Sunday, December 5, 2010

5 December 1956 “Q & A Sunday: 1950’s Diet and Health”

familycooking This weeks question from one of my fine followers is as follows:
  I have a question about a comment you made in your Lard post.  The way you describe how your eating habits have changed since going back to 1955 is impressive.  Not to mention lowering your grocery bill by doing so.  Have you or your husband received any positive test results or positive feedback from your doctor, if you've discussed this with him/her.  I'm not trying to pry, just wondering for my own health needs.  Seems like we Americans need to get back to real life AND real food.
If you think this would make a good Sunday question/answer post I'd love to see you expand on the topic.

I thought this a good question to deal with as we approach the Holidays. We American’s are now officially over-eaters in our normal day to day life, but add the Holiday to this and look out! Therefore this seems a good time to discuss this.
When many people today consider the 1950’s and food, they often think, “Oh, Bacon and Butter; everything is dripping in butter and lard; Steak and Red meat” and so on. There are even modern commercials that play on this stereo-type. Here we are to “Meet the BUTTERTONS”
This commercial is the perfect example of modern propaganda. It is false in many ways. The first being that in 1950 entire sticks of butter were spread all over everything. First and foremost food in 1950’s was MUCH more expensive than today. Today’s food IS cheaper and more plentiful mostly attributed to corporate farming and the high percentage of imports of goods from foreign markets.
Secondly it is false in its dietary claims. To say that “I can’t believe it’s not butter” (Which I bet were I to taste it I COULD believe it was NOT butter) is better than butter is ridiculous. It is a margarine type spread. It is processed from a variety vegetable fat and is actually grey in color. It is often made from the least nutritious oils, such as cotton seed, which is also used as pesticide. The ‘butter color’ has to be added to give it the appearance of actual butter.
It is also whipped in a can which contains much air and you therefore get less than you would in a solid stick of butter. This is also true of whipped butter. Therefore,  anyone who buys whipped butter : you are paying for air. If you like whipped butter, make it yourself with your mixer and even add a little cream or milk, whip to the consistency you like and store in the ice box! You can even add herbs, garlic or make honey or cinnamon whipped for the breakfast table. But start out with a good solid stick of butter. I actually buy butter in a 1 lb block and simply cut it into the quarters you get when you buy the pre-packed pound with four 1/4 pound sticks. IT is less to throw away and cheaper to buy. But I digress…
Rather than describe the production of margarine in my own words, I found this which does a better job. Here is what we ‘smart modern families’ are eating when we eat margarine (and many other products that contain margarine in them any ‘cream based’ soups, packaged cheese/gravy sauces you name it)
How is margarine made: Step 1
Margarine makers start with cheap. poor quality vegetable oils, such as corn, cottonseed, soybeans, safflower seeds and canola.
These oils have already turned rancid from being extracted from oil seeds using high temperature and high pressure. Rancid oils are loaded with free radicals that react easily with other molecules, causing cell damage, premature aging and a host of other problems.
The last bit of oil is removed with hexane, a solvent known to cause cancer. Although this hexane subsequent removed, traces of it are inevitably left behind.
Unfit for consumption
Moreover, some of these oils are not suitable for human consumption to begin with.
Cottonseed oil, one of the most popular margarine ingredients, has natural toxins and unrefined cottonseed oil is used as a pesticide. The toxin, gossypol, is removed during refining.
Cottonseed oil also contains far too much Omega-6 fatty acids in relation to Omega 3. While both Omega 6 and Omega 3 are essential fatty acids, an imbalance between the two is widely believed to cause various health problems, including heart disease.
Most experts on the subject believe that a healthy ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is between 1:1 and 1:2. Cotton seed oil, however, has over 50 percent omega 6 and only trace amounts of Omega 3, giving a ratio of 1: several hundred or more.
As cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, there are also concerns that cottonseed oil may be highly contaminated with pesticide residues. However, insufficient testing has been done.
Canola oil, which is widely touted as the healthiest oil of all, has problems as well. Consumption of Canola has been linked with vitamin E deficiency as well as growth retardation. For this reason, Canola oil is not allowed to be used in the manufacture of infant formula.
