A social history of white bread

Fading Into History

Photo by arbyreed (R. B. Reed) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

One of the great food books that I read in the last year was White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. Written by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, professor of politics at Whitman College, it’s a fascinating look at the history of industrialized bread in the US and the shifting sociological and cultural factors that influenced its production, marketing, and consumption from the 19th century to today. It’s well-researched and well-written, and much of the analysis — of concerns about purity and contamination, for example — is highly relevant to today’s food debates.

For overviews, check out this piece from NPR’s Weekend Edition and this engaging interview with Veronia Rueckert on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Portions of the book have also been adapted and/or excerpted in a number of pieces online, and all provide nice slices (pun intended) of the book.

  • This essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “What Would Great-Grandma Eat?”, takes a piece of Michael Pollan’s advice a bit too literally but poses a useful question: “… as I dug into the history of battles over bread, I realized that this whole nostalgic perspective had a bigger problem: What if Great-Grandmother was just as conflicted about food as we are?”
  • This excerpt in The Believer looks at “Atomic Bread Baking at Home: A Yucatan-Based American Tries to Re-create the ’50s-Era Market-Tested USDA White Pan Loaf No. 1, and In Doing So Reveals How Today’s Miracle Food Can Become Tomorrow’s Catastrophe.”
  • This excerpt at Salon focuses on “The rise and fall of white bread: [how] we learned to hate the processed loaves not just because of health — but because of class, status and race.”
  • Finally, this piece at Huff Post Books taps similar themes about “How White Bread Became White Trash (And What This Tells Us About Food Justice and the American Economy).”


The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on May 26, 2012.


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