Read Recently — May 2015 — Non-fiction

White Bread: a social history of the store-bought loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

This is a surprisingly readable book, albeit brief. Considering that it covers the history of white bread and America’s reactions to it from the 19th century through to the 21st, it takes only 238 pages, including all the notes. And there’s a surprising amount of info there to cover, not only how industrial bread is made, but also the attitudes that made it’s vast success possible. Each chapter is subtitled according to the dream it covers (Chapter one: Untouched by human hands: dreams of purity and contagion, for example, looks at the conditions in 19th-century bakeries that made the idea that bread made by machines would be safer for people possible, as well as looking at modern bakeries).

The public attitude towards industrial white bread has changed several times down through the century or so of its existence, and this book tracks those changes, albeit on a large scale.

Oh, and industrially-sliced bread has only been around since 1924. I don’t know what the greatest thing in 1923 was.


Chewing Gum: the fortunes of taste by Michael Redclift

Keeping up the food-related theme, this is a book about chewing gum. Redclift traces the history of the . . . what do you call it, anyway? It’s not a snack; it’s not really candy . . . anyway, he traces it from 1869 (well before sliced bread, anyway. Hey, maybe chewing gum was the greatest thing before sliced bread!) to roughly the present (ten years ago. The book was published in 2004). Not, perhaps, dealing too deeply with how it affected American culture, but perhaps a bit more on how American culture affected it . . . the culture most affected was that of the Yucatan, Mexico, since chewing gum was made with chicle, a kind of rubbery tree gum from the Yucatan. It was given to a visionary American inventor named Thomas Adams by retired Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the man responsible for Texas remembering the Alamo.

So the book looks at both the gum, and America, and what it meant to Mexico and the Maya, who spent much of that time fighting for control over their political fate.

This isn’t a deep read, but it is kind of interesting, and Redclift writes well. Mildly recommended.


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