The oils used for making margarine are also among the Big Four genetically modified crops – soy, corn, rapeseed / Canola and cotton.
How is margarine made: Step 2
The raw oils for making margarine are steam cleaned. This destroys all the vitamins and antioxidants.
However, the residues of pesticides and solvents – that is, hexane – remain.
How is margarine made: Step 3
The oils are mixed with finely ground nickel, a highly toxic substance that serves as a catalyst for the chemical reaction during the hydrogenation process.
Other catalysts may be used, but these, too, are highly toxic.
How is margarine made: Step 4
The oils are then put under high temperature and pressure in a reactor.
Hydrogen gas is introduced. The high temperature and pressure, together with the presence of nickel catalyst, causes hydrogen atoms to be forced into the oil molecules.
If the oil is partially hydrogenated, it turns from liquid into a semi-solid.
Trans fats are formed during partial hydrogenation. These are fat molecules that have been twisted out of shape. In liquid oils, the molecules are bent, with the hydrogen atoms on opposite sides of each other.
During partial hydrogenation, the molecules are somewhat straightened and now all the hydrogen molecules are on the same side.
If the oil is fully hydrogenated, it turns into a hard solid that cannot be eaten. It no longer contains trans fats because the "out of shape” oil molecules have all been broken up to form straight chains. But this does not mean they have become healthy again because of all the unnatural steps above.
How is margarine made: Step 5
What comes out of the partial hydrogenation process is a smelly, lumpy, grey grease.
To remove the lumps, emulsifiers – which are like soaps – are mixed in.
How is margarine made: Step 6
The oil is steam cleaned (again!) to remove the odor of chemicals. This step is called deodorization and it again involves high temperature and high pressure.
How is margarine made: Step 7
The oil is then bleached to get rid of the grey color.
How is margarine made: Step 8
Synthetic vitamins and artificial flavors are mixed in.
A natural yellow color is added to margarine, as synthetic coloring is not allowed!
In fact, early last century, all coloring was not allowed and margarine was white. This was to protect consumers so that they do not get butter and margarine mixed up.
How is margarine made: Step 9
Finally, the margarine is promoted to the public as a health food – with the full endorsement of many scientists, doctors, nutritionists and health authorities.
Another aspect of the 1950’s diet that is interesting and tied to the higher costs, is the amount they ate compared to we modern people. Food cost more, you had to prepare more from these basic foods and needed to stretch it. So, you ate less of it.
I was at our local farm yesterday at a craft/Christmas fair selling my homemade brittle (made with real butter and no high fructose corn syrup I might add!) when I noticed the sign for the home-made ice cream. They have their quarts marked down to $7 from the usual $8 in the summer. Now, one might think, “Eight dollars for a quart of ice cream! I can go to –insert big chain grocery or Wal mart here- and get it for 2 dollars” But, we must remember, this is made locally with local sourced products. This would be the case in many ways even in the 1950’s. Even as production from the war years turned to creating the home-front 1950’s luxuries, milk and cream were from smaller farms and made in this country. The cost was higher to the customer because of those factors. However, this results in a Better product which we WILL eat less of because of the cost.
It is not a coincidence that the obesity in our country coincides with the low cost bounty of cheaply made and overseas imported products we can get for pennies at Wal-mart and other Big Grocery chains.
And the idea that those in 1950’s ate red meat morning, noon, and night is also a myth. The average middle class diet contained smaller amounts of meat (smaller portions) and things such as Steak were considered a ‘special occasion’. Even the Sunday Dinner roasted chicken was a sort of culmination of the week as a special dinner. The leftovers of which would probably be seen in a meat pie or casserole on Monday’s dinner table and a soup later in the week.
Even as packaged soups and meals became available in the 1950’s they were not as prevalent or the norm as they are today and often served to aide the homemaker in meals rather than stand alone as the entire meal. If mother bought a boxed pizza or spaghetti, it might be for a fun special night for the kids when they were off for a bridge night at friends. Or when the gang was over for soda’s and a night of listening to records. Here this 1953 commercial for chef boyarde (an actual person) even mentions it helps to aid dinners and keep the cost of meals down. Hardly meant to be eaten every night.
