The Alternative Toast Debate: Is Toast Bread That Has Been Toasted, or Bread That Is Made for Toasting?

by Pia Regensburger

On the agenda today is a hot topic: toast. The one aspect we will be able to agree on is that traditional pre-sliced sandwich bread makes excellent toast, but any further talk about toast is bound to result in a heated debate. Should we choose white, wheat or rye bread, sourdough or seeded multigrain? How dark should the toast be cooked? And, finally, how should toast be sliced? Diagonally, horizontally or vertically down the middle? Surprising as this may be, I myself have made peace with the fact that we may never settle on any general rules. Toast is simply too divisive.

What I am however irritated by is the omnipresent misconception of what toast actually is. ‘Toast is bread that has been toasted,’ you will say. I am making no illusions; you will most likely stubbornly stick to your opinion even after reading my counter-arguments. However, I see it as my duty to at least make you aware of the fact that the assumption that bread, before it is toasted, is simply bread and not toast is wrong on several levels.

Not all bread that is toasted is toast

The definition ‘toast is bread that has been toasted’ presupposes that toast is bread that has been browned by radiant heat. This presupposition is faulty, for not all bread that is toasted is toast. Think of bagels for example. A bagel is a bread product, and a toasted bagel is bread that has been browned by radiant heat. Why is a bagel still a bagel and not toast after it has been toasted? Similarly, a crumpet is a small griddle bread. Hence, a toasted crumpet is bread that has been browned by radiant heat. Yet again, after being toasted, the crumpet is still a crumpet, and not toast. In other words, ‘toast’ is a very specific term that is not applicable to any bread that has been toasted.

Toast can be toasted or untoasted

From the above we have to conclude that only bread that is intended for toasting can ever earn the label ‘toast’. Yet, you may still hold on to the idea that this specific bread that is intended for toasting has to undergo a change, a transition from unroasted to roasted, in order to meet the criteria for toast. Again, this is problematic. Such reasoning relies on an alteration of some of the properties of the object, a change that will turn bread into toast. But as we have already established, changing the properties from ‘not burned’ to ‘burned’ doesn’t automatically result in toast, because not all bread that changes its properties becomes toast. Therefore, in the case of toast, although some properties of the object are altered when it is toasted, there is not a consequent change in the object itself. This leads me to the insight that toast must be toast before it has actually been toasted. That is to say, I am arguing that toast can either be toasted or untoasted – untoasted toast is unfinished, but it is still toast.

A linguistic objection

The classicists might object to this hypothesis in particular, for the word ‘toast’ comes from the Latin torrere, ‘to burn’. ‘Surely, this must indicate that being burned is an essential aspect of what it means to be toast,’ they’ll say. Well, we have by now established that if being burned is a necessary aspect of what it means to be toast, it cannot be the only criterion. We can of course confirm that burning is an essential aspect of what it means to be toast, but I am urging you to distinguish between potentiality and actuality here: if a particular kind of bread is baked with features that make it desirable to toast it before consumption, that is to say, if it is baked with the intention to be toasted, then this particular bread should be described as toast, or at least toast-bread. For even if the burning has not yet been actualised, the potential process of toasting is already inherent to the object. Hence, to put it even clearer, bread that is made for toasting is toast – toasted or untoasted, it doesn’t matter. Toast is toast, and untoasted bread can be toast too.

I rest well-assured that Germanic countries at the very least – Austria, Germany and Switzerland, dare I say experts at baking bread – have known the truth for a long time, and even if I have to continue to stand by myself in this country, I will fight for the justice of toast. It deserves to be understood and accepted for what it is.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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