Paul Jacob

Slicing bread used to be a consumer activity. Whether the loaf was made at home or bought at the baker’s — or from the woman next door — the slicing of it was done at the table.

In the good ol’ days, sometimes one didn’t even bother slicing bread . . . you just grabbed and broke off a chunk. Hence the phrase “breaking bread.”

Pre-sliced bread sold at market is a development of later capitalism. Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, produced the first sliced bread loaves in 1928, and two years later Wonder Bread widely touted the concept. Yes, sliced bread is pretty neat, hence that helpful expression, “better than sliced bread.”

Unfortunately, capitalism often has “help,” by which I mean “government,” by which I mean “no help at all.”

In the land that gave us the sandwich, Britain, the House of Lords has been listening to complaints about bread slice thickness. Yes, British politicians have been served up a political debate by a Conservative peer, the Baroness Gardner of Parkes. She says that bread slices are getting thicker, and insists that thicker slices lead to thicker waist lines.

And she thinks that it is the British government’s job to instruct the baking industry how to slice its bread.

The Baroness professed to speak “as a member of the All-Party Group on Obesity,” asking “Why is it that in central London you can hardly find a thinly sliced or medium-sliced loaf of bread to buy, and any sandwich you buy in any supermarket is now made with thick bread?”

Now, I don’t know about London, but I do know that I have purchased thin-sliced bread recently. And thick-sliced bread as well. Of course, this is America, where bread choices are much wider than political choices.

That this has become an actual political issue is a sign of the times. Today’s politicians just don’t know where not to stick their noses. I take it as a sign of political decay that the several centuries between the Fourth Earl of Sandwich and the current Baroness Gardner of Parkes show a politicization of the sandwich.

Way back in the 1700s, John Mantagu, the Fourth Earl, was so fond of card-playing that he offered, at his parties, what came to be known as “sandwiches,” the now-familiar multiple bread-slice mini-meals. Why? They were so easy to eat while at play.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.