At Slate recently, Gilad Edelman complained, New York Bagel Places Put Way Too Much Cream Cheese on Their Bagels. But he couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, he strikes me as representing everything I hate about many of the political and cultural writers that I most read: this tendency to think that they and their friends are somehow representative of the larger society. But let me back up a bit.
Edelman finds that the amount of cream cheese on a New York bagel ranges from 0.7 ounces all the way up to 3.9 ounces. I’ll admit, a quart-pound of cream cheese is a lot. But it is hardly normal on my coast. But he complains about the glob of cream cheese in the hole. But really, most bagels don’t have much of a hole. In fact, that kind of geometrical perfection is usually reserved for the fake bagel: bagel shaped bread. But I know what he’s talking about. And I either throw it out or redistribute it in the rest of the bagel. It has never occurred to me that it might be something bad — something that I ought to complain about.
But why do bagel shops pile on the cream cheese? Well, a couple of vendors give him the two reasons. First: if there is too much, you wipe it away. Most people are not whiny “writer, musician, popcorn enthusiasts” who complain about this. It’s better to have too much than to have too little. Second, bagel places do charge a small fortune for cream cheese. It’s not just that I would feel cheated by paying a buck fifty for a thin butter-like layer of cream cheese. It is that I wouldn’t want it. Cream cheese doesn’t have a very hearty taste. You need a fair amount of it to experience it.
Here is the ultimate thing: the right amount of cream cheese isn’t just a personal thing. The right amount depends upon my mood. So today, I may want 0.7 ounces and then tomorrow, I may want 2 ounces. So what the bagel places are doing is providing me with the option to ingest as much cream cheese as I want. What am I going to do? Walk into House of Bagels (which is fantastic) and say, “Well, I want a fair amount of cream cheese, but not too much, you know, the way you made it last Thursday, something like that”? It’s crazy. It is expecting too much of the bagel place, and frankly, it’s expecting too much of me. I know that if I press down harder on a bagel with a lot of cream cheese, it will squish out and I won’t eat it.
So come on, Edelman. Man up! Take responsibility for your bagel! This just isn’t hard. But I’ll make a deal with you. If you go work in the Peace Corps for a couple of years, helping poor farmers in Haiti, then I’ll start caring about our wasted cream cheese problem in the bagel industry. Until then, I will eat bagels the way that God intended poor people to eat bagels: I will buy them in bulk, cut them myself, and apply generic cream cheese to them. But the next time I’m in Palo Alto, getting a bagel and cream cheese — I will think of Edelman as I relish each ounce of excessive cream cheese that House of Bagels offers me.