Evolution, Revolution . . . Women & Food

By Arlene Marshall (TwinLakesChef) on July 1, 2010

I have fond memories of my Swedish grandmother working in her farm kitchen, always wearing an apron, and a long wooden spoon in hand. Her hands were never idle and she shared many cozy visits with me as she labored. At the age of 10, I was sent to stay with her to help her out. She had broken both of her wrists and could do nothing. I learned from her how to cook, do laundry, clean house and pick eggs. Working in the kitchen was my grandmother’s job. Women have always worked, especially those women who are in the minority and those of lower economic levels. In the early years of our country, there weren’t many jobs easily available to women, except domestic positions.
With the arrival of World War II, women and the home kitchen forever changed.

It was the first half of the 40’s and America went to war. Our men joined in battle on foreign lands, and our women went to work in factories. Our nation pulled together, but our women never looked back at the kitchen, or their role in it, the same way again.


Memories of the hard times faced during the Depression faded. That had been a time when most Americans were against women working; they saw it only as women taking jobs from unemployed men. With the advent of World War II when women were needed in the war-related industries, it was still considered only a temporary role for women. Half the women who took war jobs were minority and of a lower economic class who had already been in the workforce. They switched from lower-paying traditionally female jobs to higher-paying factory jobs. The demand for even more women workers eventually pulled in women from all walks of life, a truly amazing experience for women of the time to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with such a diverse group of women.

World War II was only the catalyst.  The path we took from there was helped along by the food manufacturers.  Well before the war broke out they were already introducing convenience foods but it was occurring very subtlely. Seeing our women ripped from their kitchens, they saw the opportunity to promote dehydrated, pre-packaged food. . . for convenience.

What kinds of food were available prior to the war?

Armour Meats, Carnation Milk, JELL-O, Fig Newtons, Minute Tapioca, Morton Salt, Post (including Grape Nuts, Post Toasties, & the hot cereal beverage-Postum, Quaker Oatmeal, Shredded Wheat,  Welch's Grape Juice, Oreos, Animal Crackers, and how about a stick of Wrigley gum?

When the war was over, women, having experienced a way of life outside the kitchen jumped for convenience foods & convenient appliances. The food manufacturers had these foods in place. Victory Gardens were also abandoned for convenience.

It escalated:

1930 -The Sloppy Joe was born in a Sioux City, Iowa cafe as a "loose meat sandwich", the creation of a cook named Joe...

1940 – The first MacDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, CA

1941 –- General Electric introduced the garbage disposal

1942 – Coca Cola introduced “Coke” as “The Real Thing” and Pronto Pups (corn dogs) were patented

1944-Bird’s Eye Foods started shipping frozen vegetables thoughout the country.

1949-KitchenAid introduced the automatic dishwasher.

After the war, many new choices were introduced to the American public. "Convenience Foods" such as dehydrated juice, instant coffee, and cake mixes looked inviting.

Remembering the lean pantries of the war years, belly-filling simple meals prepared from pre-packaged goods were popular in the 1950’s. The "typical" American homemaker was convinced to purchase time-saving appliances and serve her family new convenience foods. 

Popular dishes were tuna noodle casserole, and more . . casseroles  . . casseroles!  Grilling became popular and main meals were accompanied by frozen vegetables, with lots of butter or sauce. Canned soup reigned supreme as the ultimate combination of convenience and versatility, explaining the proliferation of casseroles.

GI’s returning from tours overseas developed new tastes and the food companies obliged with American versions of sukyaki, egg foo yung, chow mein, enchiladas, pizza, lasagna, and barbecued meats with Polynesian sauces. Dips, chips & crackers reigned.

New products introduced during the 50’s: Minute Rice, Ore-Ida’s frozen potato products, sugared cold breakfast cereals, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, Lawry’s Spaghetti Sauce Mix, Cheez Whiz, Swanson TV dinners, Star-Kist tuna, Eggo Frozen Waffles, Refrigerated cookie dough, Tang, Rice-A-Roni, Sweet ‘n Low, Chicken Ramen & Instant Tea.
New food chains:  Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Jack-In-The Box, Taco Bell, Denny’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Shakey’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, & IHOP.

