Article & Photo by Aaron Gilbreath
Whoever first said “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first” has peered into my soul.
Parents, teachers, nurse-practitioner friends, they often worry about our health. Are we eating enough vegetables? Drinking enough water? Did we take our multivitamin? I do all of the above, and if I want a bowl of stewed cuttlefish tentacles for dinner, then I eat a bowl of stewed cuttlefish tentacles. That’s just my way. I don’t eat garbage – no soda, no fast food, no fried stuff or sugar in my tea – and that’s partially how I’ve justified my decade-long fall habit of eating pumpkin pie for breakfast.
In Japan, many people eat miso- and bonito-based noodle soups for breakfast. In Vietnam, phō is a common breakfast. Many Koreans eat rice porridge. My mom used to stand over the kitchen sink and eat frozen chicken wings that she didn’t even defrost. Eggs and bacon? They feel so 1950 to me, but I have to concede that breakfasts are what you make of them. I didn’t realize that pie had become my seasonal routine until my mom called during the 2002 winter holiday season to ask how I was doing.
“Great, I told her.”
She was raised in Queens, New York, and even though she isn’t your stereotypical Jewish mother, she does occasionally “check in” like one. “Not starving to death?”
I had just taken the pumpkin pie out of my refrigerator and set it on the counter. “No,” I said, “doing great. About to eat some pie.”
She said, “Pie?”
It wasn’t even 10am.
I’d been eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, every fall, for about two years.
Vegan pumpkin pie, that is. I should qualify. My breakfast pick isn’t the usual pumpkin-flavored sugar and cream confection that factories seem to squeeze from machines into pie shells by the millions each year. I’m talking real pumpkin. With vegan pumpkin pies you use silken tofu in place of dairy, and because my recipe aims for flavor and body rather than just sweetness and creaminess, you get more pumpkin, too. In the dietary calculus of my self-serving mind, this means that vegan pumpkin pies deliver more protein and vitamins than standard grocery store ones. Does that sound right to you, too?
Pumpkins are loaded with vitamins A and C and fiber. Granted, the silken tofu may only contribute a negligible amount of protein, if any, but it’s enough to secure the feeling that I’m treating my body like a temple. Really, my pies are probably only healthy by omission: they’re free of the saturated fat and cholesterol of dairy. Add to that the fact that I don’t use much sugar in my recipe, nor do I top my slices with whipped cream, and you have something on the “could be worse” side of the health food spectrum.
Admittedly, I used to smoke right after eating, which negates most if not all of a food’s healthful qualities, but that was years ago. I don’t smoke anymore. (Hear that, Mom?)
But seriously, pie: how did this happen?
Unlike the first time I tasted phō or drank pu-erh, I can’t remember the first time I awoke to a slice, but I can imagine what the scene probably looked like. I was a bachelor in 2000. A person’s sense of decorum unravels when you’re alone and unsupervised in an apartment. I’ve washed dishes in my bathtub and washed my hair with dishwashing soap. Single guys can really be a sad, feral lot. But from this eroded sense of acceptable behavior, new modes of living can arise, a vision of limitless possibility that seems to hold within it the power to alter the entire world. At least it does when you’re in your underwear. I probably bought a pie at the natural foods grocer, didn’t eat all of it at night, opened the fridge one morning while wearing just my boxers and thought, “I want a bite of that.” I’m sure I set the box of pie on the counter, forked out a piece. Then another. Even though there would not have been anyone there to notice other than my two cats, I bet I decided to be civilized and put a slice on a plate. All that scooping bite after bite seems foolish every time I do it, the way I’m always telling myself, “Last bite,” then, “Okay, this is really the last bite,” as I carve off yet another bite. Why do I do this? Militant increments diminish the pleasure of eating. “Just cut yourself a piece and sit down,” I always tell myself. So I’m sure I cut myself a piece and sat down that morning. (On the floor, since I didn’t have a couch or chairs back then.) Once I finished, I was full. I didn’t need to fix myself a supposedly “proper” breakfast of scrambled eggs or tofu or whatever quinoa/flaxseed/almond butter bullshit I was into at the time. I hadn’t planned to feast on pie. As with most of my bachelor decision-making, it was lack of foresight that birthed the habit. I guarantee that when I dumped that dirty plate in the sink, where it sat for a week, I licked my lips and thought, “Well, I’m definitely doing that again.” Now every time the leaves start to change color I think, “Awesome, it’s pie time.”
People I admit this to think it’s weird, but the older you get, the less stuff like that bothers you. It all reminds me of this John Wesley Coleman III song, “Bad Lady Goes to Jail,” whose verse is: I drink, I smoke, I do what I want. I drink, I smoke, I do what I want.” Some things need no justification, thought if I were forced to offer one, I would borrow a line that a New Seasons cashier recently told me.
I was buying a non-vegan pumpkin pie for a dinner party the other night, and the cashier said, “Oooh, don’t you just love pie season?”
I told her about eating this stuff for breakfast. “I fact,” I said, “I bet I’ll be eating whatever’s left of this one soon.”
“Well hey,” she said, not missing a beat. “It can’t be so bad. Pumpkin is a vegetable, right?”
When Aaron Gilbreath isn’t commenting on my grammar choices, he writes articles for the likes of The New York Times, Tin House, Paris Review, Portland Mercury and Gastronomica. You can find him eating burritos around town, and find him here: http://aarongilbreath.wordpress.com/about/