1900 - 1940's
In the late 1900's and into the first part of the 20th century, Americans were obsessed with meat, along with potatoes, cakes and pies.
In all sections of the Nation, beef was recognized as the king. And whether beef, or lamb, or fowl, or pork, it was most often accompanied by roasted, mashed, riced, baked, or fried potatoes. Sauces and condiments might be on the side, and other vegetables and fruits might take up a niche on the table, but meat and potatoes were the basics along with heavy sweet, especially cake or mince, cherry, apple, or berry pies, with large dollops of whipped cream if affordable.
Up until this point, food scientist had believed a high amount of protein was necessary in the diet. However, Horace Fletcher, a man who believed in complete food mastication by chewing each bite silently 100 times, and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a vegetarian and creator of Corn Flakes, a breakfast cereal that transformed American's diet by replacing meat with grains,(Lowell K. Dyson “American Cuisine in the 20th Century” )
~ A merican Cuisine in the 20th Century by Lowell K. Dyson
While scientists researched food and health, they began discovering vitamins and minerals. Casimir Funk first discovered B1, a water-soluble nutrient, in 1911 and in 1912 he coined the term “vitamin”. Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis found the second nutrient that was fat soluble, which later became known as vitamin A. These two findings were just the start and many other nutrients were discovered soon after. Scientist began to understand the necessity of minerals and vitamins in the diet and how they could affect a person’s health.
"In 1912, the Polish chemist Casimir Funk was investigating beriberi by soaking brown rice in water and capturing the substance that dissolved. Funk determined that this substance contained an amine group. He went on to posit the existence of a whole range of amine-containing substances that were vital for good health, naming them vitamines. The "e" was dropped later when scientists realized that not all of these substances were amines."
While the time spent in the kitchen was decreasing, convenience foods were seeing an increase. Mealtime was changing as people headed away from large sit down meat and potato meals, to instead quick, lighter fair, in particularly at breakfast and lunch.~ Cooking Trends Echo Changing Roles of Women by Douglas E. Bowers
"The trend toward lighter and simpler foods accelerated in the 1920's, spurred b the wartime drive for leaner eating and the newly popular slim ideal for women. Just as store-bought cereals had replaced cooked breakfasts [in the late 1900's] for many Americans, so sandwiches and other light fare replaced hot lunches. This was especially true for working people, who patronized the growing variety of lunch counters and other quick-service eateries. An array of new convenience foods was carried in grocery stores -- packaged desserts, pancake mixes, bouillon cubes, and others. Commercially canned goods also multiplied. Almost any fruit or vegetable and even some main courses, such as spaghetti, could be bought canned in the 1920's."
With new knowledge about vitamins and minerals, food products began boasting their vitamin and mineral content on packaging to encourage its’ purchase. People were quick to jump on the new nutrition band wagon and fell prey to all sorts of outrageous advertising, all in the hopes that the vitamin and minerals in food would be cure-alls to any number of different health issues, like stomach problems, boils and even acne . However, advertisers were not quick to point out that the way food was being processed was actually destroying much of its’ nutritional benefits.
“The negative effects of increased processing of food, such as loss of vitamins and minerals, were not mentioned by advertisers. And when such leading nutritionists as Elmer McCollum of Johns Hopkins and Lafayette Mendel of Yale appeared on a Betty Crocker ‘Radio special’ in 1934 to defend the nutritional value of white bread, critics charged that the food industry had co-opted the educational and scientific establishments.“
~ American Cuisine in the 20th Century by Lowell K. Dyson
Yet many people lost their jobs because of farm advancements. The new tractors and machines replaced the necessity of man and animal power. In the end there was not enough alternative jobs to provide the necessary income to survive in rural America.
As families either chose or were forced to move for financial reasons, the farm landscape evolved from homes dispersed every mile or two in the country to being able to drive miles upon miles without ever seeing any signs of life besides the crops swaying gently in the breeze. The exodus from the rural countryside affected government as well
“The 1920 Census results were nationally significant in two ways. They were the first to show the country with more than 100 million people, and the first to report an urban majority of 51 percent. The realization that Americans were no longer predominantly rural appears to have been a bit of a shock, even though it was foreseeable, and even though ‘urban’ was liberally defined. The feeling was epitomized by the action (or, more accurately, inaction) of the House of Representatives after the census results were announced. Members from rural States whose growth had been so limited during the 1910-20 decade that the States faced a loss of seats, and there was little sentiment to avoid the loss of rural seats by making the House larger.”
