BOSTON. Hal McKees is a veteran lobbyist who has spent so much time over the years walking the halls of the Massachusetts State House here that he once made his way across the building blind-folded on a bet. “That was the easiest $5 I ever made,” he says with a laugh, “except for a brief detour into the third floor ladies room.”
But McKees isn’t smiling today as his newest client, the National Toast Council, faces an uphill battle trying to get an amendment added to a school lunch funding bill that would make toast–slices of bread turned brown and crispy through exposure to heat–a required menu item at public schools across the state.
“This should be a no-brainer,” McKees says to members of the majority caucus as they sample a free buffet that includes slices of toast with assorted enhancements including butter, jam, jelly and preserves. “Toast sustained our forefathers, also our foremothers, fore-aunts and fore-uncles,” he says, waxing emotional in sharp contrast to the apparent indifference of his audience. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the reason we defeated the Japanese in World War II–other than a couple of bombs–is that Japan is a toast-less society.”
Consumption of toast has fallen from a high-water mark of 352 slices per capita in 1952 to a paltry 87 pieces per person in 2016. “It is possible that the United States could become an entirely toast-free nation by 2024,” says Philip Greinwald of the Center for Breakfast Studies at the University of Michigan-Battle Creek. “If it weren’t for continental breakfasts in motels, some areas of the country would already be ‘no-toast zones,’” he says, shaking his head with concern as he bites into a rare sample of toasted rye bread, which has been on the Department of Agriculture’s “endangered breakfast” list since 2002.
Some hold out hope that a renewed interest in “B-L-Ts”–an acronym that stands for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches–and “club” sandwiches can save the dying industry, but long-time toaster manufacturers say they may be forced to fold their businesses in the face of declining demand and foreign competition. “Toast was an educational experience for generations of American kids,” says Mort Anerski of Calumet Toasters, which recently laid off six master toaster makers. “You learned about electricity the hard way when you stuck a knife into the toaster to get your bagel.”