Stuff on a Stick Stinks
The form, not the food, is what makes me cringe
When I think of eating food off of on a stick, I cringe. My aversion isn’t because I’m a food elitist. If given my druthers, my diet would mainly consist of super spicy instant ramen and frozen burritos. And I don’t really hold any intrinsic grudge against deep-fried anything. Like, I’m down to make Paula Deen’s fried butter balls—but putting deep-fried butter on a stick somehow feels like you’re taking things one step too far. What I’ve realized while preparing for Extra Crispy’s Stuff on a Stick Week, watching several YouTube tutorials for how to make breakfast on a stick and scrolling endlessly through Pinterest pages of twee brunch ideas, it’s the form that makes me wince, not the food itself.
There is stuff that belongs on a stick, like a good kebab or some late night yakitori. But part of the reason those don’t freak me out is because, the stick has a purpose in the recipe. The stick is used when grilling, a way to flip the meat and vegetables in an efficient way. Besides, with yakitori, the stick isn’t the star; you’re expected to pick the food off with your chopsticks.
So what frustrates me most about food served on a stick, in the state fair-sense of the term, is when the stick—functionally a novelty—is treated like a main feature, an impracticality that’s called a “lifehack.” Breakfasts on a stick are most immune to this upsell, which is why the idea of breakfast on a stick makes me cringe the most.
These breakfasts on sticks can usually go one of two ways—a full-size meal stuck on a stick that requires you to eat it with a fork and knife, or breakfast kebabs, with tiny, bite-size portions of precooked, normal-size foods that are then carefully assembled on a stick. In neither of these categories is the stick mandatory, and though these recipes are often couched in conversations about productivity, streamlining your morning, and throwing together a meal that you can eat with one hand while you do other things with the other, making these skewers is far from a “hack.” This recipe for stuffed almond butter and strawberry jam French toast kabobs, for example, takes about 40 minutes—and that doesn’t seem to take into account skewer assembly time.
Let’s agree that eating stuff off of a stick isn’t an everyday thing, then. Fine. But even then, breakfasts on a stick have an audience problem. Many of the same recipes are doubly-labeled, both as a novelty your kid will love and something that’ll “impress your house guests.” And while it’s cute to have fruit kebabs sticking out of a Mason jar, there’s something infantilizing about expecting an adult, who is fully capable of using a fork and knife, to eat something directly off of a stick. And that image, of a fully grown human sticking a bamboo skewer in their mouth to get a hot bite of fried dough with grease and frosting dripping down, is one that I can’t fully shake. It’s why I have such a viscerally negative reaction against the whole stick idea in the first place.
Talking about “stuff on a stick” has become a way to talk about the most decadent, deep-fried foods out there, and I still think that should still be celebrated. How can you not love the human who served up a deep-fried cherry pie on a stick at this year’s Iowa State Fair, after all? But at least getting food on a stick makes sense in that context, and that’s when stuff on a stick works best. You need something to eat while you’re walking around, I get it, so eating stuff on a stick is best when you’re on-the-go, be it at a night market in Asia or a state fair in Iowa. But even there, the deep-fried pie came with a fork and knife in order to eat it, an important acknowledgement of the stick as part of the novelty, not the form, and certainly not a lifehack meant for the everyday chef.
There’s a lot of talk about needing to rush through breakfast, not having enough time in the morning to have a hearty meal. But throwing your food onto a stick isn’t the answer to that problem. If anything, breakfast should be a time to sit down, take some time, and enjoy what you’re eating.
There’s one episode of Rocko’s Modern Life where Filburt, that turtle character, is working as a cook at a restaurant called Stuff on a Stick. Rocko calls the store, and Filburt despondently answers the phone with the dubious greeting, “Stuff on a stick, stick your face in our stuff.” And that basically sums up how I feel about eating food on a stick. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean it’s a good, practical, or decent idea—especially for breakfast at home.