Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RD
The French Chef
In 1945, an American woman went to Paris with her husband. While there, she attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school and became very fascinated with French cooking. She was eager to share her fascination with others back in America, so when she returned she ended up writing a cookbook. In 1961, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child was heralded by critics and housewives alike. But her TV show, The French Chef, which aired from 1963 to 1967, made her America’s first true celebrity chef. She inspired a generation to see the act of cooking as a joy and an art
In the United States. She alone is credited with restoring our culinary culture after a decade in the 50’s of processed food and a trend away from home cooking. She introduced us to the luxuries of butter, cream and cognac. The newly affluent were eager to try to attain culture and she made it very approachable. We were introduced to Cog au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Mousse au Chocolate and Duck a l’Orange. The 1960s decade was stormy shaped by the clash of conforming tradition and radical change. WWII rationing was a distant memory; 50s casseroles were old & boring. The late 60’s brought social unrest with growing frustration over the Vietnam War, assassinations of a President (JFK), a civil rights leader (Martin Luther King), and a political candidate (Robert Kennedy).
The 60s encouraged showy, complicated food with French influence (Julia Child, Jacqueline Kennedy), suburban devotion (backyard barbecues), vegetarian curiosity and ethnic cuisine (soul food, Japanese Steak houses). This was also the decade of flaming things (fondue & Steak Diane) and lots and lots of junk food (aimed at the baby boom children). “Average” suburban families patronized family-style restaurant chains like Howard Johnson’s. The first Wendy’s restaurant opened in 1969.
Immigrant dishes changed from the traditional Chinese, Italian dominance to that of Vietnam and Laos after the Vietnam War. The Asian food invasion began in California Gold Rush days, but this Asian food provided more variety than before. Asian immigration more than quadrupled by 1970. Some dishes brought new flavors like a Vietnamese beef soup called pho, deep-fried spiced potato-stuffed samosas from India, and preserved Korean vegetables called kimchi.
Interestingly, immigrant food was class conscious. Mexican food was considered low class, but Indian cuisine with fewer immigrants is admired. That is more likely due to the Indian immigrants are nearly 60% professionals, says Krishnendu Ray, a professor and author of The Migrants Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American Households.
Many Cuban people, namely the educated upper classes moved to America after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and brought their cuisine with them. Like other Caribbean countries, staples were black beans and rice, and plantains. They also like pork marinated in vinegar and orange juice and stewed with onions; chicken roasted with garlic; and tropical fruit drinks, especially with rum. The Bacardi family also migrated to America after the rum industry was nationalized in Cuba.
Millions of people in the world were starving. Technology’s answer was food that was genetically engineered like soy and dwarf rice that had a short growing time, a phenomenal yield and would grow anywhere in Asia. It could produce two crops a year and yielded more rice per plant. This was the beginning of the Green Revolution. People began to eat more consciously after the book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring was published. Her book spoke of the consequences of using pesticides which led people to be more aware about where food comes,
The Blue Revolution involved aquaculture or fish farming. Both these revolutions have pros and cons, critics and proponents. Aquaculture nevertheless is probably the world’s fastest growing form of food production and some believe that by 2030, aquaculture will supply most the fish people eat.
Counterculture Cuisine – Hippie Food
Some people took it a few steps further by growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs, milked farm animals and revolted against white foods – Minute Rice, Cool Whip, instant potatoes, white sugar, white bread. Hippies dominated the culture and brought with them a return to unprocessed foods. They baked their own bread, made peanut butter tahini and hummus, ate brown rice and brown eggs. They brought to our attention cooperatives, vegetarianism, and fresh food markets and health food stores. Food quickly evolved from French cooking to “back to the earth” attitude. Earth Day was first celebrated to raise environmental issues on April 22, 1970.
In the 1960’s overabundance, fast foods and processed foods led to the beginnings of the obesity problem in America. Check out a previous post entitled “A Brief History of Fast Food”. On the diet front, Jean Nidetch and several friends met in her apartment in 1961 to counsel each other about dieting. Her support group eventually became Weight Watchers. The sugar free soft drink Tab is introduced in 1963. In 1967, Twiggy, 5’7” and weighing just 92 pounds becomes a supermodel and influenced thousands of young women to rethink their body image to try to meet her standards. The slogan “thin is in” quite possibly led to a resurgence of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia that saw its roots in the Victorian days of the 19th century.
Tackling strands of spaghetti on a fork is a formidable challenge for a toddler which requires a bottle of “Mr. Clean” on hand. So in 1965, Franco-American came up with a solution by inventing a kid-friendly spaghetti for babies. Original shapes were discussed using stars, cowboy shapes, spacemen, but eventually it was decided to use four different sized circles while making the sauce sweeter and cheesier than adult canned pasta for adults. The official names for the four different sized circles are from largest to smallest: ditalini, ditali, tubetti, and tubetini.
The pasta was put in a can decorated with a childish drawing of a face with two pasta rings for eyes which appealed to both kids and parents. The ad campaign featured the song, “Uh, oh” Spaghettios” jingle sung by a pop singer, Jimmie Rodgers. Often today’s baby boomers can sing the whole song from memory.
To clarify the Jimmy Rodgers thing – there was a country singer named James Charles “Jimmie” Rodgers who died in 1933. However, the Spaghettios singer was born James Frederick “Jimmie” Rodgers who was born in 1933.
Sources: Linda Cvitello, Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, 2nd Edition.
Carolyn Wyman, Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat