The American Plate

Nutrition Confusion: The Roaring Twenties

”Mary Pickford, Theda Bara, and Rudolf Valentino, the era’s movie idols, promoted the idea of being thin.  This replaced the “plump” image of the previous decade, exemplified by Diamond Jim or Lillian Russell, a couple of decades ago.  

Home economic classes and a plethora of women’s magazines helped America on its new ideal of body image – the war against fat.

“American women were ready to cut their hair, step out into jobs, and have a good time.” But, at the same time, American women were becoming dependent on their own cooking and household skills. The result was that between 1921 and 1929, the home appliance industry tripled its output. The kitchen was considered the workstation whereas; eating was almost always done in an adjoining breakfast room or dining room.

“The May issue of Women’s Home Companion publishes an article that includes the lines, “with the revolution in clothes has come a revolution in our attitude toward avoirdupois (weight). Once weight was an asset: Now it’s a liability, both physical and esthetic.” This reflects a new attitude of women with a new body image.

In January 1920, Prohibition goes into effect, although drinking will continue and will lead to underground establishments known as “speakeasies”. Prohibition leads to an increase in sales of coffee, soft drinks, and ice cream sodas. Many bars convert to soda fountains or tearooms to stay in business.

Looks Good Enough to Eat

By 1927, there were 20 million cars cruising over 600,000 miles of roads connecting U.S. cities and towns. All those drivers needed to eat somewhere, and to get their attention on the open road, restaurants took on a whole new shape – literally. Diners and coffee shops were built to look like doughnuts, ice cream cones, coffeepots, hot dogs and yes, pigs. While these establishments provided only mediocre food, they supplied plenty of atmosphere and maybe even more important, offered quick and consistent meals. The whimsically shaped spots would pave the way or the drive-ins and chain restaurants of the future.

Fast Food

The first White Castle hamburger stand opens in 1921 in Wichita, Kan. The white of the stones suggest cleanliness; the castle facade suggests stability. The little burgers cost 5 cents apiece and are marketed with  the slogan “Buy ‘em by the sack.” Paper napkins come on the market in 1925, and the White Castle locations follow by developing folding paper hats that can changed often. “Program-mic” hot dog-shape kiosks and cone shape stands architecture becomes the rage in restaurants.”


“No one knows how the word flapper entered American slang, but its usage first appeared just following World War I. The classic image of a flapper is that of a stylish young party girl. Flappers smoked in public, drank alcohol, danced at jazz clubs and practiced sexual freedom that shocked the Victorian morality of their parents. Many pictures depict them wearing a tight-fitting cloche.

However, the good times were all about to change – in October, 1929, the stock market crashed and the country was faced with the worst economic trial of its history.


Beverly Bundy. The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites, Collector’s Press, Inc. 2002

The American Century in Food. Bon Appetit, September, 1999.

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