Does Everything Have to Be Served on a Board Now?

Butter boards and charcuterie boards abound. May I just have a plate, pretty please?

Does Everything Need to Be a Damn Board?
Photo: Sveta Zarzamora / Getty Images

It was the butter board that finally broke me. The cracks have been etching across the fragile surface of my psyche for a while now. I've had a tough few years and so have you and we've all found little and large ways to keep from going completely feral in the face of it. You may have picked up (and then sold at a steep discount) a Peloton, started a hobby that involved a lot of specialty yarn or flour, or become a connoisseur of Welsh crime dramas. I got super pedantic about charcuterie boards. Not about the precise ratio of speck to mortadella or having the membrillo slices tessellated just so; while I appreciate the artistry, I am an absolute animal in the presence of salami and I'm just gonna wreck your pretty picture. What I'm a brat about is the cured meat part.

Words: They mean stuff. Like, specific stuff. A pot isn't a pan. A cashew isn't a filbert. Charcuterie is prepared meat products, or a store that sells them. And yet in September 2020, I felt compelled to tweet the following: "Where'd sites get the notion that slapping stuff on a board makes it a charcuterie board? If there's not cured meat involved, it's just stuff on a board which is FINE! but it's not charcuterie, @POPSUGAR. S'mores board. Cheese board. Candy board. Poop board. Call it what it is."

It's a weird thing to be able to forensically investigate your own descent into emotional mayhem, but apparently I have no compunction about being a weirdo on main. This was a particular moment in the pandemic when an awful lot of us were breaking up our days with craving-driven snacks, Instagram and plates be damned. Feel like a fistful of nuts and a slice of American cheese might make for a great lunch? Have at it. Hungry, but too tired to cook? Try 30 to 40 olives. You certainly will not regret it. I personally ate eggs and tortillas with some manner of condiment or ambient protein for several hundred lunches in a row, and never touched a fork.

The notion of cured meats and cheese on a plate is nothing novel — charcuterie boards have been in existence for centuries, and food history scholar Sarah Wassberg Johnson has a spectacular history of charcuterie boards on her website, In 2019, news outlets were performatively agog with articles about Instagram and TikTok "board influencers," while toy company Fisher Price tripped over a metaphorical slew of eyeballs rolling across the floor after they marketed a Snacks for Two, Pretend Food Play Set featuring a wee salami, cheese, grapes, and board combo. But ask yourself this: Before the no-pants / no-rules / at home all the time era, how often did you bust out a physical slab of wood, daintily fan slices of salami, twist prosciutto into cunning rosettes, and drizzle honey ever-just-so strictly for your personal pleasure and not a party? If the answer is "All the time, you abstemious freak!" then please may I hire you as my life coach? The rest of us just started dabbling in daytime fancy, and judging by our social feeds, we had some catching up to do.

On August 30, 2020, a Twitter account with the handle @mozarellastick swam into the national zeitgeist saying, "i wanna be one of those basic girls that's really good at making shark coochie boards or whatever. you know, these." At the time of this writing, the tweet has been liked 56,182 times, quote-tweeted 4532 times, and retweeted 8415 times. Surely this had something to do with the cunning twist of language, but it also tapped into a communal, primal desire to party-fy our drab indoor lives. A charcuterie board is meant to be shared — not just on social media — and so many of us hungered for it. But then things got out of our chorizo-slicked hands.

I crabbed at Popsugar in that tweet and I'm not proud of it, but I'd like to note in my defense that I wasn't yucking anyone's yum. Enjoy your s'mores, candy, or feces as you please, but what they and plenty of other outlets and influencers were calling "charcuterie boards" just plain old weren't — and that unbalanced me. Sometimes a fruit platter is just a fruit platter, and that's plenty lovely to be without being all, "I'm back from my semester abroad and now I insist upon being called Fruit Charcuterie Board."

I can't help but think this slippery slope is what sent us skidding pell-mell into butter boards.

Butter is one of life's richest pleasures. But must we once again make this thing a Thing? I realize that TikTok is an insatiable maw into which we cram our desires, and it must constantly be fed lest we have to actually stop and contemplate the grim reality of our circumstances, but I just can't give it this particular part of my soul and my pride. I see influencers and content creators racking up millions of views for videos in which they smear softened butter onto boards and platters, then bedeck the whole mess with flowers, salt, citrus zest, honey, herbs, nuts, fruit, and vegetable chunks before having at it with bread, crackers, or if they're all falutin, knives. In theory this is probably glorious, but in reality, it makes me feel bad, and I've been trying to churn up the reasons why, exactly.

It's important to note that I'm a big fan of abandon. Find that thing that makes you blissful, cram it into your soul without apology, and celebrate when others do the same — people's love of butter (or any other food for that matter) and they way in which they eat it need not be justified if it brings them joy. But there's just something about how the butter board became a trend that feels so manufactured. Perhaps it's that in the last few weeks, my inbox has been glutted with PR pitches hawking products to enhance my holiday butter board, or tout their "butter board expert" who, c'mon now, has been toiling away as a butter board journeyman for roughly a few weeks now. It could be that I'm fixated on the 100% probability that someone is going to smear a stick of butter straight onto the same wooden cutting board into which have seeped the juices of a billion raw chickens and some suspect charcuterie, and then serve it to their innocent guests. (Also, plates and bowls exist.)

What bothers me most of all, I think, is that it seems all for show. Generally I don't mind that; I'm a lover of pageantry and pretty things. I wear sequins, grow flowers, and fuss over an eyeliner wing every day, all of which serve little function and appetite beyond being noticed and hopefully admired. Butter is different to me somehow, a crude and private pleasure in its spreadable form mounded greedily onto a tangy hunk of sourdough, or slathered on a warm biscuit as lavishly as you dare to risk it. It's an elemental, sacred joy; you don't need to be shown or taught how to appreciate butter, and in turn, it really doesn't need to be enhanced beyond a flick of salt, or a special allowance for sugar and cinnamon if you're making toast. For the love of all that is holy, please just use a plate, napkin, or your hands, without reaching for your phone to capture the moment. Be one with the butter.

I'm bored of boards and viral dishes and maybe that's just me having shattered under the strain of the past few years, but don't let me get in the way of your delight. Maybe I'll feel butter soon.

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