So a reader sent me this URL the other day that took me to a typically hip Washington Post feature about the lives of the shiny elect in this newspaper's prime demographic -- the young, mostly white, single people in the power elites that run the nation's capital.
The note said this was prime GetReligion territory. The headline: "How brunch became the most delicious -- and divisive -- meal in America."
Say what? I read a few paragraphs into this long feature and then set it aside. I just didn't "get" it, I guess.
But the second time through it I started seeing the key points in the piece. The bottom line: Brunch is, in a mild sort of way, a culture wars thing. It's a near-religious rite on Sunday mornings that stresses where you are and what you are doing, as well as where you are NOT and what you are NOT doing.
Brunch is a secular sacrament? Read carefully:
... Interest isn't universal. A review of Google search data ... shows how heavily talk about brunch is concentrated around the coasts -- and how barren the Midwest brunch scene is. Any Midwesterner who tells you otherwise is likely an outlier, an urban transplant.
"Cultural trends tend to go from the coasts to the center," said Farha Ternikar, the author of Brunch: A History. "The Midwest is slower on food trends with the exception of Chicago."
Interest in brunch, as judged by the number of searches on Google, is high in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Among the top 10 states for brunch interest, only Illinois and Pennsylvania are not on the coasts. These numbers show the relative intensity of searches for "brunch" -- New York gets a higher score than say, Idaho, because a greater proportion of all Google searches in New York involve brunch than they do in Idaho.
Bible Belt brunch? Yeah, in Austin, Texas, for sure. Maybe corners of Dallas and other cities that include lots of young folks who want to head to blue zip codes when they have a chance.
Other themes began to emerge, starting with the links between brunch and fancy drinking culture. Then what about brunch with children? Obviously not. There were clear lifestyle links here that made the brunch crowd different than the family flock that, well, might be headed elsewhere on a Sunday morning.
Now I was utterly intrigued. Was this Post story really going to follow these religion and lifestyle ghosts all the way home? Was there more to this than simple elitism?
Well, lo and behold:
Interestingly, there is actually something that correlates more closely with the popularity of brunch than either income or urban population. Of the demographic variables we explored -- including age, income, urban population and religion -- the strongest correlation was between brunch and a state's Jewish population: states with higher percentages of Jewish residents tended to brunch more, or at least demonstrated a greater interest in the late morning meal. That's not to say that Jews like brunch the most, are driving interest in brunch, or anything like that -- it's just a simple correlation, and there could be any number of other hidden factors driving both variables. But it does make some sense when you consider that many brunch staples -- think bagels, lox, and blintzes -- have Jewish roots.
Really now? So armies of large Orthodox Jewish families all pack up on Sunday a.m. and head out to brunch? I don't think so. Or is this really about life in a faith-free zone, as opposed to a pew zone? The plot grew a bit more complex:
Moreover, none of the other religious populations we tested -- Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Protestants and members of historically black Protestant churches -- showed a significant positive correlation with brunch interest. Mainline Protestant traditions (Methodism, Presbyterianism, etc.) were actually negatively correlated with brunch interest at the state level.
The point seems to be that (a) if you have money to spend, (b) you don't have kids, (c) you live in a trendy, even foodie urban zone and (d) you do not have anything else sacred to do on Sunday a.m., you might be a really strong candidate to get hooked on the rites of brunch. Yes, this phenomenon might include lots of Jews, but the content of Judaism as a faith has nothing to do with it.
So, are the "nones" taking communion, sort of, at those sidewalk cafes out in the sunshine on Sunday mornings? Is there a spiritual, but not religious, component to this? Is the urge to brunch the mirror image of the conventional life of faith?
Great piece. Read it all.