The Internet and Pumpernickel

You know how the Internet has changed things? Suppose that you like pumpernickel. In the pre-Internet days you’d probably just go along liking pumpernickel, eating it in appropriate amounts and wondering if you’re maybe the youngest English-speaking soul who still eats it on purpose. Certainly nobody you ever meet except your grandparents eats pumpernickel. This might be because you switched to a supermarket, away from the bakery that’s in the midst of downtown’s bustling Customers Pronking Into Traffic district because it closes fifteen minutes after you get out of work and there was that time you asked about what eight similar-looking loaves were and got into a painfully awkward conversation with them not understanding what it was you didn’t understand, and don’t ever have to talk with anyone to buy actual bread anymore.

Now and then something called pumpernickel turns up in the sandwiches Arby’s tucks into the weird subdivided parts of its menu board like they don’t want to have them but also can’t take them off without hurting somebody’s feelings. But mostly, you just like pumpernickel, the taste and the way saying “pumpernickel” over and over again makes you feel, and the store usually has sufficient pumpernickel for your immediate heavy-breaded needs, and the worst that ever happens is occasionally your brain is haunted by the idea that ABC’s classic “The Chomper” public service announcement supporting dental health might have shouted out to pumpernickel and carrot sticks as good things to eat, please hopefully not together. How pumpernickel can be all that good for teeth was still mysterious, what with it just being bread, but at least you could take in the message.

With the Internet, that’s changed. You can find all kinds of people who also like pumpernickel, which right away is a big change in your bread-based social interaction. Before any pumpernickel-based socialization you had was of a strictly practical kind: buying pumpernickel, eating pumpernickel, maybe answering the awe-struck questions of children who don’t understand why you’d go eating a kind of bread that’s the color and pattern of the decorative walkways in the garden paths in back of the boring restaurant their parents dragged them to once and swore never again.

Now there’s a theoretical aspect to the whole thing, having bread-themed social interactions in a setting that’s far removed from any actual bread, or possibly any other actual people. Certainly real people can’t be writing this much about pumpernickel, or as they spell it “pumpernickle” or worse, and why whatever it is you like about it is the wrong thing to like about it. Where would they find time to do the necessary things of daily life, like driving to the hardware store or being hissed at by squirrels?

And yet what they write is compelling, because it all leaves you miserable. You’ll learn, for instance, that your favorite brand of pumpernickel was created by a white supremacist, Euell M Pumpermeyer or whatever, who figured that by improving the yeast or rye or whatever used to make his bread products he’d be able to inspire wider eugenicist movements. He sold out decades ago to a big multinational conglomerate, and he’s been dead for literally a couple years now anyway, and at least he was an incompetent white supremacist who never noticed that yeast is just not among the top hundred things suppressing people. But still.

Worse, you’ll discover that the multinational conglomerate that makes that pumpernickel, only with not so much overt racism and more high-fructose corn syrup, is still a horrible, horrible company. Some in the pumpernickel forums try to argue about this, pointing out the company’s placement as one of the Top Ten Ethical Multinational Conglomerate Bread Manufacturers, but that mostly means they’re responsible for fewer than average maimings of low-level employees and there’s room to plausibly dispute their links to the Blood Caraway trade. And the supermarket isn’t any great shakes either because it’s sustained mostly by the profits derived from smacking cinder blocks with kittens. This earned the store a certificate for being in the top twenty percent of ethical supermarket chains before the ethics panel went into the shoe closet and started weeping and hasn’t stopped yet.

All these things were going on before, but you never had to know because you never learned anything about the pumpernickel trade beyond that you could buy and, if you chose, eat some. Now the Internet can reassure you that, yes, “The Chopper” does tell you pumpernickel is somehow important for your teeth.