The multi-layered Toast Story

How Did Toast Become the Latest Artisanal Food Craze?

This essay (by John Gravois in Pacific Standard magazine) is making the rounds on my Twitter feed. It’s such an unusually crafted piece of writing that I found myself experiencing surprising twists and turns, and making rapid-fire associations, as I made my way through.

At first you might think it’s a pretty typical social commentary – a foodie piece, or a San Francisco piece, or a hipster culture piece. (Aside #1 – I hope I can recall the suggestive but exactly apt phrase “tip of the hipster spear” the next time I need it in conversation.) There’s a little bit about the culture schism going on in San Francisco right now between the techerati and the scrambling hoi-polloi. (Aside #2 – It occurs to me that, with toasted white bread now a pricey fad, we’ve come full circle from the days of carbs, specifically bread, being touted as a dread and dangerous food. Yay.)

The writing flows along so deftly, light and sure. He describes his search for the true source of the fancy toast fad – wonderfully expressed as the source being the Chuck Berry of the idea, not the Elvis. (Aside #3 – The search for the author of the trend made me think of Connie Willis’ wonderful book “Bellwether”, which I now have to find and read again.) He finally finds ground zero at the Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club, a distinctly and vociferously non-hipster, DIY place with a specific and quirky list of menu items and a loyal clientele.

The story then shifts, diving into deeper, starker, and more fantastic territory as Gravois tells us the story of the cafe’s owner. I won’t describe her story, you should go and read it for yourself. But there are so many things I love here – the way she writes herself into the world, to fix herself there; that the name she gives the club and the choice of food and drink she sells there all have a very specific and meaningful connection to her story, in the way ordinary things take on importance in a fairy tale; and the fact that her individual energy – fractured, not smooth or “right”, forged by the process of struggle and the lifebuoy of connection – has spread out into the wider world and is making ripples and causing things to happen, even though that wasn’t at all her purpose.

I think it’s not at all a coincidence that this happened in San Francisco, and it could be taken as a hopeful sign, a harbinger of a possible return to its former vibrancy and psychic (is that the word?) glory. I’m just glad that John Gravois did the legwork to find the important story behind the toast story, and that he tells it so well.