There’s a real feeling of what I can only describe as smug virtue when you get to say that you dislike something most people like, that also happens to be bad for you. Or, conversely, when you like something many people dislike, that happens to be good for you. And people are suspicious of this. For example, when I tell people that I really prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, or that I actually hate McDonald’s burgers, I get this shady look, as if people are thinking, “Sure, you say that because it makes you sound all lofty and noble and healthy, but I know you’re faking it.” I recognize this because I give people the same look when they claim to genuinely love kale or quinoa. Or, for that matter, when people insist that they actually love winter and really enjoy shovelling the driveway because it’s such great exercise. When some insists that their natural inclinations happen to line up with the good, the virtuous and the true, the rest of us harbour secret doubts.
But of course, we all have these quirks. We all have things that are supposedly “good for us” that we’re fortunate enough to actually like without effort, just because of our natural tastes and inclinations. I actually prefer the taste of dark chocolate; the fact that it’s supposedly healthier (or, at least, less unhealthy) is pure bonus. There are plenty of things I like — sugary, creamy Starbucks coffee drinks, for example — that are demonstrably not good for me, so it’s not that I’m just naturally virtuous. I know what I like; I don’t usually know why.
But one of my apparently “virtuous” preferences has a clear source in my childhood traumas, though it took me years to remember it (kind of a Recovered Memory Syndrome thing). If you give me two loaves of bread to make a sandwich, and one of them is sliced white bread in a plastic bag, I will always, always, always choose the other bread — whole wheat, multigrain, even if it’s freakin’ quinoa bread, rather than use sliced white bread.
I’d love to claim that I feel this way because I understand how white flour is stripped of all its nutrients and then the bread is pumped full of additives and preservatives, but no. The truth is there are lots of other things you can make with white flour that I will fall upon like a famished savage. Give me french bread, sourdough bread, any kind of buns or rolls or, oh bliss — croissants!! — and I will tear into them regardless of the nutritional content. I can even eat homemade white bread if it’s fresh out of the oven and has a bit of molasses on it. But store-bought sliced white bread makes me queasy, and I can sum up the reason in two words: BREAD POULTICE.
Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever used a bread poultice, or had one used on you. Likely not many of you, especially if you’re under 40. Despite the fact that my mother was the office manager of a medical practice and a keen believer in modern medicine, my childhood was peppered with good old-fashioned patent medicines and home remedies — I remember swallowing Milk of Magnesium, and having Merchurochrome dabbed on injuries where I would now put a little Polysporin. Minard’s Linament was used for aches and pains (though that was more something you’d see older folks put on themselves since kids weren’t expected to have those kind of aches and pains). Administering these things was mostly the territory of my Aunt Gertie, in whose house we lived until I was seven and who was my after-school caregiver for years after that. But nothing beat Aunt Gertie’s most memorable remedy: the bread poultice.
I don’t recall all the details of how or why the bread poultice was used, and I’m not about to Google it because I’m afraid that Google Images might bring up something that will scar me for life even further and perhaps put me off all bread products. What I remember is having an ugly gash or scrape on my knee — this happened to me a lot as a kid, not being particularly graceful. Aunt Gertie (with, it seems, the willing collusion of my mother, who presumably would have put a stop to it if there was anything shady about the process) administered a slice of white sliced bread to my knee and taped it on there to — and this is the phrase that’s run in my memory for forty years — “draw out the infection.” In my memory, the bread is damp. But was it damp when it was taped to my knee (with adhesive tape? Possibly…) or did it become damp as the sweat and blood and pus and … eww, I can’t even think about this anymore. I just remember going around for the rest of that day with that hot, damp, doughy mess adhered to my knee, all the infection presumably being drawn out of my innocent young body and into what was swiftly becoming the Bread of Disease and Nastiness.
This may have only happened once in my childhood. Once may have been enough. What was the defining factor that determined, “This is an injury serious enough to treat with a slice of bread rather than just a band-aid, but not serious enough to seek medical attention”? I have no idea. I only know that while the scar on my knee faded with time, the scars on my psyche burn to this day — usually when anyone presents me with a sandwich made with store-bought sliced white bread.