How many of you who grew up in the 60’s have any memory of WWII rationing? We surely had plenty of memories of the old boring casseroles of the 50’s. Some of us were being inspired watching Julia Child with her French influence while others were indulging in lots and lots of junk food as well as the “all you can eat” buffets. And some of us became interested in Ethnic foods.

New products introduced in the 60's: Bridgford Frozen Bread Dough, Pet-Ritz Frozen Pie Crusts, Pop-Tarts, Shake ‘n Bake, Cool Whip, SPAGHETTIO's, more sugared cereals, snacks, & chips.
New food chains:  Domino’s Pizza, Wendy’s, & Long John Silver’s Fish ‘n Chips.

We slid into the 70’s hanging on to our convenience food and junk food. But many of us baby boomers were now raising our own children and needed to see that they were being fed properly. What average people ate depended upon who they were (heritage), where and how they lived (culture), how much they relied on their environment for food, or how much money they had to put toward good food.

Chef’s of the 70’s waffled amongst classic French (Julia Child), rebirth of “novelle-cusine , “new fresh innovations (Alice Waters), fusion-cusine (Wolfgang Puck), the birth of Southwest Cuisine & Tex-Mex, as well as Cajun blackened everything (Paul Proudhomme).

Theme dinners were entertaining (we can’t forget the Watergate Dinner parties) and Brunch became extremely popular.

New Products Introduced in the 70's:  microwave Popping Corn, Hamburger Helper, Cup O’ Noodles, Stove Top Stuffing, Yoplait yogurt, Mrs. Fields Cookies, Mr. Coffee, Country Time lemonade, and even more boxed cakes and desserts.
Starbucks was founded. Burger King was Havin’ it “Your” Way & Dennys introduced the “Grand Slam Breakfast.

Pushing the cart through the market with Tanya & Jennifer riding in the basket became a challenge.  TV commercials pumped them up for the trip.  "Oh! . . How was I to protect my babies from this junk?!"

Now it has come full circle. Many women who have chosen the path of motherhood choose to be "stay-at-home" moms.  The home kitchen is again becoming the place to come to for nurturing as well as good food.

Americans are getting back into the kitchen and entertaining at home with good wholesome food. It is "chic" to own a home with a “Great Room” (where the kitchen, dining, & living room run together). It is in vogue to entertain in that fancy upscale kitchen with the guests as spectators while food is being prepared.  Cooking School attendance is up and those television food networks are flourishing.

People have become much more health conscious. Fairly good nutritional labeling has helped raise our awareness of the importance of what we feed our families.

The glut of baby boomers now facing diet related health issues are driving the demand for more health conscious choices in food. Fairly good nutritional labeling helps as never before. 

And, of course, the food industries are right there to answer our needs if we are willing to spend the money.  Mother’s Market, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joes, Fresh & Simple. . . are all markets popping up all over our country, rising to the demand for better quality food that doesn’t necessarily require elaborate and laborious preparation.

Eating is a choice and we best be careful about what we choose. Everyday eating should be healthy, sensible and well balanced, so that we can occasionally splurge on something really decadent and over the top.

Hoping for a More Healthful America

For your listening enjoyment


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Related articles:
1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, baby boomer, battle, casseroles, cooking school, factories, family, fighting, food, foreign, General Mills, grandmother, industrialization, Jell-O, kitchen, men, pantry, Quaker Oats, Tang, women, World War II

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Icebox Cookies TwinLakesChef Jul 22, 2010 11:51 AM 0
Thank you..... Sharon Jul 4, 2010 8:45 AM 3
You hit the nail on the head rucky Jul 4, 2010 8:23 AM 16
Did You Know? TwinLakesChef Jul 3, 2010 5:20 PM 6
You sent me to school! Maridell Jul 2, 2010 4:07 PM 8
Great article! Zanymuse Jul 2, 2010 11:01 AM 2
Tripped down Memory Lane Poochella Jul 2, 2010 10:40 AM 3
Can I Stump YOU? TwinLakesChef Jul 2, 2010 7:37 AM 12
Wonderful. Ridesredmule Jul 2, 2010 7:35 AM 11
Thanks for memory timeline! weeds Jul 2, 2010 12:59 AM 4
Fun Memories! Boopaints Jul 1, 2010 7:03 PM 5

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