Why did we allow such BAD food to become the norm?

In reading some of the food threads, I’m struck by just how horrible a lot of “classic” American food is. Think about it - how many of us grew up with:

  • American Cheese instead of any number of wonderful cheeses
  • Canned, mushy vegetables instead of fresh, in-season produce
  • Bland white bread with no crust (Wonder Bread) instead of crusty, yummy French or Italian style loaves
  • Canned, metallic-tasting olives instead of briny Kalamata or big fat green olives
  • Miracle Whip instead of Mayo
  • Bologna instead of good quality salamis or sausages

I could go on forever! I’m fairly certain a lot of this happened in the 1940’s and 1950’s when convenience food became fashionable. What I’m wondering is WHY did we allow this to happen? At what point did someone who grew up with, say, a good locally made cheese in the Cheddar or Swiss style take a bite of American Cheese and think “Boy, this is good! Let’s make this the largest selling cheese in the country!”

I can understand the resistance to going the other way - people who grew up with this bland, tasteless, and textureless food may find real food a bit overpowering, and not want to make the effort to learn to like it. But how in the world did a nation used to eating food with taste and texture just sit back and allow such pap to take over the scene?!?

It also begs another side question - to those of you who grew up in foreign lands. Is bland, textureless food a staple of most people’s diets over there? (Those of you from the U.K. are exempt from this question.)

Well, when it comes down to it—why did we allow such bad movies and TV shows to become the norm? How and why did we devolve from William Powell and Myrna Loy to Dharma and Greg?

I was lucky. My mother (and, very infrequently, father) cooked great food, and made us kids eat it. Even when I only wanted hot dogs and Macaroni -N- Cheese.

Not everything was the greatest…pickled eggs spring to mind…but all in all, I’m glad they did it that way instead of allowing me to try or not try things on my own, because I know I wouldn’t have tried many of the foods I consider great today.

Which is why my kids don’t get a choice at dinner-time :slight_smile:

Amen, Athena! I couldn’t have put it any better myself.

Lack of knowledge has never stopped me from being right before, so I’ll attempt to actually answer her question:

  1. The first casualty in mass production is quality. Bologna is easier to make than salami. Therefore cheaper. Therefore better-selling. Later, after the market is established, more expensive, better quality products can be added. But it was the cheap stuff that won America’s heart in the first place. (Incidentally, I was introduced to real Italian bologna the other day – I had no idea the name was co-opted from an actual product. If I were them I’d sue.) Further, what you and I consider “real”, high-quality foods are also only mass-produced shadows of their former selves. They are only high quality in comparison to our usual fare. Those of you with a strong ethnic heritage that includes actual recipes should consider yourselves richly blessed.

  2. Another cultural change that occurred simultaneously was the elevation of children from their “should be seen but not heard” status to their current position as rulers of the household. If my father, as a child, didn’t like what was served, he could do without. Complaints were not tolerated. But my kids have no concept of eating what’s placed before them. And who likes bland food? Children. Your typical six year old, given a choice of a crusty baguette or a slice of Wonder bread, will choose soft and bland every time. The problem isn’t so much that the bland food is the only thing available as much as the fact that the parents prepare the meal to cater to the children. The adults adapt their eating habits to the childrens’, rather than vice versa.

  3. Hi, Opal!

That’s my just-created theory, anyway. A combination of mass-production and our culture’s subjugation of adults to children.

I agree with you mostly. I refuse canned veggies (bleh!) but I have to disagree on Miracle Whip. Some sandwiches need Miracle Whip, some need mayo. Turkey sandwiches from leftover Thanksgiving stuff need Miracle Whip. Tuna salad should only be made with mayo.

Other than that give me extra sharp crumbly Cheddar with textureful whole grain bread and decent salami.

Oh Medea’s Child! By no means did I say I don’t EAT those things I listed. Well, OK, I don’t eat a lot of 'em, but I do eat canned olives and American Cheese on occasion, simply because I grew up with ‘em, and they’re comfort foods to me. I used to always get a big can of olives in my Christmas Stocking, which makes me crave canned olives during the holidays. And I can’t resist a good ol’ Kraft Singles grilled cheese. That’s not to say that I don’t eat real olives and grilled cheeses made with lovely cheddar, but I, like the rest of us, grew up with some of these things.

