Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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A Century of Food 1910-1920

English: Uncle Sam recruiting poster.

English: Uncle Sam recruiting poster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This post represents the first of a new series depicting the  food culture in 20th century America.   Stay tuned for further decades in the future.  Enjoy!!!


World War 1 and Liberty Dogs

World War I had an interesting affect on American food. The United States joined World War 1 in 1917. The war wasn’t popular (what war is) and was a problem for immigrants. The Irish hated the British and the Jews objected to Russia, both allies of America. America had a large population of German-speaking citizens and those of German descent and Germany was the enemy, so Americans turned against hot dogs and sauerkraut but they would eat “Liberty dogs” and Liberty cabbage and bought Liberty bonds which appeared to make them more American. Italian immigrants were not favored either until Italy switched sides midway during the war. Then, Italian food became a food of an ally. Americans grew victory gardens and substituted peanut flour for wheat flour.

The Supermarket

Self-serve supermarkets were introduced in 1912. First self-service grocery stores opened independently in California. Instead of having to give a list to a grocery clerk who then proceeded to gather the items from the back of the store, customers could shop the aisles themselves. Stores such as A&P had a thousand items (now we have about 30,000). Fresh produce ads in the 1910s highlighted point of origin (California figs, Florida oranges, Jersey tomatoes, Baltimore beans, Maine Sugar Corn, Ceylon Tea). Today we hardly know where they come from. The processed food industry continued to greatly expand. We got Hellman’s mayonnaise, Oreo cookies, Crisco, Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice, Marshmallow Fluff and Nathan’s hot dogs.



An A&P Store in 1930


Cocktail Hour

In 1917, the cocktail party was the newest fad in society. It began as a Sunday afternoon gathering originating in St. Louis under the guidance of Julius S. Walsh, Jr. and his wife, society leaders. Fifty invitations were sent and at high noon they gathered at the Walsh home for the cocktail hour before a 1 o’clock dinner. The party scored an instant hit. “Sunday Inspiration: Cocktail Parties Latest St. Louis Society Diversion,” (from the St. Paul Pioneer Press), published by the Washington Post, May 19, 1917 (p. 6)
In 1914, the first electric refrigeration is introduced for commercial use, but it wasn’t until after World War I that they became more available for home use. Lettuce, asparagus, watermelons, cantaloupes, and tomatoes grown in California’s irrigated fields are transported 3,000 miles away in refrigerated rail cars bringing a lot more variety to the consumer. Large-scale pasta production begins in the United States by an Italian-American pasta maker, Vincent La Rosa in Brooklyn, NY. Until then most pasta had been imported from Naples but ceased with the onset of World War I.

SOURCES: The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites/Beverly Bundy & The Food Chronology/James L. Trager

Expanding Waistlilnes

A new trend was beginning – expanded waistlines. Over-indulgence that began in the first decade continued with the upper class menus still abundant in meats, shellfish, pȃte and mousses. It was readily accepted that plumpness was chic before World War I. Even the president of that time, William H. Taft was a hefty 300 pounds and his favorite meal was Lobster Newburg –  No wonder.


William H. Taft


The first diet book was published in 1918, written by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters entitled Diet and Health With a Key to the Calorie. Dr. Peters recommended that we all should count calories our entire life. Coincidentally, the Continental Scale Company produces the first bathroom scale name the “Health-O-Meter” in 1919.



No one needs marshmallow fluff but it was invented in the early 1900’s and gave us a huge step forward into the world of sugary treats. You can turn almost anything into a sweet sticky mess using Marshmallow Fluff.  It was invented in 1917 as Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff. The first two words were dropped when candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower got rid of them.  Marshmallow Fluff was sold door-to-door initially. There are four ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white and vanilla flavoring. Durkee-Mower is one of the only two U.S. companies that still make it. It is whipped in 80-pound vats and then hand-fed into a chute that feeds it into a bottling machine. The most popular use is on white bread with peanut butter to create that school lunch classic, the Fluffernutter. I have to confess making a few for my kids – shame on me. It also can be used to make Rice Krispie Treats, Whoopie Pies and really sweet potato casserole. Yum!!! The thought of it should make your teeth hurt.


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Making Sense of School Lunch


"Every child Needs a Good School Lunch&qu...

“Every child Needs a Good School Lunch” – NARA – 514223 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



This is a great article on how we can introduce healthier food for school lunches.  The key here is to get the kids involved.  The article showcases a lot of great ideas from one person named Shelly who really knows what she is doing – we need more of them.  Kudos to her.





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Antioxidants – Good or Bad?

High rates of lung cancer (indicated in this m...

High rates of lung cancer (indicated in this map by brown colors) are highly correlated with the Stroke Belt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Back in 1994, a study called ATBC with 29,000 male smokers tested whether beta-carotene (an antioxidant) and vitamin A as a supplement could prevent lung cancer. In 1996, another study called CARET gave 18,000 male and female smokers and male asbestos workers beta-carotene supplements for four years to test the same theory. Nearly everyone thought it would work, bu at they were wrong. The studies were halted because lung cancer, heart disease, and death from all causes increased in those who took high doses of beta -carotene. When looking at follow-up data, it was found that in smokers, the higher risk of lung cancer and death continued even after a person stopped taking beta-carotene, suggesting long-term effects from the supplementation.

Perhaps research has found a possible answer to these surprising results that shocked the nutrition world at that time. There are other theories however.

The same effect has not been shown from getting of beta-carotene in your diet from fruits and vegetables, even if you are a smoker. The bottom line: A lifetime of healthy eating is far better than a few years of high-dose vitamins found in supplements during middle age.


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Probiotics and Prebiotics

diagram of a human digestive system

diagram of a human digestive system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep your digestive system healthy by controlling growth of harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the human body. They are food for probiotics. The primary benefit of probiotics and prebiotics appears to be helping you maintain a healthy digestive system. There is no food that contains both but it is advisable to provide both together in the diet or take a supplement containing both.

One of the best sources of probiotics is yogurt. It has good bacteria like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria,  shown to be able to moderately withstand stomach acid.  Look for “live or active cultures” on the label to be sure your favorite brand of yogurt is a rich source of probiotics.  Other good food sources are sauerkraut, miso soup, fermented, soft cheeses (like Gouda), and even sourdough bread. The common feature of all these foods is fermentation, a process that produces probiotics.  Foods rich in prebiotics include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes.

Taking probiotics with food or with dairy products may help to lessen the destructive effects of stomach acid  before they reach the small and large intestines. Food and dairy products help to buffer the stomach acid to a reasonable pH so that the highest  possible  number of probiotic organisms can survive.



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The Wizard of “Oz”?

English: American currency (bills and coins in...

English: American currency (bills and coins in multiple denominations) and dietary supplement pills in three colors, on a black background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This video is very funny but  so true.  It covers most of the problems with people’s gullibility when it comes to believing the claims made by the dietary supplement industry.  Most are harmless; others can be dangerous!  Nevertheless, the drain on the pocketbook of consumers is appalling enough.  One of the fastest growing industries in the world is the nutritional supplement group, or more broadly known as Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements, or VMS. Producing about $32 billion in revenue for just nutritional supplements alone in 2012, it is projected to double that by topping $60 billion in 2021. For some guidelines on supplements, click here.


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It’s Still All Fast Food

Fast Food

Fast Food (Photo credit: Awais JIBRAN)

The fast food industry seems to be trending toward more quality and healthier choices when it comes to consumer acceptance.  This sounds like good news but we must go further and demand menu choices with less sodium, fat, and sugar and still taste good.  Quite an order, but there is hope?




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