Let's All Go to Panera Bread
Some thoughts on the world as it is
Even though my wife and I are in love, tonight we stopped at Panera Bread. That is not a promising beginning to this post, I know. That is a sentence that should immediately make you want to close this tab and go somewhere else. Because Panera Bread promises you nothing. It is neutrality itself. Have you ever thought to ask what the name means? “Panera” means “bread basket” in Latin. So what we’re looking here is a restaurant called “bread basket bread.” Very nice.
The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference, and the opposite of color isn’t greyscale, it’s this:
This is a restaurant that shows us what happens when America conquers the world. When America overtakes Europe, it doesn’t bother actually occupying the territory. It’s too mountainous, there are too many languages—why bother? Instead, America makes Europe hollow itself out—it conquers via domestication. It crafts a shadow of Europeanness and turns it into a “fast casual” restaurant. That is a phrase, by the way, that you should also examine. Fast casual.
What’s casual is not fast. Casual is gradual. Casual is a pleasant sulk on the beach, playing with your loved one’s sandy hair. Casual is dropping by just to give a friend the magazine you were finished with. Fast casual is what happens when post-industrial life makes mealtime an obligation to be dispensed with, like a checklist.
One iteration of Panera Bread’s logo looks like a woman cradling bread as if it were her baby. Perhaps this is an honest description of our generation’s lot in life. Instead of producing offspring, we are to have opinions about carbs. Instead of relationships to each other, we have relationships to our bags. On the wall of a St. Louis location of Panera Bread, I saw the slogan “Start with Bread.” Okay, Panera Bread—then what? What is this leading to?
Sometimes I feel that there’s such a thing as wasted time. But sometimes that feels impossibly arrogant. Calling some time a waste presumes that I know what life is for. The moments that I’ve spent at Panera seem like willful departures from the signal, moments where I have chosen to bathe in the noise. But just because the signal is more comprehensible from my limited perspective, it doesn’t mean that it is richer than the cryptic equanimity beyond. Something is speaking in the ocean, even if it is not to me.