Food and the Social Order
White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain
The current generation of food writers has taken this topic and turned it into an entire field of study. Talented writers like Mark Kurlansky, Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas, Tom Standage and especially Michael Pollan of Stanford have discovered a treasure of fascinating people and powerful themes in the products so familiar to each of us – the carrots in our lunch boxes, the meat in the freezer, the fast food hamburger we grab in between appointments, the sandwich that is our midnight snack.
In his excellent book White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, Andrew Bobrow-Strain delves into the surprising history and development of a food found in every kitchen. Bread in America, a reader quickly understands, is far more than food. As he says in the book’s Preface: “This is a book about one commodity – industrial white bread – that has played an incredibly important, and largely unnoticed role in American politics, diet, culture, and food reform movements, but it is not another story about how a food ‘saved the world.’ Rather, it’s a history of the countless social reformers, food experts, industry executives, government officials, diet gurus, and ordinary eaters who have thought that getting Americans to eat the right bread (or avoid the wrong bread) could save the world – or at least restore country’s moral, physical, and social fabric. Sadly, this turned out to be the difficult story of how, time and again, well-meaning efforts to change the country through its bread ended up reinforcing forms of race, class, and gender exclusion – even when they also achieved much-needed improvements in America’s food system.”
It is an epic tale. It is also a readable tale, thanks to the author’s narrative skills. It is also well-suited for a classroom – I find that my students will almost always listen to a lesson plan about food. For the general reader – who, like me, likes to eat but knows little about food production — at least four important ideas come out of the epic narrative of white bread:
1) Food is political. A literary critic like Edward Said maintains that every story is a story but also a political statement, either subtly or overtly. The same might be said of a food: every food represents a series of choices, or series of events in which you, the consumer, are complicit. As Fast Food Nation and SuperSize Me, perhaps the two most dramatic works of the recent wave of the “politics of food” made clear, our food choices have consequences.
2) Food is at the heart of our economy. A colossal cast of workers in an intricate global network of corporations, family farmers, field workers, butchers, bakers and truckers and chefs and waitresses earn their livings bringing you and me our three daily meals. Growing food is what America does, and it is the first job of every nation, every empire.
3) The ingredients of food and methods of its preparation can have enormous range and enormous effects, particularly when multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who bite into buttered white bread toast at 7:00 a.m. every day.
4) We all need to understand how our food arrived at the table. If democracy requires educated participants in order to be beneficial, so does eating.
Andrew Bobrow-Strain’s book is an outstanding entry point into this rich world of food politics. In the interview and review that follow, you can begin to see the many resources he brings to his subject.
What would America look like without the creation of white bread? How about the world?
I agree with Mr. Quave, what would america be like without white bread. People live off of it and people make it for a living.
Without the creation of White bread how would the American population get its appropriate amount of carbohydrates and stable economy. People fail to realize how important bread is due to the fact it is so common to get in the car and buy it at the store that it becomes second nature to buy a loaf of bread. Without white bread this country would be changed drastically.
I agree with the author’s statement, yes over the course of history food played a huge economic role. Without a staple food source towns couldn’t rise leading to cities and so on and so forth. As Napoleon once said “An army travels on it’s stomach” and has affected the abilities for the rise and fall of empires and nations. My question though is why white bread? Is there not another topic that the writer could talk about in modern day society? A viable example includes rice, the staple crop in China that has the largest population in human history? I think this book is a very nationalistic view of the American culture as far as cuisine and modern day implication of nutrition in the American diet.
According to Aaron Bobrow-Strain, bread has been the main commodity in which governments have been cultivated around. The author describes the vital relationship of previous civilization was between the government (keepers of bread) and the civilians (the bread consumers). He depicts that the success of the authority relied on its ability to balance the tension of providing bread to its people.
The author has indirectly detailed, in his response to the seventh question, that he believes that America had a great deal of pride in its production of white bread. Hence why they had such a concentrated focus on distributing industrialization of bread to numerous countries in an effort to ‘Americanize’ foreign countries. I disagree. I believe that the reason that America chose to use bread as the main product for other countries is because it is rather easy to produce finically. America, in my opinion, has always wanted to aid third world countries and I believe providing them with a portion of our bread surplus while also instructing them on methods of producing their own bread is just a means to do so. After all, countries who are hungry are typically the same ones who are hostile. For example, if one were to examine France prior to their revolution (the fact that their war was ironically fought due to an extreme shortage of bread) and Germany before World War II they would see their aggression stemmed from their issue of poverty. My theory is that the United State provides medical and food aid to countries in order to main peace, not for some alternative imperialistic motive that Bobrow-Strain suggests.
In addition, I believe that white bread further accents our fast pace society. If an individual wants to consume his succulent steak but lacks the time to eat in a stationary spot, no problem: he can throw it between two slices of bread and eat it on the go. White bread’s ability to make food less messy and concentrated has also aided in the transition from ‘sit down’ meals around the family table to being able to for a household to eat in their room or in front of the television because there is not a necessity to use utensils. In conclusion, I believe that food can deliver more than simply a political impact to the upper echelon of government. Food embodies the power to affect us in our most vulnerable state, within the deceitfully secure walls of our houses.
How relevant is white bread in modern day America? Personally speaking, I have not consumed white bread in years. White bread is often on the avoid section of recommended foods to eat because of ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and the containment of gluten.
I believe that all societies do in fact tie food in with patriotism. Back when your main source of food was rationed by the governing body you had no choice but to believe in your country and it’s evident that without the food the people need they will surely revolt. The way to control a nation is through their stomach, whether your filling them or keeping them empty for control you are in charge of your peoples lives at that point and I believe white bread is a great symbol for these times.
Going off of Vargo’s post, I agree to the fact that it might not be the healthiest choice of breads. For instance, eating whole-grain bread would be a better choice when talking about dieting but even discussing this goes back to number 1 on how food is political and that it has consequences. Another point I would like the talk about is number 4. The amount of democracy and number of businesses and jobs that go into delivering that bread to a table is unthinkable. From the farmer, to the preparing and making of the bread, to the transportation, all the way to a distributor like Walmart which holds the highest employment of any other business in America.
I believe that food is a very important topic to cover in schools. What someone puts in their mouth can affect them in so many ways and we need to be educated on what exactlty those are. Being that so many extra things are put into our food to make it bigger or look nicer we need to be able to decifer what is truly good for us or not.
White bread is a very powerful food. Although ridiculous to say who hasn’t ever seen their mom or Dad as the bread maker or earner. Little things such as that are huge influences to our culture that we barely notice.
America would not be what it is today without white bread. Frankly it has made us snobby and made us feel were better than the rest of the world . When instead where unhealthier and need to go back to the old ways of bread.
This article is an eye opener I never really thought about bread and food like this as a whole it’s just there and it actually does control the world. I appreciate food and bread for that matter but I do not eat white bread because of the nutritional facts of it.
As I read this article, I can’t help but think that sliced bread was the start of the chemicals we put into our bodies. All these different foods contain ingredients most of us don’t even know. White bread, it seems, paved the way to allow other food and food industries to create shortcuts. Now there are absurd ingredients being put into our food and nobody really even cares.