In praise of peanut butter

November is Peanut Butter Lovers Month.

I want to say that peanut butter is like a religion in my family. That we are die-hard devotees of a particular brand and style of peanut butter, that there have been arguments over the merits of crunchy versus creamy, and that our first protests were over palm oil. In reality, however, peanut butter has played such a foundational role in our lives that until recently we barely noticed it. Yes, we were aware that peanut and cucumber sandwiches were frequent feature in our elementary and middle school lunches, and, yes, we acknowledged the superior candy that is Reese’s peanut cups. But peanut butter is less the idol we worship and more the water we swim in. We fishes hardly notice it and its life-giving properties, but we certainly notice its absence.

For several years I turned my back on peanut butter. It was an attempt to reduce inflammation and for a while almond butter became a way of life (though there was a moment when I flirted with the far-less-expensive sunflower butter — until I added it to cookies and it turned green in the oven. I do not green eggs and ham). I like almond butter. But there’s nothing like peanut butter.

Just ask my son. Someone recently asked us what his favorite food was, and the answer came swiftly and unequivocally. Ever since we sat in our car in the parking lot of the emergency room at our local children’s hospital to give him his first spoonfuls of the stuff — just in case he had an allergic reaction — peanut butter has played center stage. He will eat most things dutifully, but swirl peanut butter in yogurt or spread it on toast in the morning and his day is made. Roll it into date balls for afternoon snacks and he’s golden.

We are a family that slathers on peanut butter in thick layers, and our son is no different. Now he knows where we store the half-dozen jars in our kitchen, and he’ll toddle over calling for “paba, paba,” insistent until we root out an open jar and find some bread or a cracker to serve as a vehicle for his obsession. My father also loves peanut butte — he’s the one who invented peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches — and so it seems appropriate that my son calls my father “paba” instead of “grandpa,” the more complicated consonants at the beginning of the word discarded in favor of a second syllable that’s easier to declare with great love and conviction.

My son will eat almond butter in a pinch and without complaint, but I think he knows the difference, just like he knows the difference between his grandfather and other people. Nice enough, but not the star of the show, and certainly not worth drumming loudly on a cabinet door in adamant admiration and praise.

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