Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America
Nonfiction, Food Writing
If one were to believe the ad copy and the magazine articles from the 50s - not to mention The Gallery of Regrettable Food - American housewives were embracing the new (and improved!) prepackaged foods, turning to TV dinners, using cake mixes at unprecedented rates, and generally celebrating their release from the kitchen.
Well, not exactly. The average American housewife actually considered those women who used these shortcuts to be cheats, not to mention unthrifty and foolish. (Hmm. I just baked some brownies from - horrors! - a mix. Boy, they smell good.) The main reason for this is that prepackaged foods have come a long way from their humble beginnings, and sometimes they still taste metallic. Moreover, there was an overt sense that "women's dishes" were those horrible things of gelatin and whipped cream, or that tuna/mushroom soup/potato chip casserole (which I grew up with, BTW), while the serious cooking was left to men... but American palates had been raised on the bland and the processed and didn't know how to get better.
Shapiro gives an overview of everything - the early adopters of prepackaged foods, and their detractors, the icons that came into their own, and the people who pulled us out of the malaise, particularly Julia Child, a woman who didn't know how to cook but had a husband who loved good food, and so learned the process with a dedication that enabled her to teach others for decades. The whole book is full of good information and gives many reasons why, despite everything, people love to cook more than ever.