What I've Learned From Toast
posted August 10, 2005

by Alan Burdick
New York Times

Not long ago I was given a toaster as a gift. For years I lived without one. Toasting, it seemed to me, was a sham: in goes the pre-sliced slip of machine-molded white bread, and out pops a pretense of royalty, an impostor to the throne of cakes and jam and tea. The toaster – invented, I’d always thought, expressly to facilitate this sorry masquerade – was to blame.

But I’ve changed my views. Partly it’s my toaster: chrome, sleek, a jewel from the 1950’s – that era when household appliances were an art form, when their design seemed to say, something sacred is taking place here. And partly it’s a better understanding of history. Wonder Bread, the predecessor and king of all packaged sliced bread, was not introduced in sliced form until 1930, more than a decade after the world’s first automatic toasting device (eventually called the Toastmaster toaster, the brand that now blesses my faux-wood-laminated counter) was patented. Sliced bread was literally made to e toasted.

In essence, I see now, each individual slice of American bread carries within itself the seeds of its own redemption. Just as every American child may grow to be President, so does every slice of bread, no matter how airy, white and characterless, offer the golden promise of toast. Only circumstance – the lack of a toaster, in this case – hinders the fulfillment of this promise.

To toast, then, is to ritually re-enact, daily and in miniature, the American dream itself. Each morning, in a small corner of the kitchen, the transformation of bread into cake prefigures (we hope) our own successful assault upon the social ladder. It is as if, by toasting, we ourselves might be toasted.

Toast thus serves as a talismanic reminder of human potential. To the Willy Lomans and Ralph Kramdens of the world, destined as they are to ashen lives, an encounter with toast can never be more than a tragic experience. To the rest of us, it is a call to arms. The bell sounds, the toast springs up, the scnt of a golden future wafts before us like an omen. Time now to go to work.