When browsing some of Bertrand’s new arrivals, unsurprisingly, the book entitled “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf” by Aaron Bobobrow-Strain, immediately caught my eye.  This was partly due to the book’s bold cover, which included a loaf of white bread as well as Wonder bread’s signature colorful circles surrounding the title.  Additionally, I have always been fascinated with the social meaning behind food.  The first class I picked out at Bucknell was my foundation seminar entitled “Famine, Frappucinos, and Fellowship: The Sociology of Food.”  I remember reading some text in that class, which said studies have been conducted that indicate a household’s income is inversely proportional to the number of white grain products they have (in other words, the more loaves of white bread a household has, the lower their income is likely to be).

Once I picked up the book and read the book jacket as well as the table of contents, I was so interested to learn a bit about the history of white bread and how it has drastically changed over time.  It was around the  turn of the century when factory-baked white bread was considered a sign of hope, because it was a welcomed respite from the ubiquitous dirty bakeries run by immigrants.  It was a sign of status, and even patriotism, to buy the classic Wonder white bread.  In more recent decades, the emergence of alternative food movements, such as slow food and organic food, has virtually dubbed the formerly traditional Wonder white bread the Satan of edible things everywhere.

Bobobrow-Strain, the author of this book, seems to do an excellent job of raising readers’ awareness of the complexity of our food system and the many hidden meanings embedded in our choices regarding food, which are often overlooked.  He is a professor at Whitman College in Washington and teaches about the politics of the global food system.  This is such an interesting topic given that food is one of humans’ most basic and necessary resources. There is such an extraordinarily complex web of political, economic, and social factors, which mold the system that we depend on to provide us with food every day.

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6 responses »

  1. Sarah says:

    This does sound like an interesting book. I also took a foundation seminar that talked about food. Mine was called Ethics of Consumption and looked at our consumptions patterns in society today, including food consumption. That is very interesting about the relationship between white grain products and income. I would guess that it is related to education about healthy eating habits. I guess the more education you have, the more likely you are to realize that food like WonderBread is not the best thing for you and instead you buy more whole grain products. I wonder what the relationship between vegetable consumption and income levels is?

  2. Cheryl says:

    Sounds like a fun book to read! I wonder what was the source of the organic and healthy food movement in the first place? There must have been huge changes in America’s society that affected consumer’s perception of food, in order for white bread to travel from being the social phenomenon to being the symbol of low class. It looks to me that there might be an implication of the trend of increasing income inequality here. It is interesting to see how a simple product like white bread can speak a lot about how drastically the society has changed over time

  3. Connie says:

    This is so fascinating! I never really thought about “brand name” shopping with regards to food shopping; obviously, it’s more relevant for fashion, makeup, et cetera. I didn’t realize that Wonder Bread is now considered a “low income” item, considering it was so popular when I was younger. While its image may have changed in society over time, I think what gets purchased might also have to do with your personal tie/experience to the product, as odd as that sounds. Like, no matter how terrible Polly-O string cheese is for me, I will probably continue to buy it. I can’t buy any of the other brands like Sorrento or whatever because it just tastes DIFFERENT. Not sure how much of a tangent I went off on just now, but overall, it’s interesting how there’s hidden meanings in every nook in life, even with something like what kind of bread we purchase.

  4. Jordi says:

    I remember my Dad bought a bread machine in like 1985. Way before they were popular. He was so desperate for real bread (i.e with a crust you can chew). I suppose Wodnerbread and whie soft breads in general are declining in sles as more popel seek out either whoel grain, or bakery-style loaves. I wonder how they can adapt to something so far out of their control. There is one good food use for Wonderbread- we always eat a cheese pudding for Christmas dinner and Wonder bread is the key .

  5. Hannah says:

    I’m with Sarah in that I never would have picked up on the relationship between white bread and household income. I guess it makes sense because if a family cannot afford to eat out a lot, sandwiches are a pretty cheap and easy meal to eat that you can also survive on. I don’t really buy into that it is related to education though. Kids in school and adults at work are educated about the more healthy foods out there, but if you can’t afford them, you will settle for the cheaper but less nutritious stuff. This sounds like a neat book though and would probably offer other insights into how what foods are found in our kitchen/pantry can “represent” where our place is in society.

  6. Lindsay S. says:

    I agree with you Hannah that there are tons of situations where people are aware of the unhealthiness of the food they’re eating but are forced to consume those foods anyway because they are more affordable. I feel that’s the fundamental problem with our food system — that unhealthy foods are always cheaper and fresher, wholesome foods are very expensive in comparison. Ideally, the entire system would be reversed so that you had to pay more to get unhealthy foods and so healthier foods were accessible to everyone.

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