Life Was Good? The American Plate 1950 – 1959

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Author: Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,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.

tv_dinner01

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, all before solving the family problems.

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.

mcdonalds-burger1

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 reported on only 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.

 

sevencountries

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: 

1951 I Love Lucy debuts on CBS.

1952 The Lipton food company rolls out its dehydrated onion soup that will earn it fame as a base for onion soup mix: 2 envelopes of mix plus 1 cup of sour cream. Lipton eventually prints the recipe, “California Dip” on the package.

1953 Eggo Frozen Waffles are introduced.

1954 Employee Gerry Thomas from the C.A. Swanson Co,  has an idea (although fellow workers nearly laughed him out of the Omaha  plant): package the left-over turkey, along with some dressing, gravy, cornbread, peas and sweet potatoes into a partitioned metal tray, sell it frozen, and consumers could heat it up for dinner. His name for the leftover meal: TV Dinner.

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

1955 Milkshake-machine salesman, Roy Kroc tries to persuade Dick and Mac McDonald (owner of the original McDonalds in California) to franchise their concept.  They aren’t interested but  tell Kroc to go ahead and try his hand. Kroc opens his first restaurant in Des Plains, ILL., and eventually buys out the McDonalds.

1956 Jif Peanut Butter is introduced.

1956 More than 80 percent of U.S. households have refrigerators. By contrast, only 8 percent of British households have refrigerators.

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

1957 Margarine 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 and his fellow Wichita State classmate, opens the first Pizza Hut in Wichita, KS.

 

Getting your protein from plants: A recipe for longevity?

Question: Does plant or animal protein affect mortality and/or longevity?

A study found that for every 3% of a persons daily energy intake coming from plant protein instead of animal protein reduces a person’s risk of premature death by 10%.

For this study the researchers analyzed dietary data from more than 237, 000 men and 179, 000 women gathered between 1995 and 2011 as part of a long-term study on eating patterns and health. During 16 years of follow-up, a pattern emerged where plant protein intake appeared to reduce risk of early death. Every 10 grams of plant for animal protein swapping per 1000 calories resulted in a 12% lower risk of death for men and 14% for women, the finding showed.

Bottom Line: The findings provide evidence that dietary modification in choice of protein sources may influence cardiovascular health and longevity.

Taking red meat out of your diet can be beneficial, but only if you swap for a healthy substitute, said a lead researcher from the US National Cancer Institute. For example, replacement of 3% energy from egg protein or red made protein with plant protein such as whole grains or cereals resulted in a protective Association for overall mortality, the researcher said on the other hand replacement of 3% energy from egg protein or red meat protein with other foods such as sugar sweetened beverages may or may not result in a reduction in mortality.

There are many reasons why choosing plant protein over animal protein could help extend your life; meat protein tends to come with higher levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and other nutrients that aren’t very good for your health. For example, one ounce of red meat mixed with whole wheat pasta and veggies would provide much less saturated fat than a 9 ounce steak

On the other hand, plant proteins come with loads of fiber , antioxidants, and other compounds like vitamins and minerals that add to the nutrient density along with lesser calories as fat than in some meat products (processed meat in particular).

The researchers also added that there might be something specific about the products formed from the breakdown of animal-based protein that could cause arteries to grow harder or inflammation to occur. In 2011, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic demonstrated that meat eaters produced a metabolite that promotes heart disease called Trimethylamine-N-Oxide or TMAO. Of great interest, TMAO was not elevated in vegans who were asked to meet eat a meat meal for the purposes of the study. .

Huang, Jiaqu, et al. JAMA Intern Med. Published online July 13, 2020.

 

Why Do Americans Eat So Much Beef?

 

A typical beef feedlot

January 22, 2013 by foodworksblog 3 Comments

Even though it has been reported that meat consumption has declined recently, in the past, Americans have been consuming about 150 pounds of “red meat” per capita/year. The percentages are startling: 60% beef, 39% pork, with only 1% for lamb and mutton. The percentage of goat is too small to even mention.

Pork had been the meat of choice since Colonial Days in the Plymouth Colony (circa 1623). The dense American forests were ideal for raising pigs. They were allowed to remain “wild” and roam freely most of the year with only penning them in the winter.    They were “finished” on corn that made the flesh firm and they gained weight quickly. Pigs were more efficient than cattle for meat, so cattle were more used for milk, butter, cheese and plowing.  Other food animals that were available were goats, sheep and chickens.

Goat meat was the first to be abandoned which virtually disappeared.  Goat meat was occasionally consumed in the South by low-income groups as well as some Hispanics.  Goat meat is still served in some Mexican restaurants.

Sheep migrated into British cookery as a by-product of wool production, especially in Scotland and Ireland.  Lamb eventually became more popular associated with the wool industry in New England, but did not catch on in the South due to the influence of the cotton industry.  Later, dairying replaced sheep herding in New England.

