To be sure, I would like to begin by stating that I do not know, for a fact, that every middle class white family has a toaster. Nor do I know that toaster ownership in middle class white families is greater than in any other demographic. I have not personally catalogued all of the kitchen appliances of every single domicile ever, so I cannot give you, dear readers, any solid statistics on the subject. I also have not grown up in a middle class white family, so I cannot speak from my personal experience. I should also clarify that this poster, if it refers to anything at all, refers to the United States. I know less about the state of French or Australian family kitchens than those in the mythical land known as America.
However, I pose this question not to assert a correlation between being a middle class white family and owning a toaster. Instead, I wanted to point out the incongruous ubiquity of the toaster to trouble the very necessity of the toaster itself.
Of course, to question the necessity of the toaster, one must assert that the toaster is assumed to be necessary at all. Again, I must point out that I operate as an outsider to the middle class white family, and my only evidence has been garnered through my anecdotal experiences as a visitor to middle class white families and through whatever media I have consumed about middle class white families.
From what I remember, every kitchen had a toaster. And I never questioned it then.
#54 of Stuff White People Like, the compendium of all things White and with pretensions of middle-class-dom when they are really closer to upper class, is Kitchen Gadgets. The article list a variety of cumbersome machinery that often only serve singular purposes in the land of Kitchentonia: the wafflemaker, the Panini press, the rice cooker. But they mention not the toaster. The toaster’s ubiquity makes it a necessity. Its usefulness (and presence) is assumed along with the pots and knives that are the basics of kitchen hardware. In the office kitchen where I currently work, there are two appliances taking up counter space: the microwave (understandable) and the toaster. I don’t know that I’ve seen any use the toaster. Maybe they toast bagels?
My family once owned a toaster, too. Back when I was younger and was routinely forced to eat breakfast.
But now that I do a lot more of my own cooking sans toaster, I wonder, what purpose does a toaster serve? Surely it cannot be because it makes better toast. The clunky appliance’s only options are to toast or not to toast. I make better toast using just some vegetable oil or butter of lard or bacon fat or whatever other non-polar edible liquid one wishes to consume with bread in a frying pan. This is partially because I can control for the various nuances between bread types and textures when it’s just the frying pan, but mostly it is because browning toast is not difficult.
I can concede that using a toaster is probably faster, especially if you want large quantities of toast and you have a four-slice toaster or something. On the other hand, it’s not THAT much faster.
So I posit that the toaster is in the same class of goods as the extraneous Kitchen Gadgets Mr. C. Landers listed in his article.
Of course, now I must answer the question that is surely on your very lips right now (or your very fingertips in the comment box): much like how Pixie Stix are a gateway to meth, is the toaster a gateway to the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer? To this I say no, because unlike many of the other appliances on the list that I have made the toaster an addendum to, the toaster has almost no value at all. The wafflemaker makes better waffles, the Panini press presses better Paninis, and the rice cooker cooks better rice. But does the toaster toast bread better? No! Does it serve a purpose outside of toasting bread? No! (Though, in the spirit of American ingenuity – and an infatuation with the infomercial – you can buy accessories for you toaster that make it marginally more useful.) The toaster is a conspiracy, a confusing presence in our kitchens.
So I say nay to the toaster! Throw off its reins! You control us no longer with your siren song!
About the Poster: The image was originally a photograph of a two-slice Sunbeam toaster taken by Donovan Govan and distributed via Wikimedia Commons. The typeface used is called Dotrice by Paul Flo Williams and distributed via the Open Font Library.