12:9:12 White Bread, a book review

The "staff of life," bread, has been central to human history. Ever so often, riots over bread shortages topple governments. But of late, the bread question seems to be: Is it artisanal or not? Our status, sophistication and, indeed, awareness might ride on the answer.

A professor of politics, Aaron Bobrow-Strain has written White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, American bread from 1900 to the present day, with some side trips to Mexico and Japan. He has a scholar's amazing grasp of seemingly everything (Industrial designer Raymond Loewy came up with Wonder Bread's red-white-blue-golden yellow color scheme?) and writes in an entertaining style. Plus Bobrow-Strain has the authority of one who is a serious avocational baker.

He outlines a love-hate relationship. White bread associations are now uniformly negative. Yet in the early 20th Century, white bread fulfilled many of American's best aspirations, values, and nutritional needs. Bobrow-Strain notes that in 1890, 90% of bread consumed in America was baked in the family kitchen. Put another way, a woman's place was by that hot oven baking bread.

[white bread]

If she wanted to be elsewhere, buying bread from a local bakery carried no guarantees for purity or safety. Or so many thought as contagions would sweep urban areas. In that era of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, local bakers, many recent immigrants from Europe, became easy targets of suspicion for causing food-borne disease.

In 1897, to meet the need for pure and safe bread, Ward's Bakery in Pittsburgh pioneered automatic baking of bread "untouched by human hands." Moreover, when a bread factory produced thousands upon thousands of loaves on conveyor belts, large picture windows let sidewalk passersby verify the cleanliness of the whole operation!

Industrial bakers gave us Americans what we wanted: If we wanted the whitest bread, they bleached the flour. If we took the softest bread on the shelf for "freshness," they added conditioners. Ditto to rid jam-leaking air pockets. Then to seal the deal, 1928 brought us machine-sliced bread.

A wondrous product that became too common and too bland by the 60s. And for the Counterculture, a totem of the Establishment. Today, white bread means the have-nots and "white trash." It's love turned to hate. Bobrow-Strain tells the story with a sensitive scholar's eye and can ask the question, Has the hippie/yuppie/hipster elitism for artisanal homemade bread begun to put women back in the hot kitchen!

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, Beacon Press, Boston, 2012, 258 pp., ISBN: 978-0-8070-4467-4.

Read more ...
(click to enlarge image)

The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

more posts

7:25:13 Le Havre by Kaurismaki
7:20:13 This Ain't California
6:27:13 The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, a book review
5.29.13 My Linux (Mis)Adventures
5.25.13 Southern Cross the Dog, a book review
5.5.13 Russian Tumbleweed
4:16:13 "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster
3.26.13 Camera-rama
3.25.13 Moore's Law
3:13:13 Grocery Shopping 
2:28:13 Razor Blade in Moonlight
1:27:13 Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design, a book review
1:6:13 Alleys
12:9:12 White Bread, a book review
12:4:12 Update on Old-School Shaving
11:12:12 Ten Great Buys at Dollar Tree
11:6:12 My New Russian Camera
10:29:12 Leaf Day
10:2:12 The Russian Navy in New York?
9:21:12 The Righteous Mind, a book review
9:14:12 Revolution, 1989, a book review
8:23:12 Train Whistles in the Night
8:2:12 Why I've Stockpiled Light Bulbs
7:22:12 Old-School Shaving
7:16:12 Злектроника МК-52, computer de minimus
7:4:12 Ivan's Childhood by Tarkovsky
6:21:12 The Unabomber, a modern Thoreau?
6:12:12 Do the gods exist?
6:7:12 My "Retail Therapy"
5:28:12 On Taxes, We Should Go Green
5:17:12 Portland's Trash
5:6:12 The Toaster Project, a book review
4:24:12 No Seconds
4:12:12 Portland's Runaway Utility Bill
4:8:12 The Repossession, a book review
3:30:12 How I Got Published in Mississippi Review
3:18:12 Rothko
3:9:12 The End of Money, a book review
3:1:12 gutenberg.org
2:18:12 Beauty Plus Pity, a book review
2:5:12 Kirk's Castile Soap
1:29:12 Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer, a book review
1:22:12 Thirst, a book review
1:17:12 My IBM ThinkPad 1999-2012
1:11:12 String Beans
12:22:11 Spiritual TMJ
12:16:11 1Q84, a book review
12:11:11 How Portland Became Portlandia
12:1:11 The Fixie
11:20:11 Camus' Insight
11:13:11 Old & Worthy
11:7:11 Life Is Tragic
10:31:11 A Matter of Death and Life, a book review
10:25:11 Dead Letter, Email Fatigue
10:18:11 Reinventing Collapse, a book review
10:11:11 Rereading Pirsig
10:1:11 The Sisters Brothers, a book review
9:26:11 The Great Stagnation, a book review
9:16:11 Coffee, The Affordable Luxury
9:12:11 The Genius of Value
9:5:11 Death and the Penguin, a book review