Mid-Century Visions of Modern Food

One of the most dizzying of these effects is the dominance of circles. Ringed or round connoted nature tamed. The vegetables that survived the cleansing were united by two qualities. They were round and cute: button mushrooms, olives, cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, peas, invincible iceberg. (Celery, long and tubular, made it through, too, I think because it is so neat. And so crisp and orderly.) As food production was mechanized, there followed a march of finished foods made round: cocktail franks, meatballs, cheese wheels, cheese balls, onion rings, sherbet rolls and pale, melted fondue, bubbling in small round pots.

Rachel Laudan, a food historian and author of the 2013 book ‘‘Cuisine and Empire,’’ thinks that behind the Betty Crocker recipe box lurks the Cold War — that these glossy cards were another theater for the standoff between socialism and capitalism, a version of the message that ‘‘abundance was something to be celebrated.’’ Surely the lush profusions on each card stand in diametric opposition to the Soviet aesthetic of the day, with its homemade loaves of dark bread, its communes and caps and kvass.

Tamar Adler, writing in a photo-essay in The New York Times Magazine about the strange, colorful, gelatinous recipes Betty Crocker concocted during what’s known as the atomic era, and how artificial these foods look to us now.

Read the story