I just started reading Aaron Bobrow-Strain’s White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. Bobrow-Strain sets out to explore the various debates Americans have had over “What bread should I eat?”. He explains how and why white bread’s popularity has waxed and waned over the years. His explicit agenda is to inject a historical frame of reference into our contemporary debates over food. His main thesis is that when we talk about “good food” we are rarely talking simply about food. For example, industrial white bread first rose to prominence because immigrant bakers at small bakeries seemed to be unclean.
The book is exciting, because I’ve long believed that the food movement’s main failing is a lack of historical rigor. Bobrow-Strain greatly complicates Pollan’s dictum that we only eat what our great-grandmother’s would recognize as food. Several projects spring to mind as I read White Bread, but the one I plan to work on in coming days regards the recent Atlantic Magazine article How Junk Food Can End Obesity. This deliberately contrarian article criticizes foodies like Pollan and Bittman for their rejection of fast food. Several food writers responded to the piece critiquing it and making apologies for the writers who take a beating in it.
I am going to try and use Bobrow-Strain’s perspective to bring some insight to the nature of the debate. I suspect that all of the writers involved are actually debating the value of industrialization in our contemporary society. The author of the Atlantic piece believes that industrial fast food can solve problems, but those critiquing him do not. Also to be considered is the role that class plays in these debates. Whereas the struggles investigated in White Bread often address class indirectly, it is no longer possible to write about these issues without making at least tacit acknowledgment of class. I will try and suss out the use and misuse of class. Also, a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek tells the story of the development of the McWrap. This article provides a real life case study of a fast food restaurant trying to develop a more healthy option.