A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf
By Aaron Bobrow-Strain
(Beacon Press (MA), Hardcover, 9780807044674, 272pp.)
Publication Date: March 6, 2012
List Price: $27.95*
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How did white bread, once an icon of American progress, become “white trash”? In this lively history of bakers, dietary crusaders, and social reformers, Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows us that what we think about the humble, puffy loaf says a lot about who we are and what we want our society to look like.
White Bread teaches us that when Americans debate what one should eat, they are also wrestling with larger questions of race, class, immigration, and gender. As Bobrow-Strain traces the story of bread, from the first factory loaf to the latest gourmet pain au levain, he shows how efforts to champion “good food” reflect dreams of a better society—even as they reinforce stark social hierarchies.
In the early twentieth century, the factory-baked loaf heralded a bright new future, a world away from the hot, dusty, “dirty” bakeries run by immigrants. Fortified with vitamins, this bread was considered the original “superfood” and even marketed as patriotic—while food reformers painted white bread as a symbol of all that was wrong with America.
The history of America’s one-hundred-year-long love-hate relationship with white bread reveals a lot about contemporary efforts to change the way we eat. Today, the alternative food movement favors foods deemed ethical and environmentally correct to eat, and fluffy industrial loaves are about as far from slow, local, and organic as you can get. Still, the beliefs of early twentieth-century food experts and diet gurus, that getting people to eat a certain food could restore the nation’s decaying physical, moral, and social fabric, will sound surprisingly familiar. Given that open disdain for “unhealthy” eaters and discrimination on the basis of eating habits grow increasingly acceptable, White Bread is a timely and important examination of what we talk about when we talk about food.
“This terrific book does for the humble loaf what Mark Kurlansky does for cod.” —Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved
“This is entertaining history and an example of food studies in action.” —Marion Nestle, Food Politics blog
“As Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows ... the lowly loaf is so much more than the sum of its simple parts.” —Jesse Rhodes, Smithsonian’s Food and Think blog
“I was hooked a few pages in, and devoured White Bread cover to cover.”—Whole Grains Council
“Whatever you think of white bread, its history is full of surprises. And Bobrow-Strain shares this history with wit, style, and imagination. This is a richly researched and cleverly told story.”—PopMatters.com
"This book provides an enlightening take on bread's social and cultural value. Bobrow-Strain blends academic rigor with a friendly, insightful tone, making White Bread the best thing since...well, never mind."—Serious Eats
"Written by a seasoned baker, White Bread is both an epic, often funny history of the industrial loaf and a wise commentary on today's polarized food politics. Tear into it."—Susanne Freidberg, author of Fresh: A Perishable History
“In clear prose that is both muscular and nuanced, Aaron Bobrow-Strain bravely leads us into the belly of the corporate beast to confront the consummate processed food, archetype of everything not whole, crunchy, or virtuous. We emerge with a much better understanding of the staff of life, along with startling insights into our political, economic, military, and environmental crises.”—Warren Belasco, Author of Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry
“Aaron Bobbrow-Strain has accomplished a difficult task: White Bread is imaginative, scholarly, yet totally accessible. Any reader who cherishes bread and all the issues it touches as a powerful social and aspirational metaphor will love this book.”—Peter Reinhart, baker and author of Artisan Breads Everyday
"A really good read"–Mother Earth News
"Highly recommended. General and undergraduate collections and up."—Choice Magazine