JToday, the cultural signifiers for the average American are now local beers and over-processed fast food. How did unhealthy foods become more American?
Clare Brock, assistant professor of political science at Texas Woman’s University, links this change to post-World War II America. Government propaganda married the idea of Americanism to the purchase of mass-produced, shelf-stable foods.
The U.S. government encouraged Americans to save and preserve their own food to help the war effort in posters and other propaganda. “Here’s this whole ad campaign that described what a patriotic, prepared housewife would have in her pantry, and it’s all these canned foods,” Brock explained.
By the end of the war, canned foods had become a staple of the American diet by design. The American food industry, which made rations for soldiers, now marketed these shelf-stable products to American women.
Ad campaigns suggested that processed foods, Betty Crocker cake mix and canned pineapple, could be used as a shortcut for housewives. Pillsbury’s mashed potatoes and instant cakes were advertised as “a woman’s secret”.
This era formed the link between processed, unhealthy foods and relatability long before Obama’s rocket gaffe.
Today, processed foods are less about patriotism and more about necessity. According to the USDA, approximately 19 million people in America live in a food desert, which is defined as a place where “one-third of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket for urban areas, or more 10 miles for rural areas”. areas “. The USDA also notes that more than 38 million people, including 12 million children, in the United States are food insecure. Shelf stable foods, fast foods, processed foods – these are the foods that keep Americans alive.
Having access to fresh food and vegetables is a sign of wealth and free time to cook them. Of course, that’s a simplification, but in America politics has never been about nuance. A politician today can be quickly labeled an elitist if he likes minimally processed foods.