The Great Plains became the ideal location for raising cattle. When the corn production moved west, the pig and cattle industry followed.  Then, they had to be “walked” back over the mountains to the Eastern seaboards by “drovers”.  Cincinnati became known as “Porkopolis”.  By the time of the Civil War, Americans were “hooked on pork and had become “the staff of life”, primarily in the South and Midwest.

The Northeast became more partial to beef.  New Englanders no longer raised pigs due to the cutting down of the forests for the shipbuilding industry.  Little corn was grown to “finish” the pork.

In the Western plains, the American Indians preferred the buffalo, so the government (U.S. Army) figured out that if they could get rid of the buffalo, they also could rid the area of the Indians.  Cattle ranchers with the help of the railroads began to raise herds of cattle to replace the once prolific buffalo herds.  Progress with the railroads replaced the cattle drives and the Chicago stockyards became the center of cattle slaughter.  In 1882, refrigerated cars became more available for safer transportation;  the West was running out of grazing land that forced more feedlot “finishing” with corn.

Beef became cheap and ranchers were paid to supply the Indian reservations with beef to prevent starvation (after eliminating the buffalo). For a while beef consumption fell again due to losing its price advantage at the turn of the century until about 1940.

In the early 1950s Americans were eating about equal amounts of beef and pork. By the late 1950s, beef consumption in the U.S. surpassed pork for the first time. By the 1960’s Americans were eating 10 times more pounds of beef and by the 1970s, 25 pounds more.

Why is beef king in the U.S?

  • Changes in beef production and marketing at the end of WW II fit the new postwar lifestyles.  Meat had been rationed during WWII.
  • Improved breeds appeared that were given soy, fish meal, corn, sorghum, hormones, antibiotics that allowed faster “finishing” times due to accelerated growth since the cattle ate day and night.
  • Lifestyles began to involve more home ownership in the suburbs, which lead to outdoor grilling. Beef patties were ideal grillers; pork patties fell apart.
  • There were no dangers of trichinosis with beef.
  • Women entered the workplace that resulted in eating outside the home.
  • The fast food industry exploded and the hamburger became the staple at the drive-in.
  • Presently it is estimated that Americans are eating about three hamburgers a week.

American still eat more meat than most cultures in the world, but even here, consumption is declining.  It is estimated the U.S meat consumption may fall by more than 12% from 2007 to 2012.  This computes to about 165.5 pounds per person, or about one-half a pound a day.

 But Why?

  • Health concerns about meat consumption are reaching the public.
  • Campaigns like Meatless Mondays may be having an effect.  People are getting the message to cut down on saturated fat.
  • Some lower income people may attempt to obtain cheaper sources of protein like grains and soy to improve their health while wealthier groups may have some environmental as well as health concerns.
  • All meat production in America requires a great deal of fossil fuel.  Production relies entirely on nonrenewable fossil energy. There are also concerns about adding grain crops to animal feed, water scarcity, and animal welfare.
  • Cost of meats has risen due to animal feed prices.

How do cows negatively affect the environment? Take a look at these statistics from a recent PBS News Hour video. 

  • It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of grain-fed beef.
  • We use eight times more land to feed animals in the U.S. than we use to feed humans.
  • The 500 million tons of manure created each year by American cows releases nitrous oxide, a gas that has 300 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide.
  • The 17 billion pounds of fertilizer used to grow feed for cows flows into rivers and oceans, creating huge algae blooms or dead zones where nothing can survive. In the U.S. we find them in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Oregon, and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • In total, 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gases are released to produce just one quarter-pounder burger.

Americans still value animal protein from meats and dairy with 65% of the U.S. protein coming from animals.  The global average is about 30%; some low-income countries only get about 6-7 % of their protein from animal sources.

Will the U.S. population accept the current trend of plant-based diets as part of their protein source as well as their taste buds? Time will tell – but it will be a hard road ahead.  The current trends for plant-based burgers (aka as the Impossible burger, and Beyond Beef) will be trial balloons to see how accepting the typical American consumer responds. It is now recognized that most healthy cultures globally depend on a more vegan diet approach than what we find so far on the American plate. The environmental benefits of growing plant crops may help to persuade some Americans to accept this diet pattern more readily. (my opinion).

The Sickness In Our Food Supply?

A very long article by Michael Pollan but is worth reading if you want to understand the complexities of our food system. It involves the “elephant in the room” consisting of  Covid -19 that  exposes the interrelated factors associated with our our current food system and health care costs. Based on this essay, our “diets may be killing us” as a few recent articles have suggested. Click the link below or find it on the Website of Michael Pollan of (“eat food, not too much, mostly plants” fame).

A quote from Forbes, May 12, 2000 in an article from Nav Athwal sums it up:

“One thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us is the level of control we have over our lives is not as great as we think.  Whether it be our ability to be mobile, our ability to meet with friends or the food we eat and how we eat it, the conveniences we took for granted not long ago are luxuries in a post-coronavirus world.”

