If you paid attention during your college Psychology 101 college class, you may now vaguely recall Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs. That is, because “man is a perpetually wanting animal,” Maslow theorized that we're motivated by five needs: Survival, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization. “The appearance of one need,” Maslow explains, “Usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need.”

As our personal theory of human motivation revolves primarily around food, we decided to take Maslow's hierarchy and apply it to the most important meal of the day: Breakfast. For a new food pyramid of sorts, turn the page.

Espresso; Credit: T. Nguyen

Espresso; Credit: T. Nguyen

Level 1. The Need to Survive, or: Coffee

“If all the needs are unsatisfied, and the organism is then dominated by the physiological needs, all other needs may become simply non-existent or be pushed into the background.” — Abraham Maslow

If nothing else, coffee. Because you likely can forego the toast and jam and survive until lunchtime, but the same cannot be said about skipping the caffeine.

Fig's lemon ricotta pancake; Credit: Anne Fishbein

Fig's lemon ricotta pancake; Credit: Anne Fishbein

Level 2. The Need for Safety, or: Pancakes

“Just as a sated man no longer feels hungry, a safe man no longer feels endangered.” — Abraham Maslow

Once the coffee has percolated and you have been properly caffeinated, your attention will turn to food. Maslow notes that the need for safety includes a “common preference for familiar rather than unfamiliar things, or for the known rather than the unknown,” which explains why your thoughts may now gravitate towards fuzzy, happy childhood memories of Sunday morning pancakes drenched in sticky syrup and melting pats of butter. That said, those who find safety not in Kodak moments but in abundance will find comfort in the huge portions at The Griddle Cafe.

Shrimp dumplings; Credit: C. Wei

Shrimp dumplings; Credit: C. Wei

Level 3. The Need to Belong, or: Dim Sum

“Now the person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children. He will hunger for affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group, and he will strive with great intensity to achieve this goal. He will want to attain such a place more than anything else in the world and may even forget that once, when he was hungry, he sneered at love.” — Abraham Maslow

At this point, you don't want to have your coffee and pancakes alone at your kitchen nook as much as you want to break breakfast bread with others. And where better to socialize than at your local dim sum joint? You'll gather your friends around a huge round table, you'll order together, you'll share plates, you'll swap stories about your week. You may even forget that once, when you were severely de-caffeinated, you sneered at anything resembling food at all.

Fried chicken and waffles at The Tasting Kitchen; Credit: A. Scattergood

Fried chicken and waffles at The Tasting Kitchen; Credit: A. Scattergood

Level 4. The Need for Esteem, or: Fried Chicken and Waffles

“All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. … Satisfaction of the self-esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability and adequacy of being useful and necessary in the world.” — Abraham Maslow

You have your coffee, you feel safe, you have friends. Now, you need external validation of all of the above. There are plenty of upscale places where you can have brunch at dinner prices and thus buy yourself certain attention, but real achievement can be measured in fried chicken. After all, if you can afford to indulge in fried chicken and waffles (those calories! those carbs!) as your first meal of the day, you will be held in very high regard within certain circles in town. And if you have the dish at a place like The Tasting Kitchen, even the most jaded among us will experience a boost of confidence by simply existing in its casually pristine dining room. The stellar cocktails won't hurt, either.

Level 5. Self-Actualization

“Even if all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.” — Abraham Maslow

At this level of the breakfast pyramid, you have transcended all other levels and you are, comfortably and without apology, what you eat. Walt Whitman liked oysters and meat for breakfast, Leslie Knope unabashedly considers breakfast as a way of life and Hunter S. Thompson preferred to eat breakfast alone, “stone naked.”

For you, then, maybe it's the dog happily asleep at your feet, a hard copy of the paper, the Thursday crossword puzzle, poached eggs on fine toast, fresh berries and granola, a few strips of Canele's house-cured bacon, mugs and mugs of coffee and absolutely no concern over where your smartphone might be. Self-actualization, attained.

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