“In floor debates, some members revealed a distinct fear for the future of the country, with explicit distrust of an urban-dominated House, in part because of anxiety about the newer eastern and southern European immigrants who comprised an increasing proportion of big-city populations. Others said it was unfair to punish rural States for what they viewed as the patriotic movement of country people to the cities during World War I to work in defense industries. ‘Just as certain as God reigns,’ one Texas member declared, ‘in the economical readjustment of this country they must go back to the farms.’ A total stalemate resulted. And although apportionment is the constitutional purpose of the Census, the House did not reapportion. The unprecedented result was that House seats continued to be based on the 1910 Census until the election of 1932. But the migration to the cities proved permanent.”
~ A Century of Population Growth and Change by Calvin L. Beale
While small family farms were disappearing farmland was not. There was still the same and greater demand for food as the U.S. population continued to grow. Instead farmers became more focused on growing one of several cash crops, most specifically corn, wheat and soybeans which were growing in popularity because of their use by the increasing food industry. With the help of modern day tractors and mechanics, they could also farm much larger quantities of land.
As people moved into the cities they lost much of their food independence. Families became reliant on the food industry to provide them with what they needed. Even farmers moved away from growing their own food and home food production as they began to focus on growing cash crops. While demand for commercially processed foods increased and accessibility to food in general also increased, obesity and other health problems began to be an issue despite the transformation of meals from the meat and potato standard to the lighter fair of the mid 20's and 30's. Breakfast now consisted of citrus fruit, cereal and milk or perhaps eggs and toast. Lunches were also lighter with salad, soups and sandwiches. Even at dinner, while the meal stayed much the same, portions were smaller. Casseroles and similar style dishes became popular. If there wasn't time for dishes like these then out came the canned mushroom or tomato soup for a quick meal or when there was a real food emergency, one would pull out a cup of light cream and mix in three tablespoons of catsup to make make tomato soup.
~ America's Fascination With Nutrition by Dennis Roth
The Great Depression and World War I affected people's eating habits differently. While many of the poor struggled to afford food for their children and often in the process having to go hungry themselves, those in the middle class who did not loose their jobs, did fine and sometimes even better as they were able to take advantage of decreased food prices. More meat was consumed during this period of time, although this may be partially "from distribution of relief goods, including canned meat, and hamburgers sales as low as 5 cents a
pound." (American Cuisine in the 20th Century by Lowell K. Dyson)
In 1933 Swiss chemist, Tadeus Reichstein, offered the drug company Roche the "four-step process for making vitamin C that used both microbial oxidation and chemical synthesis." ( Vitamins by Chemical & Engineering News) Thus making vitamin C the first synthetic vitamin to be produced.
"Vitamins were a boon to food companies seeking ways to differentiate their products from those of competitors. Cereals, bread, milk, and other products all claimed to be vitamin enriched (with liquids or powders) and until the laboratory synthesis of vitamins permitted their incorporation in pills in the late 1930's, enriched food was the only way to get extra vitamins. Vitamin enrichment by food producers was, however, also a tacit admission that their food needed enriching because it had lost vitamins during processing, but by this time, many nutritionists and home economists worked either directly or indirectly for food companies and did not call attention to these fact."
“In the United States, nationwide food rationing was instituted in the spring of 1942, and each member of the family was issued ration books by the Office of Price Administration (OPA). These books contained stamps and gave precise details of the amounts of certain types of food that you were allowed. Rationing insured that each person could get their fair share of the items that were in short supply due to the war effort and import reductions. By the end of the war, over a hundred million of each ration book were printed.” ~Genealogy Today: WWII War Ration Books
Those living during World War II saw the development of a food rationing program. With fear and rumors spreading about, panic purchasing would issue resulting in ration books.
Food shortages lead to the government encouraging the short lived “Victory Gardens". People began growing their own food in their backyards, community plots and even on rooftops. Approximately 40% of vegetables in the US were grown at home by 1943. However, as the war came to an end, the government stopped encouraging home gardens and many people didn’t bother with the effort by spring of 1946. ( http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/crops_02.html )
The 1940’s also saw more women entering the workforce. By the mid 40’s 35% of women and 25% of married women were working, although female employment did drop as men came home from the war and the Baby Boom era got underway. While women were also beginning to go to college, there was strong encouragement for them to learn how to manage a household for the days when they would be married. “The ideal wife, according to popular magazines, was intelligent and well-educated, could cook delicious meals, did housework efficiently, and spent lots of time nurturing her children.” ( Cooking Trends Echo Changing Roles of Women by Douglas E. Bowers)
To be continued in Part 2.