A steak dinner would be a special occasion eat out meal, or possibly at a neighborhood or party outdoor Barbeque function. Many nightly meals for the American Middle class were stretched amounts of meat purchased by mother. These cuts of meat cost more, as did the veg, but they more than likely were grown closer to home and not shipped as far. Certainly they were not eating apples and lamb from New Zealand.
Meat consumption is much higher today:
Meat Consumption at Record High
Now more than ever, America is a Nation
of meat eaters. In 2000, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish)
reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmedweight equivalent) per person, 57 pounds
above average annual consumption in
the 1950s (table 2-1). Each American
consumed an average of 7 pounds more
red meat than in the 1950s, 46 pounds
more poultry, and 4 pounds more fish
and shellfish. Rising consumer incomes,
especially with the increase in two-income households, and meat prices in the
1990s that were often at 50-year lows,
when adjusted for inflation, explain
much of the increase in meat consumption. In addition, the meat industry has
provided scores of new brand-name, value-added products processed for consumers’ convenience, as well as a host of
products for foodservice operators.
There is also this idea that we had very little nutrition back then. If I refer to my cookbooks and magazines and homemaking books of the time, as I do, I am told fresh fruit to be served with breakfast raw. I also am told raw fruit such as carrot sticks, celery, tomatoes and the like are to be provided at meal time along with the cooked vegetables. We eat more raw fruit and veg now with our 1950’s diet than we ever did with our modern, milk cereal fozen pizza diet of the 21st century. How many raw fruits and veg do you eat today with meals as a modern family? Do you have children who ‘won’t eat this or that’. Because, that almost did not exist either in the 1950’s. You were expected to ‘clean your plate’ because there were others worse off than you (particularly the staving children in the remnants of war torn Europe.)
What does this mean for us today? Well, if we could wrap our heads around not expecting impossibly low cost foods and therefore allow local farms and in-country production, we could learn to stretch what we have and make more at home. This would also mean restaurants would make more good and local and though it would cost more, we would not over-eat. Then McDonalds and other fast food chains who make 99 cent meals could keep their ill conceived food and we would eat healthier and support our own towns and country and lose weight. The higher cost does not mean more money spent on food, but actually can be less. As we learn to make more ourselves and demand less food per meal, we buy less and better. So, I have found for us, that I spend less than filling the cart with cheap on-sale packaged pizzas, fried chickens, dinners, burritos and so on. And the amount of chemicals in the food is staggering.
Now, add to this the waste and garbage. The amount of packaging from a normal modern American’s diet is immense. The 195o’s counterpart had much less garbage. I found, since 1955, that our over three bags of garbage a week has become one small bag. Much gets composted and there is just not that much packaging. When I make many things from key ingredients there aren’t boxes and boxes of cereal, pre-packaged foods, and packaging for desserts and treats.
Therefore, I think it is safe to say that many eating habits of the 1950’s can even effect our general environment with the amount of waste we create. Now, when we buy less of these things, the market for them decreases and then they will need to make different or market differently to us. It is very much a pebble dropped in a vast pond whose ripples reach far and beyond.
With concern to our health, my hubby’s and mine, we are actually better fit than when I started 1955. Particularly when you consider the current cholesterol myth. Our family physician as well as our best friend who is an ER doctor, have told us that they now have found the cholesterol levels are more associated with ones genetics and that cholesterol levels should not be lowered in many cases. Some people who currently take cholesterol lowering medication (including my Father who has now been taken off it) are actually at risk. I will not go into it now, but the drug companies are tied into the food production companies and the Food/Seed creators such as Monsanto and there is much money to be made in medicine for ‘ills’ such as ‘high cholesterol’. And any Tom, Dick or Harry could get cows, and raise them to sell butter, but if we believe butter is bad that stops that. Then add to that the FDA regulations which continually increase the high cost ‘needs’ of farming which small farmers cannot afford to keep up with. (as an example a law recently passes which resulted in our local farm having to change the way they process their greens by adding 15,000 dollar septic system in lieu of the system they had which drained the water used to clean the greens outside to an area specifically planted with a crop that was meant to use the water and grow vegetation and return nutrients to the soil. Now, instead, they have a huge cement receptacle in the ground that takes the water and keeps it there, not replenishing the soil and basically wasting the water as well as making expenses some farms can’t keep up with. These farms would then find themselves performing ‘illegal’ acts in selling greens to their community.
