What’s Better Than Sliced Bread?

The earliest barley bread appeared in about 10,000 BCE;  it was a flatbread less than one inch thick and required no slicing. Later, wheat, and leavening agents were introduced, making much larger loaves  that needed to be torn in half by hand or sliced with a knife.

But it took until the 20th century for things to change:

Otto Rohwedder had an idea; however,  nobody wanted his machine. The Davenport , Iowa salesman had worked on a device for slicing loaves of bread for more than a decade, but bakers were dubious. They protested that the bread would go stale, that consumers only wanted their loaves whole, or that it just wouldn’t work.

Then in 1928, Frank Bench, who owned a small bakery in Chillicothe, Missouri., decided to give it a try. Richard, Otto’s  son who was 13 years old at the time fed the bread through the very peculiar looking machine.  It quickly became popular. The ladies liked and wanted it, he recalls, and the sales at Bench’s bakery increased by 2000% in just a few weeks. But there was a problem with the bread drying out. Otto had first tried hatpins which joined several slices to each other. He soon discovered that this method was not practical.

An idea gathered more steam when a St.  Louis Baker named Gustav Papendik created a machine that not only sliced the bread but wrapped it, too, keeping the slices from drying out.

The beginning of the 20th century marked a turning point for home kitchens. More than 2/3 of American homes had electricity by the end of the 1920s, and as hired help left for factories or other jobs, home makers looked to electrical appliances like the toaster (invented at least a decade earlier) to ease their kitchen workload.

The bread symbolic of this period was Wonder Bread. This originally unsliced bread was first baked by the Taggart Baking Company of Indianapolis about 1920. Taggart was later acquired by Continental Baking Company in 1925. Wonder Bread was produced at a full-scale bakery at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and was the sponsor of popular radio programs. In 1941  Wonder Bread was advertised as “enriched” with vitamins and minerals and advertised on children’s radio programs with the tag line in the 50’s – “Wonder Bread Builds Strong Bodies 8 Ways”, In the 1960’s, when backlash arose against overly refined food products, Wonder Bread became a prime target for criticism.

Lately there’s been a movement back toward the old way; artisanal unsliced. The way we try to make bread now gives it a much “wheatier”  flavor. Now we are more concerned about the content of our bread as “whole grains” as part of a healthy diet rather than what form it is.   White bread has now become a diet “villain.” And no one was ever quite sure how Wonder Bread built bodies 8 ways.

 Source: The Greatest Thing, Period. Betsy Querna, U.S. News and World Report, August 15 – 22, 2005

Source: Sliced Bread: The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, Edited by Andrew F. Smith, 2007.

Does Snacking Cause Obesity?

The obesity epidemic continues to roar on with the latest stats reporting that Americans have never been heavier than they are now. One culprit that is often cited is our incessant habit of snacking – with some people eating two mini-meals (snacks) a day in addition to three traditional meals. Due to our unhealthy food supply (e.g. processed foods), these foods will tend to contain the three villains for weight gain: salt, fat, and sugar.

Two studies from the American Dietetic Association suggest that people who snack are leaner than those who don’t. It’s important to realize that in reality, these people were more health conscious and actually ate fewer calories overall. So is is quality or quantity? I vote for quality here. So if you snack, choose wisely. Also, the American Dietetic Association now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) tends to favor research that supports the food industry (my opinion). “During the fiscal year 2015, the organization received $1.1 million in corporate sponsorships from companies like General Mills and PepsiCO via donations, joint initiatives, and programs. ” Source Wikipedia.



A Century of Food – the 1950’s

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Author: Sally J. Feltner, MS, PhD

An Attack on Gastronomy

The 1950’s brought a renewed hope for the country after two decades of Depression and War. However, food historians deplore the state of the cuisine during this period – it mainly consisted of processed foods which many blame for this anti-gastronomic desert. In addition, the rise of the fast food industry, i.e. hamburger chains that sprouted up along side the newly build national highway system did not offer any better fare. Freeing Mom from the kitchen seemed to be the dominant theme as appliances and prepared foods became the ‘norm”.

TV Dinners

After WWII, America’s economy boomed, women entered the workforce as never before and food got a little strange. Housewives spent less time in the kitchen, so food companies came to the rescue with a buffet of processed foods. Foods were purchased in a can, package or pouch. Soups were available as liquids or in dry form. Tang landed on supermarket shelves and frozen dinners laid on trays in front of TV sets. TV dinners were introduced in 1953 by Swanson and with a flick of a wrist you could turn back the foil to display turkey in gravy, dressing, sweet potatoes and peas ready in about 30 minutes – all with no dishes to wash.


