The Mighty PB&J

Manufacturers and brands shifted to producing the most popular versions of their peanut butter as fast as they could to restock stores and to fulfill the simultaneous growing need from hunger relief organizations like Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Feeding America. Trying to avoid in-person shopping, consumers changed to buying more online and brands reported that e-commerce sales for peanut butter were “staggering” and Amazon inventory was immediately selling out. More than 32,000 jars of peanut butter were donated to food banks by the National Peanut Board in 2020 in response to the increased need.
Schools across the country had to abruptly shut their doors to in-person classes, which cut off easy access to reliable, low- or no-cost meals for more than 20 million children.¹ School nutrition professionals rallied to the challenge. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were often the solution, packed up in grab-and-go meals and distributed by school bus or drive-thru pick-ups. Burke County, Georgia, school nutrition director Donna Martin and her team served 5,000 meals a day at the start of the pandemic. Martin says PB&J is a mainstay because it can be prepared the day before and, with so many meals to prepare, the staff can only prepare one item per day. Peanut butter and jelly keeps well and is something kids love.
PB&J swooped in as a source of reassurance and convenience for families now working, schooling and living from home. A January 2021 headline in the Toronto Star declared, “All hail the triumphant return of the peanut butter sandwich.” Writer Kathryn Hudson called PB&Js “comfortingly delicious.” On social media, conversation about peanut butter increased 95% from March 22 - April 21, 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. On network TV, Food Network personality chef Ina Garten and news anchor Anderson Cooper bantered about their appreciation for PB&J. Cooper said, “I was so happy; I just loved it.” And Garten shared, "At the beginning of the pandemic, that is what (my husband) Jeffrey and I had, too. I don't think I'd ever had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean, my mother never made them. We were just like, this is great."
“Peanut butter has a pleasing taste related to tree nuts rather than other legumes,” said Lisa Dean, research food technologist. “In addition, many people relate the flavor to their childhood memories. The nuttiness and saltiness complement the sweetness of jellies and jams. Personally, I find my favorite pairing is with peach jam…Peanut butter is very energy-dense, so the satiety index is high, and the consumer feels full longer. This is a comforting feeling.”
Among the many lessons the pandemic has taught us, it’s clear that the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich provides not just shelf-stable protein to fuel our bodies, but it fulfills perhaps an even greater role as a source of comfort and light that will stay with us for years to come.
¹ School Nutrition Association.
Accessed Feb. 12, 2021

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