread with that?”

You nod. It is perfectly acceptable. You’re already eating something called a hot gut; what more can the food police charge you with? The guy casually grabs eight or ten or twelve slices of Mrs Baird’s. Maybe even the whole loaf. He doesn’t care.

Spongy, aerated, as pliable as Play-Doh, white bread is not so much a foodstuff as it is, well, stuff. It is not just more absorbent than a paper towel; it is also slightly better tasting. So let us pause in our celebration of barbecue to acknowledge its forlorn, forgotten, never-to-be-respected, always-to-be-reviled, eternally square, soulless, nutritionally neutral sidekick: the loaf, or perhaps more accurately, the wad, of white bread.

— Contributing editor Stephen Harrigan recently ate barbecue in North Carolina and discovered that hushpuppies make a poor substitute for white bread.

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