Better Living Through Chemistry

“Better Living through Chemistry” was the slogan of the times along with “I like Ike” referring to the popular Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 5-star general from WWII winning the U.S presidency from 1953 to 1961.
This change in processing came from the demand of the Army during WWII to provide needed ready-to-eat meals. The food industry responded by ramping up new technologies in canning and freeze-drying to feed the troops. The marketing of these foods presented a challenge, however. At first, many of them were less than palatable, so food companies hired home economists to develop fancy recipes and flooded magazines, newspapers and TV with ads to broadcast their virtues. Actually the first cake mix was available in 1931, but was met with disdain due to the use of
dehydrated eggs, e.g. Women later would respond more favorably if they could crack their own eggs into the batter so they would feel like they were doing something positive in the kitchen.

June Cleaver

People rushed to buy appliances, houses, cars, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and backyard barbecue grills and new home freezers.  They also bought television sets in record numbers and watched shows that represented their new idealized lives like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Beaver’s mother, June Cleaver was depicted as a housewife freed from household chores and often was serene and perfectly dressed with pearls and high heels pushing a vacuum cleaner and putting meals on the family table.

Fast Food Nation

The birth rate soared and created what is known as the Baby Boomer Generation. Fifty million babies were born from 1945 to 1960. Food marketing shifted to kids with Tony the Tiger and fish sticks leading the campaign. Fast food had its beginnings strengthened in 1955 when Ray Kroc bought a hamburger stand from the McDonald’s brothers in San Bernadino, California. Disneyland opened in 1955 and was so popular they ran out of food on the first day.


The Seven Countries Study

In 1958, the American scientist, Ancel Keys started a study called the Seven Countries Study, which attempted to establish the association between diet and cardiovascular disease in different countries. The study results indicated that in the countries where fat consumption was the highest also had the most heart disease. This suggested the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease. He initially studied 22 countries, but only reported on seven: Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, United States, and Yugoslavia.

The problem was that he left out:

  • Countries where people eat a lot of fat but have little heart disease, such as Holland and Norway and France.
  • Countries where fat consumption is low but the rate of heart disease is high, such as Chile.

Basically, he only used data from the countries that supported his theory.
This flawed observational study gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guidelines of the next few decades, i.e. cut the fat out of our diets.


The First Artificial Sweetener

In the diet world, Saccharin was manufactured in granules and became a popular sugar substitute for dieters. It was first produced in 1878 by a chemist at Johns Hopkins University, but became popular after sugar shortages in WWI and WWII. In the United States, saccharin is often found in restaurants in pink packets as “Sweet’n Low”. It was banned later but it remains on the market today. The basis for the proposed ban was a study that documented an increase in cancer in rats being fed saccharin. The “Delaney clause” of the Food Additive Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states that no substance can be deemed safe if it causes cancer in humans or animals. In suspending the proposed saccharin ban, Congress ordered that products containing the popular sweetener must carry a warning about its potential to cause cancer. The FDA formally lifted its proposal to ban the sweetener in 1991 based on new studies, and the requirement for a label warning was eliminated by the Saccharin Notice Repeal Act in 1996.

Timeline: The 1950’s

1950 In Quincy, Mass., Bill Rosenberg changes the name of his doughnut shop to Dunkin’ Donuts. In 1955 he sells his first franchise.

1951 former Marine Glen Bell, 28, introduces the first fast food taco at his hamburger and hot dog stand in San Bernardino California. Bell, looking for unique product spots tacos at an area restaurant. He comes up with a contraption that will hold tortillas in hot oil to form the now classic U-shaped taco shell, enabling him to fried tortillas and offer fast Mexican fare.

1951 The defense industry needs aluminum for the Korean war effort, so Reynolds curtails production of it for home use. By 1953, it back in production and Saran Wrap is introduced.

1952 Col. Sanders sells its 1st first Kentucky fried chicken franchise.

1952 Lipton food company Rolls out a dehydrated onion soup mix that will earn its fame as a base for onion dip: two envelopes of the mix +1 cup sour cream. Lipton eventually prints the recipe, “California Dip” on the package.

1953 Fritos introduces the Frito kid, a mascot the company uses until 1967.

1954 the C. A. Swanson Company has a problem: the holidays are over but they still have railroad cars full of frozen turkeys. Employee Gerry Thomas has an idea (although fellow workers nearly laughed him out of the Omaha plant): package the turkey along with some dressing, gravy, corn bread, peas, and sweet potatoes into partitioned metal trays. Sell it frozen, and consumers could heat it up for dinner: his name for the leftover meal: TV dinner. Swanson made 6000 of the $.98 meals. Within a year, they had shipped 10 million more.

