Several months ago it briefly looked like the University of Chicago might be on the list of schools to which Archer, our high-school senior, might apply. In the end he did not, but he got far enough to learn the application requirements, which include writing an essay on one of several creatively chosen topics, including, “What if the moon were made of cheese?” and “It’s said that history repeats itself, but what about other disciplines?”
I liked the sound of one prompt so much that I immediately sat down and wrote my own essay on the topic: “What is so easy about pie?” I didn’t show it to him until after college-application season was over, not wanting to unduly influence him.
What is easy about pie?
Nothing! It is a simpleminded lie — the pie lie! — meant, perhaps, to give comfort in a cruel and indifferent world. “Easy as pie!” “Santa Claus!” “American exceptionalism!”
I turn to no less an authority than the great Carl Sagan, who said:
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
Does that sound easy to you?
Even granting the existence of the universe — the gravity crushing hydrogen into helium in the heart of the sun, and binding the Earth to its orbit; the vast web of interdependent organisms deriving their life energy, ultimately, from that nuclear fusion; the evolved apes with the means to harvest that life for flour, sugar, cinnamon, butter, and apples — even granting all of that (and that’s a lot to grant), it’s still not easy, as the columnist Megan McArdle pointed out in a recent essay for the Washington Post, “Can America save its national dish?”:
In 2019, more than 50 million Americans used frozen pie crusts, and more than 40 million used the refrigerated kind. Even though store-bought crust is terrible.
Yet commercial bakeries don’t do much better.
Why would we Americans use terrible store-bought pie crust if pie is easy? Why can’t even commercial bakeries get it right if pie is easy? Easy: pie is not easy.
Take special note of McArdle’s title, and now consider Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” If pie were at all easy, wouldn’t Americans save it? Of course they would; but Betteridge, McArdle, and Sagan say they will not.
Pie is not easy. But then, nothing worthwhile ever is.