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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A new survey about American breakfast preferences is stuck in the past

This story has been updated.

Americans prefer their coffee with milk. They like their bacon somewhat or very crispy. They like their bread lightly toasted, and they like their eggs scrambled or over easy.

These are the results of a new YouGov survey that asked 1,295 U.S. adults how they prefer their breakfast foods. Our preferences are less surprising, perhaps, than the foods that were included in the survey, a combo plate of bacon, eggs and toast that makes it look as if America eats as if it were 1929, not 2019. Where’s the avocado toast? Where’s the heaping bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Where’s the cold slice of pizza? Where’s the Sausage, Egg and Cheese Blueberry McGriddles?

McDonald’s new Blueberry McGriddles sandwich is an HOV lane to a sugar crash

For that matter, who has time for breakfast anymore? A 2016 CBS News poll found that 24 percent of Americans hardly ever or only occasionally eat breakfast. So where’s the YouGov breakfast survey that says 20 percent of Americans like their morning coffee extra quiet, because they’re hung over?

I asked the friendly folks at YouGov why the survey was limited to bacon, eggs, toast and coffee. I was told, basically, that each food had to accommodate a range of potential answers. So when participants were asked about bacon, for example, they could select one of five responses that ranged from “very chewy” to “burnt.” Or when asked about coffee, they could select one of four answers that ranged from “black” to “with a lot of milk, almost white.” (There was no option, alas, for butter in your coffee.)

“One could say why not include pancakes?” wrote YouGov public relations manager Jennifer Abreu in an email. “But there is no scale on pancakes from well done to not.”

Abreu said the breakfast survey is part of a larger one on food. Last month, for instance, YouGov released the results of a steaks-and-hamburgers survey. When Americans were shown images of steak, from blue rare to well-done, their preferences proved just how divided this country is: 24 percent said they like their meat well-done, and 23 percent said they like it medium-rare. As if to confuse the issue even more, Democrats were 6 percentage points more likely to order a well-done steak than their Republican counterparts. This may be the only thing Democrats have in common with President Trump.

Trump Steaks are so rare, we can’t even find one

It’s hard to know what conclusions to draw from the YouGov breakfast survey, other than Americans still insist on drowning their coffee in milk, which only makes sense, to my mind, if you’re knocking back blackened sludge brewed from dark-roasted beans. I guess it’s interesting that 1 percent of the population can’t eat bacon or toast without incinerating it first. They must like ashes for breakfast.

But mostly, I find the survey interesting for the featured breakfast itself: the kind of hearty diner meal that was foisted on America in the 1920s when Edward Bernays, that master of propaganda and public relations, convinced the public that no breakfast plate was complete without a few strips of bacon (no matter how crispy they were). Would it surprise you to learn that Bernays was, at the time, working for the Beech-Nut Packing Co., which was trying to sell more bacon?

“We carried out a letter to 5,000 physicians,” Bernays said in an old, undated interview. “We got about 4,500 answers. All of them concurred that a heavy breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. That was publicized in the newspapers. Many of them stated that bacon and eggs should be embodied with the breakfast and, as a result, the sale of bacon went up.”

No, bacon does not make everything better

Bernays, it should be noted, was the puppet master behind a massive public relations campaign — others would call it political propaganda — for United Fruits, an effort that would help topple the government in Guatemala in the 1950s.

It would seem that, nearly a century after Bernays changed how we ate the first meal of the day, we still view the classic American breakfast as a plate of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee.

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