1954 The first Burger King opens in Miami. A burger is $.18, as is a milkshake. The whopper is introduced in 1957 and sells for $.37.

1954 Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine it Is proven safe an effective, And the first successful kidney transplant is performed.

1955 Milk shake- machine salesman Ray Kroc tries to persuade Dick and Mac McDonald (owners of the original McDonald’s in California to franchise their concept. They aren’t interested, but they tell Kroc to go ahead and try his hand. Kroc opens his first restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois and eventually buys out the McDonald’s.

1956 More than 80% of US households have refrigerators. By contrast, only eight percent of British households have refrigerators.

1957 Better Homes and Gardens prints its first microwave cooking article.

1957 Margarine and sales take the lead over butter.

1958 Eighteen – year- old Frank Carney sees a story in the Saturday Evening Post about the pizza fad among teenagers and college students. With $600 borrowed from his mother, he opens the first Pizza Hut in Wichita Kansas.

1959 Hagen – Dazs ice cream is introduced.

Table of Trends 1990 to 2020: A lot has changed in the food world since the end of the 1990’s. The last 20 years are reflected upon by the following Millennium Timeline

Diet Obsession FatCarbs
Key Curiosity Cholesterol LevelsOur Microbiomes
“It Foods Salmon, Broccoli, Dark Chocolate, Salsa Cauliflower, Chickpeas, Meatless meats, Quinoa
BuzzwordsMediterranean, Heart-healthySustainability, Plant-based, Food Waste, Organic
“It” GadgetsBread Maker, Food processorsAir Fryer, Insta-Pots
Signature DishesChicken Caesar Salad, Chocolate Lava Cakes, BBQ Chicken Pizza Avocado Toast, Grain Bowls, Smoothies
Drinks of choiceWhite Wine Spritzer, Diet Coke Kombucha, Micro-breweries, Diet Coke
SuperfoodsFat-free Everything, Olestra, Snack-Well CookiesKale, Avocados, Leafy Greens, Probiotics
Weight Loss Slim Fast, Atkins, Weight Watchers Keto, Paleo

Decades of Food Milestones 2000 – 2020 : Eating Well Magazine, October, 2020

2002 Low carb guru Robert Atkins, MD, releases Doctor Atkins New Diet Revolution, reawakening the “bread basket shame” people felt 30 years earlier, when his first diet revolution was published. In other news, organic labels finally have teeth. The USDA national organic programs, Certified Organic Labeling, rules, some 12 years in the making, go into effect.

2003 “Fermentation fetish” Sandor Katz publishes Wild Fermentation , inspiring millions of sauerkraut, Kimchi,  kombucha, and sourdough and health enthusiasts. Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria so by consuming fermented foods you are adding beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system and enhancing the immune system.

2004 Facebook arrives, and enabling you to share what you had for breakfast with 1000 of your closest friends.

2006 in April, Michael Pollan releases the Omnivore’s Dilemma, making terms like food system, high fructose corn syrup an Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) dreaded household words.

2007 The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was a United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) research initiative to improve understanding of the microbial flora involved in human health and disease. Launched in 2007, the first phase (HMP1) focused on identifying and characterizing human microbial flora. The second phase, known as the Integrative Human Microbiome Project (iHMP) launched in 2014 with the aim of generating resources to characterize the microbiome and elucidating the roles of microbes in health and disease states. Source: Wikipedia

2008 Chobani launches and the cult of Greek yogurt begins. Now we no longer have to strain regular yogurt through a coffee filter to make it. And in a recession driven effort to cut costs, Los Angeles chef Roy Choi rolls out his Kogi barbecue truck. The food truck era is born.

2009 The White House kitchen garden is planted in March , interest in vegetables and sustainable eating skyrockets. Gluten free foods become a thing with $1.56 billion dollars in US sales, and projections of continuing breakneck growth.

2010 Welcome, instant pot! Now we can cook slow, fast or steam vegetables, make rice.

2011 in June, the USDA replaces the Pyramid guide with My Plate, where vegetables and fruits fill half the dish and nudge grains to a smaller portion. First lady Michelle Obama announces it. Instagram arrives.

2012 Blue apron and other meal kit delivery services kickoff, making home cooking as easy as opening a box.

2013 Jay-Z announces he’s doing a 22 day vegan challenge. Veganism officially becomes cool.

2016 Restaurant delivery services go mainstream: 50% of Americans report using apps like Grubhub and DoorDash to purchase meals from casual dining outlets, with 26% ordering at least once weekly.