Any suggestions for a solution?

CLICK HERE.

Are Our Diets Killing Us?

The Corona Virus

The importance of lifestyle enters into the debate about the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. Many reports of viral deaths are attributed loosely to underlying conditions exemplified  by the presence of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes/prediabetes, and obesity which is surmised to increase  the mortality risks of the virus. These are the leading causes of death in the U.S. and are collectively referred to as chronic diseases.

“Poor diet, a lifestyle factor among others, is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, causing more than half a million deaths per year. Just 10 dietary factors are estimated to cause nearly 1,000 deaths every day from heart disease, stroke and diabetes alone. These conditions are dizzyingly expensive. Cardiovascular disease costs $351 billion annually in health care spending and lost productivity, while diabetes costs $327 billion annually. The total economic cost of obesity is estimated at $1.72 trillion per year, or 9.3 percent of gross domestic product.” NYT.

CLICK HERE

The Pandemic and the Mind

The pandemic is making us depressed and anxious – can healthy food provide relief?

To the average person, it may seem eminently reasonable to assume that food affects our brains along with the rest of our bodies. But only within the past decade or so have researchers begun to establish the crucial link between diet and the mind.

The U.K. Mental Health Foundation reports that food plays an important role not only in depression but in schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease as well.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, including our eating habits. Comfort food was made for times like these, and it seems the healthy food trend that took root in recent years is reversing, at least for the time being. Shopping habits have shifted in favor of old processed favorites like frozen pizza, toaster waffles and canned spaghetti. These are convenience foods with long shelf lives that are designed to deliver pleasure. The typical American diet is often loaded with processed foods, pizza, fast food, white flour and sugary sodas.

Money is tight in many households, and busy parents are putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table instead of home cooking and using whole food. Open a box and there is dinner.  Besides, convenience foods are engineered  by the food industry to taste good and make us feel good at least in the short term.

But wait – there’s more. That’s because a growing body of research is showing that our food choices don’t just affect our waistlines. What we eat also may affect our mood and behavior. In other words, there may be something in the food we’re eating (or not eating) that’s influencing our state of mind.

The emerging field of nutritional psychology contends that modern western diets have contributed to increased rates of mental illness, particularly depression. Diets that follow a Mediterranean pattern of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish and olive oil, have been linked to lower rates of depression. A diet change of just a few weeks has been found to lift moods. In a 2010 study, women who ate diets high in vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains were less likely to suffer from depression.

As a third of all Americans are reporting that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health, we might now need nutritious foods more than ever. One way to start is to simply cut down on “junk” foods and look for simple ways to prepare whole nutritious foods.

Source: Discover Magazine, September/October, 2020

Chronic Disease: Can Your Lifestyle Make a Difference?

 

Lately in the literature, lifestyle medicine has been mentioned as an effective practice that influences our overall health and risk of diseases in general. Many of the  leading causes of death in developed countries have been referred to as chronic diseases and ways to prevent these diseases is to practice a “healthy lifestyle”. But what does that exactly mean? Some research has suggested that our susceptibility to Covid-19 may even be altered by our lifestyles, obesity being named a risk factor.

In 1999, a Harvard-trained cardiologist, James E. Rippe published a textbook entitled Lifestyle Medicine in which he expressed his hope for a “new emphasis in medicine related to the links between daily behaviors and outcomes”. The idea slowly took root. In 2006, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, a Seventh Day Adventist institution in California, debuted the country’s first lifestyle medicine education program. A few years later the School of Medicine Greenville at the University of South Carolina went a step further, integrating lifestyle medicine into every facet of the curriculum and requiring prospective physicians in medical schools to spend 50 hours over two years covering the ways in which diet, nutrition and exercise impact the various organs and systems. Several other medical school programs have followed, that have been dedicated to the principals that healthy food, rich in nutrients, healthy fats, and lean protein, can be a potent weapon in the doctor’s bag.”

“How much a role does nutrition play in health? “It is the thing, says Jennifer Trilik , an associate professor at USC Greenville who directs the schools lifestyle medicine program. “if we’re talking about obesity, cardiovascular disease,  cancer, there’s so much evidence that saturated fat and trans-fat cause chronic inflammation, damaged the DNA and create growths in an adult body that shouldn’t be there. On the other hand, apples and blueberries have so many healthy antioxidants. We were made to eat whole foods and plant based foods, not processed ones out of a bag.

CLICK HERE.

Ultra Processed Foods to Avoid

Ultra-processed foods are often thought as the nemesis of healthy eating. However, they are so ubiquitous in our food supply, it is so difficult to avoid them in the supermarket (they are displayed for our convenience and capture our cravings for sugar, salt, and fat as well.)  The problem: If we tried to avoid all processed foods, there would be few choices in the supermarket. The best way for starters is to try to cut down on snack foods — they are highly processed and offer few nutrients.

CLICK HERE.