On the other hand, my parents did have some taste, and were not like the parents Pluto described - If I didn’t eat something, I went to bed hungry. There were no canned veggies, Wonder Bread (although I begged mercilously for Bunny Bread, the local Wonder-style bread, I never got it), or Bologna in our house. However, there was that mysterious stuff called “meat spread” you got from the supermarket deli in our fridge all the time, and Miracle Whip. Somehow, those have not become comfort foods to me. I detest any sandwich made with Miracle Whip - I simply don’t like the taste of it. And once I hit 18 I became afraid of “meat spread” and have never had it since. Perhaps it had something to do with the way my mother would serve it on stale Roman Meal bread. Gag, I can still practically taste it! Yuk!

Marketing and advertising: tell the people what they need, and they will believe they need it.

Manufacturers create a product and need it to be accepted by the public, so with the various food products, the major selling points:

[li]Extra vitamins and minerals! - It doesn’t matter that the vitamins and minerals were removed during the initial milling process to make the bread white, this bread is fortified, implying that mom’s homemade bread isn’t fortified with the extra vitamins and iron that little Doofus Jr. needs to grow up healthy and strong. If mom doesn’t feed him new fortified StyroBread, loaded with vitamins and minerals, she is a bad mommy and Doofus Jr. will grow up to be a wimp, be last in his class and never be able to swing a baseball bat like any normal red-blooded American boy, and she’s a bad mommy.[/li]
[li]Community! - Give the kids store-bought cookies instead of baking all day, and now mom has more time to do civic volunteering like every good mother should (volunteering at the hospital, the church, the library).[/li]
[li]Convenience! - Now you can have asparagus and corn year-round, rather than waiting for them to be in season. And think of those starving children in <insert name of country> who would love to eat those ‘yucky’ vegetables, as you call them![/li]
[li]Progress! - No more messy hands, exploded jars, and overheated kitchens from trying to put up your own vegetables like your grandmother did! Cans are so modern and canning is so antiquated.[/li]
[li]Patriotism! - It’s American cheese, dammit, made in the best damned country of the world! Do I need to say anything more? [please note, tongue in cheek][/li]
Note that a lot of the advertising in the 40s and 50s is aimed at the American wife and mother. In the early part of the 40s, she was a major part of the war-effort, and now sent back to the kitchen as homemaker. Her control over the home was reflected in keeping her husband happy and shaping the generation of tomorrow. Easy-to-prepare foods allowed for more leisure time, something that was becoming more emphasized. Cleaner clothes (with those all-important whiter whites and brighter colors), a sparkly clean house and a well-fed family meshed with the progress and changes that America was going through. The American mother was part of that re-industrialization.

I think pluto made a very good point about catering to children’s unsophisticated palates. Further, I think the result of doing this is the creation of a generation of adults with very unsophisticated palates. This morning when I dropped our kids off at the babysitter the other boy who goes there came in at the same time with his lunch. It was one of those “Lunchbles” all-in-one boxes and contained: cheese, salami, crackers, 4 ounces of “juice” and candy. That’s it.

I’m not above convenience foods myself, but my kids lunches were: chicken soup with veggies, fresh strawberries and whole grain cookies.

Typical kids menus only have about 4 or 5 things: Chicken nuggets, spaghetti, grilled cheese, hamburgers and maybe one or two other things that represent bland versions of whatever the restaurant specializes in. I’ve seen a number of adults who don’t go much beyond that themselves.

My parents’ philosophy boiled down to two rules:

–Try everything. You don’t have to eat a whole portion, but you have to taste it.
–No complaining about food. If you don’t like it don’t eat it–quietly.

We’re trying to gently expand our toddlers’ universe in pretty much the same way. You have to get them while they’re young, though. My daugher has happily scarfed everything from miso soup to lobster enchiladas, but the first time she heard another kid say “Vegetables are yucky,” she repeated it to everyone for days.

Oh and ,screechowl, I ran across a wonderfully loony example of “extra vitamins and minerals” recently. Chocolate milk powder fortified with…Calcium!

What genius came up with the idea of adding calcium to something you’re going to put in a big glass of milk?

Miracle Whip is the Devil’s semen.

Ahhh…it depends. For example, I HATE the prepackaged pieces of plastic they call American Cheese, like Kraft Singles. BUT…Land O’Lakes American Cheese from the Deli is like manna from Heaven. It’s rich, creamy and subtle tasting, with a sharp tang. And wonder bread is easier for sandwhichs-I prefer though buns for my sandwiches, unless I’m toasting it-then wonder bread is preferred. It’s just easier. The crusty french bread is yummy, but when you use it for a sandwhich, it tends to be tougher, so you end up tearing all the filling out of the sandwich and the bread is all that’s left.

Mayonaise is yucky.