2017 The Regenerative Organic Alliance releases its Regenerative Organ Certification Program, which incorporates soil health, animal welfare, and social justice in its eligibility criteria.

2018 Plant based milk sales have exploded, growing 61% in the last five years. The dairy industry is disturbed.

2019 The Eat Lancet Commission releases its food in the Anthropocene report in January, linking our red meat and sugar heavy diets to climate change, and recommending we slash our consumption and eat more plant- based foods.

And now ,  Googling “nutrition” today gets over 1 billion hits but alas, 72% of Americans are overweight or obese based on Body Mass Indexes. Obesity becomes a risk factor for infectious disease, primarily COVID-19.  It has been estimated that by 2050, there will be 4 billion people globally that are either overweight or obese if current trends continue.

2020 (The Year Everyone Wants to Forget) – Covid- 19 sweeps the world. Many Americans line up for miles at food distribution sites. Restaurants shutter, or take out models, and small businesses teeter. Yet perseverance is everywhere, chefs, nonprofits, entire communities find ways to offer hope, and nourishing food.


Is Sugar Addictive?

Function: The shell of the nucleus accumbens is involved in the cognitive processing of reward, including subjective “liking” reactions to certain pleasurable stimuli, motivational salience, and positive reinforcement.

Hooked on Food: A Battle in the Brain? The Anatomy of  Food Addiction

One large long-term study published in 2017 addition of Scientific Reports found that men who consumed 67 grams or more of sugar per day are 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men who ate 40 grams or less. Some doctors and researchers even classify sugar as an addictive drug because this refined white crystal triggers the pleasure and reward centers in our brain much like a drug does. One area is called the nucleus accumbens and there are others.

We crave sweetness but it is clear that too much sugar leads to suffering. Large scale studies show that excess sugar consumption can significantly raise the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease as well as new information about Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain disorders that thrive on chronic inflammation.

Sugar in the form of glucose provides the body with quick energy. But lately, we’ve gone way beyond the Call of Duty. 200 years ago, the average American ate about 2 pounds of sugar per year. Today we each eat about 152 pounds a year according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. This sharp increase in the consumption of sugar is no mystery. Sugar is cheap, plentiful, and it tastes great.

Doctors are trying to curb our out of control sweets habit. The American Heart Association recommends that adult men consume no more than 38 grams or 9 teaspoons of sugar daily, women only 6 teaspoons, and children even less. The latest draft of the 2025 Dietary Guidelines coming out soon recommends even smaller amounts for daily consumption: no more than 30 grams of added sugar a day for an adult male. However, these numbers fall far below what a typical American actually consumes. An average soda is 39 grams and a bowl of cereal is 20 grams and that’s without dumping more spoonfuls of sugar on top of it.

Is Sugar Addictive?

Why are rats dying just to satisfy its desire for chocolate? A study gave rats unlimited access to standard chow as well as to a mini cafeteria full of appetizing high calorie foods: sausage, cheesecake, chocolate. The rats decreased their intake of the healthy but bland items of its typical rat chow diet and switched to eating the cafeteria food almost exclusively. They gained weight. They became obese.

The researcher then warned the rats as they were eating by flashing a light that they would receive a nasty foot shock. Rats eating the bland chow would quickly stop and scramble away, but time and again the obese rats continued to devour the rich food, ignoring the warning that they had been trained to fear. Their hedonic  desire overruled their basic sense of self preservation.

Did they become “hooked on food”? An inability to suppress a behavior, despite the negative consequences, is common in addiction. Scientists are finding similar compulsiveness in certain people. Almost all obese individuals say they want to consume less, yet they consume or continue to overeat even though they know that doing so can have shockingly negative health or social consequences. Studies show that overeating juices up the reward systems in our brain so much so in some people that it overpowers the brain’s ability to tell them to stop eating when they have had an enough. As with alcoholics and drug addicts, the more they eat the more they want. Whether or not overeating is technically an addiction, if it stimulates the same brain circles as drug use in the same way, people also can possibly be “addicted to food.”

  Our brains maintain a healthy body weight by signaling when to eat and when to stop. Hormones regulate feeding circuits that control appetite and satiety, but fatty sugary foods can motivate some people to overeat. The more they have the more they want, a sensation common in drug addiction.

