Why are memes about generational differences so easy to make?
Well, the denizens of any era are humans, and humans are very strange. Still, how could a liminal millennial like me ever wrap my mind around the phenomenon known by the sobriquet “Stuff on Toast”?
The following complete meal was lovingly prepared by Greatest Generation moms for their Boomer children in the 1960s.
Stuff on Toast Dump into a big yellow bowl:
1 can cream of mushroom soup;
2 cans Chicken of the Sea;
Dollop of sour cream.
Heat that stuff up on the stove.
Put that stuff on toast!
My parents grew up in different parts of Michigan, but both had the above for dinner on the regular.
A grandmother of mine once mixed in some canned peas. Across the decades, I can hear her racking her brain for ways to get her brood to eat green vegetables! But it was a bridge too far, and she probably knew it during plating. The kids sent themselves to bed without dinner. No one recalls whether leftover Stuff on Toast was served for breakfast next morning, but people can be surprisingly adept at repressing traumatic memories.
By the 1970s, embittered frat house chefs were serving Stuff on Toast (under the even less appealing label “Sh* on a Shingle”) as a reprisal for messes left in kitchens by privileged (and probably drunk) university students.
By 1993, when the Food Network premiered in the US, the dish had faded from Michiganian cuisine.
Meet the New Stuff, Same as the Old Stuff
Does a generation have the moral authority to criticize avocado toast if it was responsible for normalizing sour creamy tuna with little rehydrated mushrooms in it?
Look, toast is as old as civilization. Toast isn’t going away. The question is and will be: what stuff are we putting on it?
In other words, what is my generation’s “Stuff on Toast”? What are we doing that will inspire disgust in 50 years?
Much, I fear - far, far too much. The culinary sins of the Cold War era pale in comparison to the blasé attitudes and decadent novelties of our own. We ought not assume that living later in time makes us the beneficiaries of PROGRESS!
But can’t we relax a little, assured that we are at least less racist and less sexist than back then?
Nope. Just because we make tastier toast does not make us more virtuous. Let us not fall prey to the myth that civilization tends toward enlightenment (or that racism and sexism have been expunged).
A salutary note: I remember that my grandmothers built schools, ran charities, campaigned for just causes, had bowling leagues and softball teams, and went dancing with their husbands on the weekends. Maybe I can forgive them a dinnertime shortcut and stop trying to cancel every last thing they did. Maybe we can focus on sussing out our own flaws, ridding ourselves of our motes before prying them of their specks. Maybe we can check the urge to cancel, for she who lives by her self-righteousness will die by her self-righteousness.
Wise would we be to heed Paul’s words:
For if anyone thinks
he is something
when he is nothing
he is deluding himself.
Lord, purify us in your refiner’s fire. Make us salt and light and leaven
for the generations who serve you today.
Let us be your voice and your embrace
for all who seek you, whether or not
they know it is you for whom they long.
Make us know our life’s shortness.
Keep us from folly but fill us with joy.
Photo by Leti Kugler on Unsplash