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Inventing Baby Food

Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet (California Studies in Food and Culture #51)

Amy Bentley


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (9/19/2014)
MP3 CD (6/7/2016)


Food consumption is a significant and complex social activity—and what a society chooses to feed its children reveals much about its tastes and ideas regarding health. In this groundbreaking historical work, Amy Bentley explores how the invention of commercial baby food shaped American notions of infancy and influenced the evolution of parental and pediatric care.

Until the late nineteenth century, infants were almost exclusively fed breast milk. But over the course of a few short decades, Americans began feeding their babies formula and solid foods, frequently as early as a few weeks after birth.

By the 1950s, commercial baby food had become emblematic of all things modern in postwar America. Little jars of baby food were thought to resolve a multitude of problems in the domestic sphere: they reduced parental anxieties about nutrition and health; they made caretakers feel empowered; and they offered women entering the workforce an irresistible convenience. But these baby food products laden with sugar, salt, and starch also became a gateway to the industrialized diet that blossomed during this period.

Today, baby food continues to be shaped by medical, commercial, and parenting trends. Baby food producers now contend with health and nutrition problems as well as the rise of alternative food movements. All of this matters because, as the author suggests, it’s during infancy that American palates become acclimated to tastes and textures, including those of highly processed, minimally nutritious, and calorie-dense industrial food products.

Praise For Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet (California Studies in Food and Culture #51)

"Bentley, author of Eating for Victory, has meticulously scoured the literature on infant nutrition and presented a very fluid, flowing, and engrossing account of the history of baby food over the past century."
— R. A. Hoots

"An important testimony to the multifaceted processes that shape why Americans buy what they buy. Inventing Baby Food is a welcome addition to the study of American cultural history."
— Journal of American History

"Meticulously researched with sources ranging from company advertisements to industry statistics, Inventing Baby Food makes important contributions to American cultural history and the histories of business, consumerism, and food culture."
— Deirdre Clemente

"An exciting contribution to food studies and cultural studies."
— Review of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Studies

University of California Press, 9780520283459, 256pp.

Publication Date: September 19, 2014

About the Author

Amy Bentley is Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity and the editor of A Cultural History of Food in the Modern Era.