The creation of the peanut butter and jelly can be traced to the early 1900s in America when its recipe was published in a cooking school magazine. It started out as a snack or meal for wealthier people as the cost of peanut butter was high, but eventually, as the price dropped, became widespread, with children becoming the highest demographic. PB&J sandwiches are still incredibly popular with children; it’s a semi-healthy meal that’s easy to eat (no utensils required), and due to its lasting freshness can make a great lunch option. A study in 2002 showed that an average American will eat over 1500 pb&j’s before graduating high school. source
Whether you’re for or against crust on your pb&j, a consensus can be reached on the nostalgic effects a pb&j holds. One look or taste of the sandwich can transport the person back to a simpler, better time. As a person grows older, the consumption of these sandwiches decline as more complex or more expensive meals become available; however, college kids who need a fast and cheap meal increases this consumption for a time. This overall declining trend is due to most seeing a pb&j sandwich as childish. Although it reminds them of a better time, they are “too old” to eat the meal. This contradiction of wanting to relive the past but also putting the past behind to enjoy the modernity and complexity of today is easily illustrated through a pb&j sandwich and readily seen as a theme in America.
This contraction can also be seen in the many ways people have changed or “improved” the simple sandwich. Through grilling it, using french toast instead of white bread. to deep frying the sandwich, steps are taken to make this sandwich “better” by making it more complicated. Although we value the pb&j sandwich for its effortlessness, we actively search for ways to destroy that simplicity. America is known for its progressiveness in infrastructures and a wide variety of other ways, but we still think of days long ago as better due to its straightforwardness. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to me, is one of the most iconic American foods. An unpopular meal in the rest of the world, but an embodiment of American ideals and contradictions.