Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

A Century of Food 1920-1929

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The Roaring Twenties certainly did roar; the music was loud and the people were relatively wild compared to previous decades. They had money and found ways to spend it on new gadgets like refrigerators, toasters and stoves. The food was still luxurious and costly mainly in the fancy hotels and restaurants that had opened earlier like the Ritz Carlton, Delmonicos, the Brown Derby. Chinese food was still popular.

There She Is – Miss America

In the 1920’s America became very interested in how people looked, so beauty contests became popular. On September 7, 1921, the first Miss America Pageant, called the “Inter-City Beauty Pageant,” takes place in Atlantic City as a part of a Fall Frolic to attract tourists. There are seven contestants. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, D.C., wins the title, Miss America.  Gorman’s bust, waist and hip measurements were 30-25-32. She was five feet one inch tall, and weighed 108 pounds. She bore a striking resemblance to the popular screen actress of the era, Mary Pickford. They crowned her and wrapped her in an American flag as they paraded her around as Miss America. Samuel Gompers, the president of the American Federation of Labor, would be quoted in the New York Times remarking, “She represents the type of womanhood America needs — strong, red blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests.”

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921/Miss Distri...

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921/Miss District of Columbia 1921 (1st Miss America) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prohibition Woes

What effect did Prohibition on American the food and dining habits in the 1920’s? Prohibition went into effect on America on January 16, 1920 stopping the legal sale of alcoholic beverages. It also had far-reaching effects by increasing the production and sale of soft drinks, closing many restaurants and hotels, spurred the growth of tea rooms and cafeterias
and destroyed the last vestiges of fine dining in the United States.



The fruit cocktail cup became popular appetizer menu item and was often garnished with marshmallows or sprinkled with powdered sugar. All these things could not help but have a negative effect on the American diet. In 1929, a cigarette advertisement tells women to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”.

—Fashionable Foods: Seven Decades of Food Fads, Sylvia Lovgren [MacMillan:New York] 1995 (p. 29-30)

The Most Famous Salad

Early in the 1900’s, salads were considered effeminate and French. But that was going to change when they became a popular table-side tossing experience. The most famous of these presentations was the Caesar Salad. Caesar Cardini had originally operated a restaurant in San Diego, California, but relocated to Tijuana with the beginning of Prohibition. Cardini believed a fine meal required cocktails before dinner and wine with dinner and in Mexico he could offer both. The story often reported (although not verified) is that many Hollywood folks had traveled south to avoid the restrictions of prohibition and one late night of July, 4th, 1924, the kitchen in the Caesars Palace Tijuana had only a few ingredients left – namely, romaine lettuce, Romano cheese, bread, olive oil and some eggs-Voila – the birth of the Caesar salad. Other salads soon followed its popularity and even to this day, it dominates along with the Cobb salad from the Brown Derby. The history of the Cobb Salad is debatable as to whether it was in 1929 or in the 1930’s, but nevertheless it still remains tops as a luncheon or dinner salad.

Caesar Cardini

Caesar Cardini (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Greatest Thing

You’ve heard the expression, “it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread” which may be said, “the greatest thing, period”. Previously, an Iowa salesman named Otto Rohwedder had invented a machine that sliced loaves of bread but bakers thought the bread would go stale and did not accept his idea. But in 1928, Frank Bench, a baker decided to give it a try and it suddenly became popular and women loved it. Sales at his bakery increased by 2000 percent in only a short time. Another invention by a St. Louis baker, Gustav Papendick created a machine that also wrapped the loaf to prevent it from drying out and the toaster became a perfect partner.

1930 photograph from the magazine Popular Scie...

1930 photograph from the magazine Popular Science with the caption, “The new electric bread slicing machine at work in a St. Louis, Mo. bakery. The operator is holding one of the sliced loaves.” The accompanying article does not identify the bakery but this may have been the machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, whose 2nd slicing machine was purchased by Gustav Papendick of Papendick Bakery Company in St. Louis who worked out a process to wrap the sliced loaf automatically. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Life Was Good – Almost

In 1929, life was looking good. Electricity and the resulting new appliances, sliced bread, canned and frozen food and the convenience of Gerber baby foods made life easier than it had ever been. All these could now be purchased in the new one-stop supermarket. The Alpha Beta had everything in alphabetical order making it easier for customers to shop the aisles and the A&P (the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) was doing about $1 billion a year in business. The USDA was inspecting meat and Coca-Cola was free of coca. There was one car for every five people. Anyone who really wanted a drink could get one. Prohibition did not completely end until 1933, but it was realized that the “great experiment was not so great and was a big mistake. America was in a party mood. But alas, in October, 1929, the stock market crashed – the party was over.




Regular cheese is made from introducing bacteria into milk, then letting milk solids (curd) spoil. The liquid part (whey) is thrown away. Enter Kraft Velveeta Cheese in 1928 that is softer than Cheddar and smooth as velvet (thus the name). By putting back the whey, it’s attributes include easy slicing when chilled, easy melting and its mild taste. “A miracle wrought with milk” a 1927 ad proclaimed. “Through the aid of scientific research, we are at last able to combine in a cheese product all those precious health-giving qualities of the rich whole milk.  Pasteurization gives it a long shelf life since it is described as “a pasteurized prepared cheese product”. It doesn’t require refrigeration before opening due to its hermetically sealed foiled package similar to canning. A personal note: My dog Kori has a very discriminating palate. When we offer a bit of Velveeta, she won’t eat it but readily accepts a sharp New York Cheddar or a delectable piece of Swiss Gruyere. Doesn’t that tell us something? By the way in 1980, Tupperware made a Velveeta Keeper.



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