So, my daddy was born in 1954 outside of Detroit. He escaped and erased almost all the evidence that he’d ever set foot in the Midwest, but he sometimes talks with a shudder of the food of his childhood. Potato chip casseroles. Meatloaf. Scary and questionable hot dogs split open, stuffed with fake cheese, wrapped in bacon and roasted. Jell-O “salads” with whole fruits and vegetables suspended in them – actually, I think that sounds pretty cool, though I don’t know that I’d necessarily want to eat it. His 50th birthday party was themed that way, and all my parents’ friends (most of whom were there back then) brought something. Velveeta sandwiches, made of wonderbread rolled into spirals and cut into discs are what I remember. And there was a lot of food colouring. Anyway. Post-war, packaging, processing picked up, I guess. It seems things got faker, and interest in foreign food was lacking in the middle-class American home. This is an article that seems to have been written by a toddler, or put through google translate, or something, but if you can make any sense of it you get an idea of that era’s attitude toward food.
It’s very interesting that these packaged convenience foods were luxuries to start with – now we consider them far from special. I remember a part of a book by Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet Magazine (may it rest in peace), in which she mentions her mother making a cake from scratch, not because she was a purist but because she was poor. What I think of as kind of terrifying foods were the modern, special innovations that, I suppose, must have gone along with the American excitement that featured so strongly, circa The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid. Britain was basically still on rations, but America sprung back out of the war with less domestic help and more conveniences like this one.
I suppose it bears noting that things like refrigerators were also becoming more commonplace, and so it was easier in a lot of ways to keep food around for longer, and this wasn’t a total revolution. Campbell’s Soup has been around at least since the 1920s. But, not having been there and relying on second-hand information, I think that the ’50s in America might have been one of the worst non-famine-esque food-events in the past couple hundred years.