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Monday, August 22, 2011

Wonder Why

I grew up in a family with limited means. However, we triumphed through brute force and tenacity. My father, originally a woodcutter, once in Connecticut, worked a handful of blue collar jobs, often maintaining more than one job at a time. One of his brothers, in addition to his full-time job in construction, worked a second job - mowing grass on highways until 3 in the morning. Work defined a person's worth. Certainly this ethic has been a factor in my survival in New York City for the last 40 years.

For people like my folks, who were so determined to make a better life, generics or house brands were signs that a family could not afford to have the best. Brand names were symbolic and tantamount to saying that in a small way, we had made it.

This type of thinking certainly is not unique to those of lesser means - the sale of premium brands is fueled by this type of thinking.
However, we now have a world of smart shoppers who not only hunt for discounts but also evaluate products based on a quality and merit basis, not just by brand. Celebrities such as Oprah shop at Costco, conferring that shopping for price and value is nothing to be ashamed of and does not neessarily imply that one is of lesser means. Of course, this price consciousness can be taken to the extreme, something Americans do all too well.

In the 1960s, Wonder Bread was the premium brand, and our family was proud to eat it. For many today, with an emphasis on health and whole grains, Wonder Bread is virtually a perforative metaphor for white bread and all that is bad with the highly processed.

On March 18, 2011, the Washington Post ran a story, "Wonder Bread: 90 Years of Spiritual Vacuousness?" Within the article, there is a quote from Warren Belasco’s essay, “Food and the Counterculture: A Story of Bread and Politics”:

A virtue of brown bread was that it took some time and skill to produce, and this leads to another important contrast, convenience verses craft. Wonder bread represented the ultimate in labor-saving convenience, which was (and is) the food industry’s main product and primary hope for global expansion. It saved time, effort, attention, and money — it even took virtually no time or effort to chew. Sliced white bread thus may have been one of the world’s wonders, but the costs in taste seemed enormous. Thanks to the nutrients added back after processing, it may have been “biochemically adequate,” but was spiritually vacuous.

From the same Washington Post article:

Industrialization made great contributions to America but not to American food. Wonder bread may have helped build strong bodies 12 ways but it discouraged taste for bread in all ways. Bread is meant to have a grainy taste and a chewy texture. A traditional sandwich was flavored bread. But Wonder bread’s bland flavor made the bread simply a holder for the fillings. Its softness contributed to the American appetite for foods that “go down easily.” Both had great caloric implications. In fact, I am sorry to say, the name “Wonder bread” is short for “Wonder why anyone thought to call it bread?”

Looking at the Wonder Hostess Thriftshop facility at 60-06 37th Avenue in Woodside, Queens, makes one Wonder not only why anyone thought to call it bread but also why the bread still exists at all…

Related Posts: Pecking for Pita, Bagels


Carlota Rose said...

At one point in my young life, usually in the summertime, we made fried bolonga on Wonder bread sandwiches with Ketsup.

I refused the Spam on Wonder bread.

Mary P. said...

My father used to take us as kids to the Larson's Bakery Thrift Shop. He used to buy us something called "Metropolitans" - upside down cupcakes with red jelly dipped in coconut flakes and a dollop of white icing and more jelly on top - YUMMMMY!

Pat said...

I grew up in Woodside. My family used to buy bread in that store - also Hostess cupcakes, etc. Never felt deprived by eating that deliciously soft "vacuous" white bread. Remembering school lunches of pbj and cream cheese and jelly - and yes, fried spam sandwiches. And.... how about that fresh bread smell from the Silvercup bakery (also soft white bread) as you left the Queens Plaza station on the el.