The peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s the staple of grade school students. The standby for financially-strapped college students. The sign that a husband has done something wrong when he opens the brown-bagged lunch his wife made him that morning.
It’s also the focus of David Valin’s research for the past 4 years, which he’ll finally unveil in a new book called The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, and What’s Usually Between It.
“This is a lifelong dream of mine,” Mr. Valin admitted, “To publish original research on this controversial and understated aspect of the fabric of society. The history and practicality of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is as cemented to the evolution of the American Dream as to the roof of a novice lunch eater’s mouth.”
After eating an estimated 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating high school, and as many again before getting his MA in History from Rutgers, Valin calculated that the sandwich had either made or contributed to nearly 3 years of his lifetime lunches, amounted to 1.3% of his expenses for food, and accounted for nearly all of his intake of peanut oil, which was a substantial factor for his teenage problems with acne. “Much of my life has, in one way or another, been affected by this simple sandwich that no one has ever really understood,” Valin says in the introduction to his book, “I knew that, finally, I had a calling; I had a destiny.”
After exploring the history and the creation of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Valin goes into the already critically acclaimed section of the book that sets out the proper technique for making the sandwich – a topic that scholars have been fiercely debating for decades.
“Valin’s cold logic in the art of the making of the sandwich made even the top academics in the field stop and wonder,” sandwich researcher Bradley Quick said in his review of the book. “While he builds on what other academics have done before him, much of his research is original and insightful, and follows only the pure reasoning of a mind well trained for this kind of intense scholarship.”
The lasting contributions of Valin’s book are likely the most controversial points he makes, such as his suggestion that the entire sandwich – including the spreading of both the jelly as well as the peanut butter – can be made with one utensil: a knife.
“My first thought was that this kind of absolute blasphemy was put in the book to grab people’s attention,” sandwich historian Hammond Frenly said, “But as I was reading it, my God, it started to make sense! Spreading peanut butter with a spoon is grossly inefficient and wasteful, while using a knife for the jelly is only moderately slow – the knife is clearly the lesser of the two evils.”
Building on this groundbreaking assumption, Valin went on to insist that it is the jelly, and not the peanut butter, that should be spread first. “People are allergic to peanut butter,” he explains, “So having peanut butter on a utensil that is inserted into the jelly jar can, in fact, be deadly. The clear answer to this dilemma, while still only using one utensil, is to spread the jelly first. Jelly in the peanut butter jar is not a catastrophe.”
Renowned peanut butter scholar Tiffany Landry agrees. “While it sounds like Valin steadfastly adheres to Welch’s reasoning for applying the jelly first, he is actually using a different rationale; one that appeals to the safety of society rather than just saying that ‘Welch’s jelly is better than any peanut butter out there.’ It’s about time we’ve abandoned this advertising as the One Proper Technique.”
Lastly, Valin advocates the “butter-side-down” method of holding the sandwich when eating it, not because the sweet taste of the jelly can overpower the peanut butter when it’s on the bottom – “Taste is subjective, and no rules should be made to exclude someone else’s preference” – but because having the jelly on top prevents the potentially hazardous effect of peanut butter getting stuck on the roof of the mouth. “The jelly is an effective buffer; it prevents the danger of choking on a sandwich overloaded with peanut butter, as well as the awkwardness of repeatedly using your tongue to scrape the roof of your mouth and the back of your teeth to get rid of lingering peanut butter.”
The academic world of sandwich making will likely never be the same again once Valin’s breakthrough masterpiece is put on shelves this January5th.