Sliced white bread as we know it today is the product of early twentieth-century streamlined design. It is the Zephyr train of food. But, in the American imagination, industrial loaves are more typically associated with the late ’50s and early ’60s—the Beaver Cleaver days of Baby Boomer nostalgia, the Golden Age of Wonder Bread. This is not without justification: during the late ’50s and early ’60s, Americans ate a lot of it. Across race, class, and generational divides, Americans consumed an average of a pound and a half of white bread per person, every week. Indeed, until the late ’60s, Americans got from 25 to 30 percent of their daily calories from the stuff, more than from any other single item in their diet (and far more than any single item contributes to the American diet today—even high-fructose corn syrup). Only a few years earlier, however, as world war morphed into cold war, the future of industrial bread looked uncertain. On the cusp of the Wonder years, Americans still ate enormous quantities of bread, but, even so, government officials and baking-industry experts worried that bread would lose its central place on the American table. In a world of rising prosperity and exciting new processed foods, the Zephyr train of food looked a bit tarnished. And so, in 1952, hoping to offset possible declines in bread consumption, the U.S. Department of Agriculture teamed up with baking-industry scientists to launch the Manhattan Project of bread.
more from Aaron Bobrow-Strain at The Believer here.