Having just finished reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes mystery, in which I was surprised to find Mormonism figures prominently (if quite unflatteringly), my encounter with this recent article at Slate was pretty well timed. In it, NYU doctoral student Christy Spackman does a nice job of placing in historical and cultural context the modern association of Mormons with Jell-O. It’s a not a stereotype I’d heard before, but her unpacking of the trope makes for interesting reading.
Jell-O, it turns out, wasn’t particularly Mormon sixty years ago:
Post-World War II America saw young mothers uprooted from the supportive community structures that had facilitated child-rearing for earlier generations. Eager marketing executives stepped in, touting processed items like Jell-O and its culinary cousins (think cake mixes and canned and frozen foods) as the perfect solution to any young mother’s problems. Like their counterparts throughout the United States, women in Utah embraced many of these new foods.
Things changed decades later:
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, Jell-O experienced slipping sales as American consumers abandoned the traditional meal structure of the early and mid-20th century…. [A] 1986 market survey found that mothers with young children rarely purchased Jell-O and suggested that General Foods could promote gelatin-based desserts by linking family life and home-produced desserts….
As a state with one of the highest birth rates in the nation, Utah is and was an ideal market for foods aimed at families. With their family-friendly playfulness and ease of preparation, [Jell-O] Jigglers were a hit with Utah children. More small mouths meant more boxes of Jell-O sold.
The full piece offers plenty more details and analysis, as well as some great links, so check it out here.