A grocery store staple and the emotional connection behind it
At Tesco, a British grocery store chain, their store brand peanut butter costs £1.39 which converts to roughly $1.63.
When I was preparing to move to London for my semester abroad in the spring of 2016, I was continuously told one thing over and over again: British peanut butter is terrible. It would feel weird and unpalatable compared to Jif peanut butter. “Say goodbye to your creature comforts.”
My best friend bought me a jar of Jif peanut butter for Christmas to bring to En- gland with me specifically for this reason.
I forgot to pack the jar.
When I went grocery shopping in London for the first time, I surveyed the shelves of Tesco for something that seemed even half-familiar. I finally settled on the absurd: the reduced fat version of Tesco’s store-brand peanut butter.
The next morning, I made myself two slices of toast and spread this supposedly sacrilege condiment over it. I coupled it with too-dark coffee and hoped for the best.
The texture felt grainy and coarse on my tongue, and the flavor severely lacked to near insignificance. is was not my peanut butter.
As time went on, however, I settled into a regular routine. Wake up, get dressed, make toast. Repeat the next day, the next week and the next month.
By the end of my time in London, I had developed almost a dependency on
the store-brand spread. For four months, I consumed the exact same breakfast: gritty, low-fat peanut butter on whole wheat toast, washed down with two or three cups of dark and bitter coffee.
It became my comfort.
At the end of my stay in London, my mother and grandmother came to visit and see the life that I had been living. I raved to them about the peanut butter, and they were understandably skeptical of my obsession.
I insisted we buy a jar. I dragged them into my local Tesco, and left with three jars so I could bring them back to America with me.
A few days later, my mother, my grandmother and I stood in the security line at Heathrow Airport. It was early, but it was my 21st birthday, so my mood was a cheerful one.
I set my bags onto the conveyor belt, removed my shoes and walked through the sensor. en, a security guard held up my pink, monogrammed backpack.
“Is this yours?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I responded. I was told that she needed to look through it; something had triggered the system. I complied, but hadn’t the slightest idea of what the issue was.
She pulled out my jars of peanut butter.
“You can’t bring these in your backpack. You should have put them in your checked luggage.”
Not once in my life had I ever assumed that peanut butter is technically a liquid. e jars were confiscated. I watched in horror and sadness as she tossed them into the trash bin.
Heartbroken, I drowned my sorrows in more dark and bitter coffee, but not accompanied by any toast. My mother and grandmother attempted to comfort me, but I felt too upset.
Now you’re probably asking yourself, ‘Why the heck is peanut butter such a big deal? Why does it even matter?’ Well, I’ll tell you.
This peanut butter matters not because it’s peanut butter (though I do love some peanutty goodness), but rather because my obsession with British peanut butter directly correlates to my experience of living in London.
I don’t actually love peanut butter that much where I become hyper-emotional in an airport. I don’t care about eating toast for breakfast every morning. It doesn’t matter that it’s less than two dollars for a jar.
Tesco’s peanut butter became an immediate connection to my London lifestyle.
I have said it before and will say it again: I have never felt more at home in any place in the world than in London. It physically and emotionally pains me every single day of my life when I wake up and I’m not there.
Nearly four months after coming home, my mom called me into our living room after returning from a business trip in Las Vegas. I asked her what this was about, and that I’d hoped she hadn’t bought anything for me on the trip; after all, my dad had lived in Las Vegas for the last eight years.
She assured me that I should be excited I had no ideas of what it could be, so that didn’t necessarily assure me to any extent.
She sat down on our living room floor and began sifting through her luggage. Suddenly, she pulled out a gallon-sized Ziploc bag—containing two jars of Tesco peanut butter.
I immediately burst into tears; the kind of uncontrollable, gross sobbing that only happens when you’re too happy or too sad or too tired.
And yes, I hysterically cried over two jars of peanut butter.
One Sunday in April – almost a full year after my trip abroad had ended – I stood in the kitchen of my house on Wood- bine Avenue. I took a knife and spread it across two slices of wheat toast; I had just carved out the last of my second jar of Tesco peanut butter.
I stared into the empty jar and sighed nostalgically before rinsing it out and toss- ing it in the recycling bin.
I sat and ate my breakfast: two slices of whole wheat toast, washed down with dark and bitter coffee.