Why American food avoided garlic early in the 20th century

New York Times food blog entry suggesting that American recipes avoided or severely limited garlic, because of its association with low-class immigrants:


My mom’s parents never ate garlic, and my mom still avoids it. I suspect it’s because it was a low-class food when my grandparents were young, and she picked up the attitude from them.

My mom is 68. I wonder what foods that are considered low-class now might be popular in 2043, when I’m her age?

I can’t think of any foods that are considered low-class now, except for fast food type things, and I don’t see that stuff losing its place any time soon.

I think people are just more open-minded about trying new foods now than they were fifty or more years ago.


Cornbread and turnip greens!

(Gloves go down)

Them’s fightin’ words, pilgrim!

I remember when I first got married waaaaay back in 1985, me and my husband feasted on oxtailed either curried or Spanish style. You could get them at the butcher for less than a dollar a pound. We stopped buying them in the late '90s because, they are good, but not lobster good. Hell, we don’t buy lobster and lobster is lobster good.

Recently I saw them for sale at almost six dollars a pound.


I seem to recall a big shift in food tastes around 75 or 78.
Pasta, chicken, veggies & fish got lots more popular.
A beef price jump? Yes. Can’t recall why there was a jump…

That’s very interesting. My family had the same take on garlic. “Garlic bread” was okay when eating spaghetti, but other than that, it was kind of a no-no.

Boy did I go crazy when I got away from home and learned how to cook with garlic. My general rule is, if it’s something that would not benefit from the addition of vanilla, then it will benefit from the addition of garlic.

For awhile my favorite restaurant had a sign that said, “If you don’t like garlic–go home!”

I did not get a whiff of “garlic is low class” from my family. It just wasn’t added to things, except the aforementioned garlic bread.

The History Major I dated for a while saw me cooking and cried out, “Oh Plant, garlic, no! Central Europeans!”

Some chefs are trying to change that.

My folks came here after WWII and I can tell you as a first generation American, and the only born-American in my family, the “old-style” immigrants who came here before the 60s wanted to be as American as possible. Back then assimilation wasn’t a bad thing. They wanted to be American.

Back in the late 90s an elderly Polish woman owned my building and she’d be in her office and she’d often call me over when she saw me and ask how she was coming along with her reading.

I was like, “You speak English well,” but she wanted to speak English so no one would know she wasn’t from America :slight_smile:

Considering she was probably 80 years old that was never gonna happen, but she was always concerned that her English was correct and she was acting “American”

It’s the same story with white bread. Originally, abundant uniform loaves of soft bread, neatly sliced at the factory, was seen as a marvel of American ingenuiety, and chic modern style. “The best thing since sliced bread!” was commonly heard. Obviously, white refined flour bread was much more sanitary than those rough and crusty things that backwoods folks or worse yet, immigrants choked down between laboring stints and birthing babies.

Nowadays, “white bread” is a slur denoting conformity and dullness. And those rough and crusty peasant loaves? Six bucks apiece at Le Yuppique Comestibles Boutique. (A wholly owned subsidiary of Kraft Foods.)

I expect America inherited its distaste for garlic from Britain. I didn’t even try it until I was in my twenties. Love it now of course.

My step father still won’t even consider it. Garlic smells like french people (or is it vice versa?).

I remember a commercial (for gravy) on telly where the Man of the House was horrified that the wife might’ve put garlic in the sunday dinner. The punchline was that no, of course whe wouldn’t do anything so reckless.

I reckon british taste in foods must’ve undergone the most dramatic change in history in the 70s/80s when people started trying foreign foods (like garlic) for the first time. I blame Delia.

Yes, there was a beef shortage in the early-to-mid 70s, and a huge jump in price. Plus, that’s when “health food” began to be taken seriously, and concerns about cholesterol. And it was around that time that people were looking for low-sodium ways to season their food. And I’m thinking that it was around the same time when people were first hearing that garlic is good for you.

The British Empire ran (my numbers are probably not accurate) 30% of the world for 200 years and the citizens didn’t eat foreign food?

In the film It’s a Wonderful Life, the villainous Potter derides Mr. Martini and the other inhabitants of Bailey Park as that “band of garlic-eaters” George Bailey loves even though the virtuous George “hasn’t made a dime off” any of the houses in that lower-income development.

I asked my dad (aged 63) if garlic was considered to be a low-class food when he was a kid. He thought about it and said yes, and then added that a lot of people still consider it to be a low-class food. I have no idea who he’s talking about exactly, but my dad is very much a “my post is my cite” sort of guy, so it’s not really worth trying to figure this out.

Old cookbooks from the 30’s onward feature recipes for “Italian Spaghetti” (eye-talian?) calling for canned tomato sauce and onion, but I don’t think garlic!

For low class food, I nominate cooked cabbage. I remember visiting friends from schools who lived in tenements, and the halls reeked of cabbage. Who cuts up a head of cabbage and stews it in a pot on the stove all day long these days???

Have also read in Victorian novels the smell of cooking in the house was considered a social faux-pas, as it implied your house was small (you were poor/middle class) and servantless (you were probably slaving away in the kitchen with only a part-time scullery maid to help you), in a proper house the food appeared magically served by butlers and maids. The smell of garlic was really penetrating no matter if your kitchen was way far from your living quarters!

In my neighbourhood, some adventurous types would risk Chinese food but I didn’t have Indian food until I was well into my 20s (and too drunk to complain).