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Eggs benedict and mimosas, anyone? We settle the brunch debate once and for all

Brunch at the cafe
Brunch at the cafe

Most days, Here & Now works like a well-oiled machine. Even when our staff has a debate about how to cover a story, we can usually come to an agreement.

But recently, we found ourselves divided over a critical issue of national importance: brunch. Staff members were divided into two camps: those who love brunch and those who love to hate it.

Things got heated as we argued over everything from brunch menus to the timing of the meal.

Our producer, Kalyani Saxena, who has a fierce streak of anti-brunch zealotry boiling over inside of her, got into it with senior editor Ciku Theuri, a notorious pro-bruncher.

“Here’s the thing with brunch, I feel like I should not have to have a minimized lunch menu at noon because breakfast is dominating the menu for brunch,” Saxena says. “Like the ‘br’ part of brunch is extremely heavy on the breakfast.”

In response, Theuri says, “I think that depends on where you’re going because you can get sandwiches, you can get a salad, you can get pasta if you want.”

The two did not reach a detente as Saxena vowed to never love brunch and Theuri promised to convert her.

We wanted to know if other people felt as strongly about brunch, so we asked our listeners to weigh in. And they absolutely grabbed their seat at the table.

Jennifer Schwartz Leger of Massachusetts is a huge fan.

“No better meal than brunch. You can eat anything. Pancakes and eggs, beef tacos, even a glass of wine,” Leger says. “Everyone wins where brunch is concerned.”

But for Ellen Reich in Baltimore, brunch is a huge no. She can’t stand the food or the drinks.

“I abhor eggs. No eggs is the only phrase I can say in multiple languages,” she says. “Brunch food is just throwing a sauce or whipped cream on food items that aren’t all that exciting to begin with. Hard pass for me regarding drinks. If you want a drink in the morning, drink in the morning. No need to dress liquor up with fruit or vegetable juices to make it acceptable.”

A few people were brunch-neutral like Chris Travis in Syracuse who doesn’t like going out to brunch, but enjoys making the food at home.

“I feel that going out to brunch is a bit overpriced. Now, as far as cooking brunch goes, my family and I, we love brunch. That’s probably one of our favorite meals,” Travis says. “In fact, we do breakfast for dinner quite frequently.”

Our favorite response by far came from Chris Locke. Chris is the husband of our senior producer, Ashley Locke: “If I’m going to go eat breakfast somewhere, I want to roll out of bed and go. I don’t want to get dressed up and make this big spectacle of it. It’s f****** breakfast.”

Love it or hate it, it’s clear that brunch strikes a nerve. But we were curious: How did this meal come to hold such a significant place in our culture?

To help answer that question, we called Farha Ternikar, a professor of sociology at LeMoyne College in Syracuse. She’s also the author of “Brunch: A History.”

Interview Highlights

On the history of brunch in the United States: 

Farha Ternikar: “We can trace it back to the British in 1895, that was the first mention of brunch that I found when I was doing my research at the British Library. And then [brunch] came to the United States by the 1920s and 1930s, where it first really appeared in periodicals and newspaper mentions on college campuses as predominantly an upper-class meal that men on campus enjoyed.

“By the 1950s, you started seeing it become more popular in women’s magazines. You started seeing mention of Easter brunch, Mother’s Day brunch, Christmas brunches… And then by the 1980s, it becomes really popular at chain restaurants. You start to see it in places like IHOP, Applebee’s.”

On how the brunch menu has changed over time: 

Ternikar: “It’s evolved a lot… When you look at the beginnings of it, it was largely associated with this hunt breakfast …The men went out to hunt. They came back and they had this big meal with meat … And then by the time it becomes part of the U.S. menu, we start to see eggs, because they’re inexpensive, become part of this meal. But also we start to see it kind of absorb lots of different kinds of trends.

“So in the 1980s … this is kind of one of the first waves of ethnic food … And so we start to see a little bit of that: traces of huevos rancheros and fried chicken and waffles and things like that. And then also between the 2000s and 2010s, brunch also absorbs the trends such as eating organic, eating vegan.”

On why the social aspect of brunch is so important: 

Ternikar: “I was thinking about brunch during COVID. The idea of being able to go out with your friends, I think, is something that a lot of people miss. And eating food that you really enjoy and eating comfort food, but eating comfort food in a social way that’s out of your house, right? An excuse to go out, but enjoy food that you really love because brunch is an excuse to eat excessively if you want to.”

On whether she loves brunch herself: 

Ternikar: I don’t love brunch, because I like to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. and actually my favorite meal of the day is lunch. I’m one of those people that almost never skips breakfast and I actually look forward to lunch. But that being said, I love brunch food.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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