Steve Sailer has a couple of excellent posts about mid-century eating habits and the origin of the phrase “white bread” as a derogatory term.
In contrast, the Pure Foods Movement that WASP ladies (many of whom were also in the temperance struggle) started after the Civil War sought to find remedies for their more open and mobile culture. One was federal regulation: The coalition finally succeeded in passing the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s muckraking The Jungle.
Another tactic was favoring lighter-colored and lighter-flavored foodstuffs that were harder to pollute.
And it worked. A scientist wrote in 1926 of trends in bread, “To all appearances…the general public is continuing in its belief (justified both by the bacteriological count and the microscopic examination) that whiteness or creamy whiteness is a sign of cleanness.”
Another point about mid-Century cuisine served in middle class homes is that much of it was modeled on business dining in restaurants, meals served to people who might not have all that much in common but who want to develop a friendlier relationship. Business dining was in contrast to exploratory dining among people who already are friends and who have already dined together and who find their tastes are enough in sync to want to explore cuisines together.
So, business cuisine in 1950 had a high emphasis on common denominator foods (e.g., steak and potatoes) that wouldn’t be likely to weird out a customer. In turn, that had a lot of influence on what people ate at home. In general, the goal of mid-Century American culture was to create a friendly, open, fairly egalitarian, non-exclusionary society in which Americans would feel comfortable doing business with each other across a vast continent. This influenced norms toward some degree of homogeneity, blandness, and conformity in minor matters like cuisine, but was overall such an enormous success in terms of prosperity and national solidarity that we’ve forgotten the reasons behind many of the details, and thus view this culture with ignorant contempt.
As always, Steve is way ahead of the curve, and gives us some very insightful food for thought, and vice versa. Meanwhile, W.F. Price commits retro-heresy at The Spearhead.
To see things accurately, we must separate the reality from the myth of the 50s. Yes, there was a fair amount of lip service paid to the idea that men ought to be respected as head of household, but the culture was already moving away from that at a rapid pace. There is a constant, unyielding desire in the human heart to be liberated from reality, and to forget hard lessons. Those who sacrifice are always resented, despite our deference to them — we are not by nature an obedient, grateful lot. The decade was merely an interlude; a time of uneasy peace between husbands and wives and fathers and children. Founded on poverty and war, it was not built to last in a growing, increasingly wealthy society.
With all due respect, I disagree with Mr. Price’s assertion that the 1950s were an anomaly of uneasy peace between husbands and wives and fathers and children. Rather, men being respected as head of household was simply the natural order of things from the beginning of Western civilization up until the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. However, I do agree that the 1950s were an interlude of sorts. Specifically this was the apex of American culture. Once the apex is reached, by definition there’s nowhere to go but down.
There is a common thread linking these posts; maintaining an advanced civilization is serious business. (This will likely become a recurring theme here at Retro in the 90s.) Currently, Western civilization is anything but serious, and thus in noticeable decline culturally, economically and spiritually. Those of us with intellectual fortitude are forced to ask several difficult questions. Must a nation’s apex be founded on poverty, war and hardship? Is it possible to extend that apex over multiple generations? How does a society successfully handle success? The comment threads are always open. Have at it.