What to Do? Protein to the Rescue

Many peoples’ relationship with sugar typically starts when they wake up in the morning.  Many start the day with a sweet bowl of cereal or a muffin (at 600 calories) for breakfast. But this pattern can set you up to fail, so many nutritionists recommend to focus more on protein. Protein helps stabilize blood sugar which helps keep you out of fight or flight reactions and protein also provides the building blocks for your brain neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. Many nutritionists advise their patients to eat protein such as eggs, cheese, nuts, peas, beans, and or even a protein shake at least an hour after they get up, and with every meal. If you snack before bed, make sure that it has protein too. Even if we strive to avoid sugar, sweet treats have a way of worming their way into our lives especially during the Holidays. If you have trouble saying no to sweets, it is recommended to eat protein proactively to keep temptations in check.

What Do We Really Know about Diet and Cancer?

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Diet and cancer research has been sparse for a number of reasons. One major reason is that reliable studies are not feasible to undertake with humans for obvious ethical reasons. Additionally,  observational studies cannot show cause and effect.  We are then left with animal studies that more than likely cannot be extrapolated to human cancers. In the past, only individual nutrients have been studied, i.e., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). Studies with supplements have shown mixed results and doses are varied. Several studies using the antioxidant, beta carotene, resulted with more cases of lung cancer in smokers when compared with a placebo group. Diet patterns like the Mediterranean or vegetarian diets are difficult to conduct on large groups of human subjects due to cost.

Research on a flavonoid called sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables may be prudent, since these compounds called phytonutrients may hold the key to cancer prevention with diet.  A study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that a high intake of broccoli greatly reduced the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.


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The First Thanksgiving: 1621

A Brief History of Thanksgiving Foods

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English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“ The turkey is certainly one of the most delightful presents which the New World has made to the Old.”  Brillat Savarin.

Most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods we now eat on this holiday are foods that originated or were Native to the Americas. The word for turkey in French is dinde, short for poulet d’inde since they thought that the turkey came from the West Indies of Columbus days.  The turkey was popular in England before the Pilgrims came in 1620.

Turkeys don’t migrate so they were some of the first Native Americans and were available all year.  Turkeys are easy to hunt – when one is shot, the others freeze in place.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t encourage shooting turkeys – we have lots of wild turkeys here in Western North Carolina. Many times I’ve had to stop and wait until they cross the road.  I once encountered a few hens walking in the woods, followed by a male who wanted to impress them by making a racket and spreading his tail feathers – of course, the “girls” totally ignored him and went on without a nod – I kind of felt sorry for him

Potatoes had reached Europe early in the Columbian Exchange (thanks to Christopher Columbus).  Potatoes had an interesting history – they were native to Peru, a Spanish colony and enemy of England, and went from Peru to Europe and then returned to New Hampshire with Scottish-Irish settlers in 1723.  It is thought that the idea of mashing them with butter and milk also came form Scottish-Irish influence.

Cranberries were native to New England. Cranberries and blueberries were mashed with sour milk and used as paint as well as for food.  To this day, these colors or variations of these colors are used in New England colonial homes.

Many types of squash had reached Europe, but pumpkin was unknown at that time. Pumpkin was used in the early colonies, but did not appear in cookbooks until Amelia Simmons in 1796 wrote the first printed American cookbook.  She referred to it as “pomkin”.  You may prefer pecan pie – and these are also of American origin.  Originating in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico, pecans were widely used by pre-colonial residents.

Cornbread and sweet potatoes (both being native to the Americas) round out our traditional Thanksgiving fare. Archaeological studies indicate that corn was cultivated in the Americas at least 5600 years ago and American Indians were growing corn long before Europeans landed here. The probable center off origin is the Central American and Mexico region but since the plant is found only under cultivation, no one can be sure.

The sweet potato has a rich history and interesting origin. It is one of the oldest vegetables known to mankind. Scientists believe that the sweet potato was domesticated thousands of years ago in Central America. Christopher Columbus took sweet potatoes back home to Europe after his first 1492 voyage. Sweet potatoes spread through Asia and Africa after being introduced in China in the late 16th century.

So as you enjoy your Thanksgiving this year, give thanks to the Americas for our traditional foods that are truly “made in America”.

BTW –Many of the foods we find on our Thanksgiving table today, weren’t  available back when the colonists celebrated the First Thanksgiving in Plymouth.  The first historical descriptions of the first Thanksgiving do not mention turkey – only “wild fowl” (not identified) and five deer.  The party was in 1621 with fifty-one Pilgrim men, women, and children hosting ninety men of the Wampanoag tribe and their chief, Massasoit.  It was in the fall to celebrate the good harvest of corn (wheat and barley weren’t as successful) and lasted three days.

Have a great Thanksgiving Day from Food, Facts & Fads and STAY SAFE.  SJF