And what about frozen vegetables, in the winter time? When the fresh produce isn’t really that great, sometimes you have to buy frozen peas! I HATE canned vegetables, except for chick peas.

Frozen pizza and pre shredded cheese can also be tasty.
And I will NOT eat homemade stuffing. It has to be the kind from the box-stove top, butterball, generic, whatever.

I guess I like a little bit of everything.

- American Cheese instead of any number of wonderful cheeses

Price. Cheese is so much cheaper when you don’t have to involve an actual mammal. That said, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and didn’t know American cheese existed (only a slight exaggeration) because I grew up on Tillamook cheddar.

  • Canned, mushy vegetables instead of fresh, in-season produce

Price. Convenience.

  • Bland white bread with no crust (Wonder Bread) instead of crusty, yummy French or Italian style loaves

Price. Growing up poor, we shopped at the Wonder Bread outlet (yellow white-bread) because that is what we could afford. I can still buy a loaf of Roman Meal for $0.89 but my preferred ultimate favorite sandwich bread will cost me over $3.00 a loaf.

  • Canned, metallic-tasting olives instead of briny Kalamata or big fat green olives

Price. Taste. Most olives are beyond disgusting. The canned black olives barely cross the line into edibility.

  • Miracle Whip instead of Mayo

Can’t explain this one. Grew up on mayo, my ex-wife only at MW. Over time I came to like it, but I do not consider it a replacement for mayo, just something to be used for certain tastes and in certain situations.

  • Bologna instead of good quality salamis or sausages

Price, most likely. Never really ate bologna as a kid.

I do like the suggestion about the children’s palate. My youngest sister went through a phase when all she would eat was spaghetti, and sauce was entirely optional. I’m told that macaroni and cheese and chili were my favorites as a young person (macaroni and cheese has stuck with me as the perfect comfort food, though not boxed M&C, while I won’t eat chili of any sort unless there are zero options - and that includes bark dust).

American cheese? What is this american cheese? doesn’t get the idea of american cheese… loves a nice medium cheddar preferably white cheddar Cheddar is only orange because they add stuff to make it so! My aunt got me addicted to white cheddar.

But I agree about the unsophisticated palates thing. It makes a lot of sense. I mean that’s why kids love ketchup so much too, everything tastes the same when glooped under enough ketchup. (Which is why I avoid it in general.) I also agree about having to catch kids young. Myself I am willing to at least try a lot of things thanks to my Grandparents and Dad but my brother for some reason didn’t get that. He prefers to gloop up everything with hot sauce, barbeque sauce and ketchup. I mean they aren’t bad but there is a time and place for them. Some of my little cousins eat things I would have never touched at their age (ie tofu and samosa and such stuff)

Miracle Whip isn’t that bad… I only eat it with tuna, salmon, chicken or turkey sandwiches though…

  • Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Well, yeah. They add annatto. Nothing wrong with that. It’s natural. It doesn’t hurt. And they’ve been doing it in England for hundreds of years.

Athena, an excellent book on this subject is John and Karen Hess’s THE TASTE OF AMERICA. I recommend you get a copy…it’s fascinating reading, and addresses EXACTLY what you’re asking. It’s pretty dated…American food is a HELLUVA lot better than it was in 1975, when the book was published.

I read it when I was a teenager, and it was fairly new, and it changed the ways I thought about food. One of the most influential books on my day-to-day life, certainly.

I just checked Amazon.com…looks like the University of Illinois Press put it back into print last year. Good for them!

Now you won’t have to go digging around ABE Booksearch for an old Penguin mass market copy.

poohpah chalupa said


So,so right :slight_smile:


What exactly does this mean? I see it all over the place on this message board, but I have never figured out its meaning. Could someone enlighten me? Or is this some well-kept secret by established Dopers? I did a search for a user named Opal, and turned up nothing… so obviously this reference to Opal is something a little more sacred… What is it??


Ironically, I opened this thread just as Pinky is singing the “Cheese Roll Call” on “Pinky and the Brain”.
British, Australian and German, no American cheese.

[screeching halt]
Arthur - [Hi Opal!] is a way of padding out a list. OpalCat (another poster here) is/was of the opinion that a list should have more than two items. Therefore, you will usually see [Hi Opal!] as the third item in a list, even if the list has more than three items.
I don’t know if she is sacred, but I think she’s pretty cool.
You can find many references to this and other ‘secrets’ of the boards on About This Message Board (ATMB).
[/screeching halt]

All I have to say on the subject is… artificial cheese food substitute.
That on two pieces of wonder bread with some devils semen. G-D bless America!