By Christina Ward
240 pages, softcover, $22.95
Published by Process Media
You’re in for a treat—and one that is more a nourishing supper than a bowl of wobbly Jell-O whipped out after an hour in the fridge.
American Advertising Cookbooks: How Corporations Taught Us to Love Spam, Bananas, and Jell-O is Christina Ward’s intensely researched yet accessible survey of American food history, in which she documents the rise of popular food brands like Crisco and Heinz ketchup. Ward invites us to question our tastes and look at our pantry staples with a critical eye. She calls out how corporations have satiated their greed by whetting America’s appetite, and she doesn’t shy away from revealing the unsavory aspects of how food has been marketed in this country, like the racist undertones of Aunt Jemima.
Ward gets straight to the meat of the matter. She begins by chomping into the cultural history of cookbooks and how they were the “earliest form of advertising,” selling recipes as well as the “correct way to maintain a household,” then guides us through some of the country’s food fads, like gelatin and the bananapalooza of the 1930s. Food is political, advertising is American, and today, we are all shoppers in the buffet that is the corporate food system.
Is it wrong to eat a frozen meal? No. Is drinking soda bad? Of course not. Go ahead and enjoy your Pepsi or your Coke. But knowing the history of how we have been—and are being—marketed to as food consumers enables us to shop with our minds as well as our stomachs and hearts. —Michelle Yee