Not to get all “inside baseball” on you, but as an editor (for this website), I often find myself in the position of running down facts to make sure that what a writer has written isn’t total bullshit. Most of the time, I do this by Googling to see if there’s evidence to support the claim being made; sometimes, I just read a thing and ask my brain if it makes sense. But today, while editing a piece for our Good Place column, I came across an assertion so bold, so extreme, so un-fact-checkable that it stopped me cold.
The assertion was this: that spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread with a spoon is actually better than spreading it on a piece of bread with a knife.
Look, trust me. I know. I know. I kNoW. Who would do such a thing? This writer is who, apparently. I’m not going to name them, or judge them, and you shouldn’t either. But also, WHAT? After conducting an informal survey among my coworkers, I determined that five out of five Outline editors, including me, use a knife to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am willing to extrapolate this out to the rest of humanity.
Regardless, it seems like this is actually a thing? In January 2018, CJ McIntyre, a morning show host for the Hudson Valley-based country station WZAD-WKXP The Wolf, told an anecdote about having to teach his daughter that you’re supposed to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a knife, only to be “blown away” by the number of callers telling him using a spoon is totally okay. (For what it’s worth, the writer whose claim that spoons were preferable to knives originally inspired me to write this post told me via email that as a society, we really ought to be teaching children make their PB&J’s with spoons for safety reasons.)
I grew up in a household in which knives were used to spread things on bread: butter, jam, jelly, mayo, canned tuna, dogshit, whatever. If it didn’t come in a container that had a little built-in squirty thingamajigs, you pulled out a knife. It seemed pretty normal. As an adult who’s a total cheapskate, sucks ass at cooking, and works from home, I tend to eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and I use a knife, literally any knife, to spread the peanut butter on my bread. Again, normal. You use a knife to spread. I think once I actually decided to use a fork to make a PB&J rather than a spoon; each of those tines is basically a little knife anyways.
But a spoon — a spoon is for scooping. Not spreading.
However, I’m an open-minded person who firmly believes that you don’t get the full experience of doing something if you’re not doing it with full intentionality, so I decided to give the whole peanut-butter-with-spoon thing an actual shot. Mere moments ago, I grabbed some bread (sourdough), a jar of jelly (Bonne Maman four fruit), and my favorite peanut butter (which is actually cashew butter), and went to work.
Okay, so, against all rational notions, using a spoon to spread something on a piece of bread is overall just as efficient as a knife, though it has its own unique pros and cons. I was genuinely surprised by this discovery, but I am old enough to admit when I am wrong and young enough to still enjoy learning new things.
Here’s why. If you’re an adult who’s eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a meal, you’re going to want to dip your knife into the jar at least twice. You’re going to want at least two dips because you’re an adult, and you can do what you want. With a spoon, you get two dips’ worth of peanut butter in a single dip, and rather than the dip, spread, dip, spread action of the knife, you get one satisfying diiiiiiiip, spreaaaaad. If you dig a big ball of peanut butter with the spoon, you can then flip it over and mash it with the curvy side to get a nice even layer of PB. Here, the spoon, if I may make a truly bold statement, might be superior.
But when it’s time to clean off your utensil and go for the jelly, the knife shines. You can just wipe the knife on the bread, which gives you a little extra nibble of peanut butter plus saves you a paper towel. In practical terms, your spoon is going to have little traces of peanut butter on itself after you’ve done all the spreading, and while you can get the bottom of it clean by wiping it on your bread, that’s also going to force a few peanut butter particles onto the other side of the spoon, and there were probably already a few on there in the first place that broke free from the big gob of peanut butter you transferred to the bread. You’re not gonna get those things off with bread; you need a paper towel. Knife wins round two.
Because a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one of those dishes where the ingredients are in the name, you already know that you just need to spread the peanut butter and the jelly, which means that I had no other ways to test each utensil’s worth in accomplishing this task. Therefore, the battle of spoon vs. knife ends in a tie. Maybe the knife wins if you’re out of paper towels. Maybe the spoon wins if you’re one of those philistines who doesn’t mind getting little bits of peanut butter in their jelly. For the rest of us, both are basically fine.
According to this Forbes article I found by Googling “what makes you a leader,” John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” I think we can all agree that if you use a spoon instead of a knife when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you are officially the leader of me. So the next time you reach into your utensil drawer, ask yourself: Am I a leader, or am I a follower? And then you should probably close your eyes and grab something at random, because it truly does not matter.