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When Eating Breakfast Reflects A Poor Man’s Custom

Posted By Breanna Barnhart On May 16, 2012 @ 6:46 am In Customs,Foodways | Comments Disabled

Informant:  “…I’m sure you’ve seen me do this at breakfast.  Whenever I order eggs, sausage, and hashed browns, I’ll cut it up and mix it all together in a kind of mash.”

Interviewer: “How long have you been doing that?”

Informant: “Oh um, ever since I was really little.  That’s the way I’ve seen my dad do it throughout my life and I guess it just caught on.  It wasn’t until high school when I got called out for it.”

Interviewer: “Called out for it? Why?”

Informant: “Well, when I was at boarding school… it was a pretty ritzy school, I had a scholarship to go there, but it was full of kids who uh, came from old money or whatever…  But anyways, me and my classmates went out to breakfast one day, I ordered the usual – eggs, sausage, hashed browns – sliced it up and mashed it all together.  I started eating, and my friend says to me in this judgmental way… ‘You know…that’s the way a poor man eats….’  I was really embarrassed… I didn’t know what she was talking about.  I thought she was just being a bitch… so I kept mixing it all together.  But… I was kind of offended.  When I came home – it must have been during a holiday vacation – I went out to breakfast with my family, and my dad and I, we ordered our usual and started eating it in the same way we had always done…  But this time, I told him what my classmate said and… you know what… he actually told me that she was right!”

Interviewer: “What? …Really?”

Informant: “[laughs] Yea, I know…  I was surprised too, dude!  So… supposedly, it’s a custom that came from the Great Depression.  Mashing it all together, it was a way to hide rancid meat…

Interviewer: “No way!”

Informant: “Yea, my… great-grandfather lost his business and lived in one of those, those little shantytowns in the Midwest, so that’s supposedly where it all started.  My dad said that that’s how his dad ate and how his grandfather – my great-grandfather – did too… I had no idea it was such a long tradition.”

Interviewer: “That’s pretty crazy… that just a way of eating can survive generations.”

Informant: “Yea, it’s pretty cool.  And I don’t even care that it’s a symbol of ‘lower-class.’  Whatever…  I think of it more now as a type of historical family custom…”

 

The notion that people were forced to eat rotten meat after losing everything during the Great Depression makes sense since they didn’t have the means to buy better quality meats.  In some cases, they practically had to scavenge from the bottom of the barrel to survive.  Whether or not her family custom of eating dates to the Great Depression, the tradition shows how behavior can also be treated as folklore since it can be passed down vocally and visually.  This is also an example of nonsensical folklore, not because it doesn’t make sense, but because there is no underlying meaning to the action; it is simply done because that’s the way it has been done, “because that’s the way my father did it.”


Article printed from USC Digital Folklore Archives: http://folklore.usc.edu

URL to article: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=10932