Food and our approach to it is as political as ever these days. A new book by Aaron Bobraw-Strain called White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf argues industrial white bread is a powerful indicator of our ever-changing notions of health, class, status, and race. Its release comes as sales of whole wheat bread have surpassed those of white bread for three consecutive years in the U.S.
Salon has excerpts. Here are a few highlights:
With the emergence of the “hippie” counterculture. (…) Changing diets had become an arena of politics in its own right — perhaps the arena. (…) As influential whole foods guru Beatrice Trum Hunter proclaimed, bread baking constituted “a revolt against plastic food in a plastic culture. The free-form loaf is but another aspect of the revolt against the mechanization of life.”
A Washington Post article commemorating the moment in 2009 when whole wheat bread sales surpassed white for the first time in U.S. history explained this reversal. Growing awareness of the importance of the fiber and nutrients found in whole grains played a role, but so did status aspirations. Today, the article observed, whole wheat bread “signifies the sophistication of your palate, your appreciation for texture and variety…. The grainier you like it, the more refined your sensibilities. The darker it is, the greater your chance for enlightenment.” Industrial white bread has completed its two-hundred-year trajectory from modern marvel to low-class item.