In the History of dining out, we saw why ‘restaurant’ in the modern sense is a French concept, now adapted globally.
In this part, we see how geopolitical forces resulted in food culture and dining, getting Americanized.
As always, things start far aback. Three centuries back.
Industrial Revolution (1760’s to the 1840’s)
Transformed production and efficiency. Employment, income and population rose. Economic prosperity. But, more of a Britain story.
Second Industrial Revolution — 1870’s
Roughly a century after freedom, America becomes a force. Transportation industry creates efficiencies and value. People and goods are connected like never before.
The Gilded Age (1870’s to 1900s)
Rapid economic growth. Higher wages than Europe. The influx of millions of European immigrants. Also, high economic inequality. Conspicuous and contentious.
Industrialization causes new problems. Workers exploited. Women discriminated. Not allowed to work.
A tired working class with money gravitates towards alcohol. Drinking establishments – the saloons bloom everywhere. Only male patrons allowed. Drunkenness, alcoholism and fights become common. Saloons looked at as symbols of corrupt and evil establishments.
Progressive Era (1890’s to 1920’s)
An era of widespread social activism and political reform. Trade unions, women’s rights and prohibition gain momentum.
More women start working outside their homes, often as domestic help. Still not allowed in ‘industrial’ work.
Resistance in family dynamics.
Working or not, women were expected to perform cleaning and cooking.
While men saw home, as a refuge from work; for women, the distinction was less perceivable.
World War 1 and Women’s Rights
Escalation of German aggression forces the United States into WW I. 1.3 million men and 20,000 women get enlisted.
Victory becomes pivotal in shaping US politics, culture and society. Patriotic efforts of women in the war linked to suffrage and in 1920, the US Congress guarantees women, the right to vote.
Welcome to The Roaring Twenties
The US is now the centre of the world and finance capital. The ingenious Dawes plan to enable German reparations, result in overall stability and prosperity. Culture flourishes across the United States and Europe.
People embrace modernity and a break with tradition. Technology enables this. Moving pictures and radio enters popular culture.
People are now wealthy and have things to throw wealth at, too.
Everyone — Tycoons, janitors, cooks, drivers, everyone — throw money at Wall Street. Prices rise. Values skyrocket.
Jazz and dancing become popular. An anathema to the mood of World War I.
Everyone is in love. There is a frenzy. Dining out is the way of life.
The Great Depression
Dizzy fervour collapses to breathless panic.
Wall Street crashes. Millions of people turn into paupers overnight. Demand wanes, production slows, unemployment rises. Debt piles.
Families become financially unable to scrape money for their next meal. Breadlines and soup kitchens become common.
Roosevelt becomes president. Fills people with his calm energy and optimism. Declares that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Financial systems are given reforms. Social Security Act formed in 1935, to provide pension to unemployed, disabled and old.
Infrastructure spends are up. New jobs and optimism buds.
But all is not well.
The panic caused by the Depression spreads beyond boundaries, facilitated by the gold standard.
War reparations become unbearable.
Hardships fuel the rise of extremist political movements, most notably that of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany.
World War 2 (1939–45)
Pearl harbour forces America to enter the war full-time and this time, at two fronts — the pacific and Atlantic. More people needed.
Civilians volunteer. More than 12 million American soldiers join or are drafted into the military.
Someone needs to run the factories, now.
Women entered the workforce to help make munitions and implements of war. Nicknamed “Rosie the Riveter”, women become a central part of America’s success in war.
World War II ends. Patriotism at it’s high.
American soldiers return home to a country different from the one they had left. Wartime production helps pull America’s economy out of depression.
Jobs are plentiful, wages are higher.
The American consumer is now praised as a patriotic citizen for contributing to the success of the American way of life. Period of economic growth and cultural stability follows. Consumerism is born. Dining starts evolving.
Bombs to Toasters
Factories that once made bombs now make toasters.
Demand for consumer goods skyrocket. Televisions, cars, washing machines, refrigerators, toasters and vacuum cleaners become objects of desire.
Going back to the Kitchen
Lots of marriages. Lots of children. Many young families purchase their own homes, often located in rapidly expanding suburbs.
Kitchens don’t escape the inundation of consumer goods. The kitchen becomes the cornerstone of an ideal home.
Men back from the army are now working in industries. Private businesses bloom. Women are told to go back to the kitchen and focus on ‘domestic domain’.
Tupperware pioneers direct marketing via the Tupperware Party.
Seen as a method of empowering women, and giving them a toehold in the postwar business world. Taps into consumerism and empowerment.
Automobiles and Fast food
Drive-through restaurants become popular and novel, as automobiles become accessible and roads better.
In the 1950s, McDonald’s starts becoming a staple of the American diet. Golden arches become synonymous with hamburgers.
The term “fast food” gets recognized in a dictionary by Merriam–Webster in 1951.
Industrial efficiency and scale are applied to food.
Improving on Nature
Food is perishable. Humans have always wanted to extend its life. How will this change our dining habits?
First, we learnt to dry, pickle and cure to make food last longer.
Refrigeration and consumerism came next and moved the food to cans in supermarkets. Increased convenience and shelf life.
Post World War II, with fast food, we entered the third realm. Making food on an industrial scale.
1960’s to now
A Global Phenomenon
Trade, globalization and free markets result in fast food taking over the world as a high-profit industry.
Consumerism and fast food that originated out of America, take over the world.
Walmart and McDonalds today are the largest private employers in the world.
As fast-food takes over the world, we are entering into a rather adventurous albeit a risky phase. Dining has changed from the way it started.
This is where we are beginning to delink food from natural evolution and improve on nature. Or is it?Tags: Food History Hospitality Restaurants