But, that in and of itself is more than one post. So, back to our health: My hubby, who was never overweight, had actually put some weight on before 1955. Since then he has gone down a pant size and is much leaner. He eats three meals a day prepared by me. A large breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast or pancakes, water, coffee, butter and jam. He then eats about 4 oz of meat with veg and usually cookies or a slice of homemade pie or cake for lunch with water or coffee. (We stopped drinking soda when we saw the cost as well as the soda available in the 1950’s was sweetened with sugar not high fructose corn syrup. Also the soda of 1950’s was often in a 4 or 6 oz bottle. These bottles can sometimes be had made with sugar during one of the Jewish holidays. After waiting to find them we simply found we just didn’t need or want soda. Now when we might have one occasional it might be a treat. Though, I find now, I can’t stomach the stuff. It is too fizzy for my digestion and far too sweet!)
Our portions are 1950’s portions. We eat desserts made with butter and lard, such as pie’s and cakes and biscuits and cookies, but in moderation. I have not lost as much weight as I would like I (as I have the ability to nibble being home all day while hubby cannot as he is at work) But I weigh less than when I started my 1955 project.
I also suffered from a digestive issue which my doctor could not pin down. I had been tested for IBS but was found to not have it. After the first 8 months or so of 1955, I suddenly found I was no longer suffering from my odd digestive feelings. I also used to have odd ‘attacks’ where I would feel almost an anxious panic attack and then feel rather ‘shaky’. These were similar to someone with hypoglycemia or a diabetic who is crashing from too much sugar. These have not made an appearance in over a year now. The only think I have changed is my diet.
I also now find the taste of processed foods, if I am at someone’s home say, is odd. There is a chemical taste I find when I eat a store bought cookie or chip. I also find, if I eat modern potato chips, I cannot stop eating the. The same with Cheese Crackers. Yet, when I make my own cheese crackers (which are SO good) I could never eat more than say 10 or so, as my stomach feels quite full. Mine are made with butter, un-bleached white flour, grated cheese and seasoning. The store bought has so many chemicals I wonder if some of these are set to ‘trigger’ your eating response and therefore one could eat an entire box of cheese crackers without much hesitation.
I am not a physician nor a dietician. I can only share with you what I have found for myself and my family in the past two years of a radical diet change. It seems the more one gets to the source of their food and can create or control what goes into that food, the healthier one feels and the cheaper it becomes. I now can look at eggs, flour, milk, butter, lard, sugar and various baking things as salt, baking soda, baking powder and know I can make a vast variety of things from pies, to breads, to snack foods, and a variety of meat dishes. I even make my own Tortilla’s and find them an easy to make last minute bread to have at any meal.
I really feel if we can manage to embrace modern technology in a healthy way in which it serves us and we remain its master and not the other way round and combine this with a more ‘back to nature’ approach to our food. Now, there may certainly be many 1950’s food that might not be considered healthy but we do not have to live a black or white life. We can take the meal portions, the purer diet of the time and infuse it with modern realizations about food and vitamins.
I think a real look at ‘how we used to eat’ can only benefit our modern approach to diet. If we blindly believe cheaper is better, listen to ‘what is better for us’ by the commercials made to sell corporate made products, we will only continue down our path of obesity and increased diabetes. Just the amount of ill-health we now have due to the calories we drink is staggering to what a 1950 diet would have contained. Children literally drink a day’s worth of calories in just soda alone, now add to that packaged foods such as breakfast cereals, the poor diets in public schools and the fish finger/pizza/batter fried no veg diets of their dinners and you can see we DO eat more poorly than they did in the 1950’s.
Again, looking back to look forward proves to be a good idea. I think this conversation could continue and there is much to learn in the realm of our diets with regards to the past. I don’t think ‘it was all perfect and rosy back then’. But, I also know that there is much wrong with today’s food and diet and the more passive we become, the more we become ‘plugged in’ the easier we are to be sold to. And those who sell to us simply want our money and care little for our health.
Have a wonderful Sunday and Happy Homemaking.
 Search The Apron Revolution