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Inventing Baby Food

Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet

Amy Bentley
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Inventing Baby Food
    Book Description:

    Food consumption is a significant and complex social activity-and what a society chooses to feed its children reveals much about its tastes and ideas regarding health. In this groundbreaking historical work, Amy Bentley explores how the invention of commercial baby food shaped American notions of infancy and influenced the evolution of parental and pediatric care.Until the late nineteenth century, infants were almost exclusively fed breast milk. But over the course of a few short decades, Americans began feeding their babies formula and solid foods, frequently as early as a few weeks after birth.By the 1950s, commercial baby food had become emblematic of all things modern in postwar America. Little jars of baby food were thought to resolve a multitude of problems in the domestic sphere: they reduced parental anxieties about nutrition and health; they made caretakers feel empowered; and they offered women entering the workforce an irresistible convenience. But these baby food products laden with sugar, salt, and starch also became a gateway to the industrialized diet that blossomed during this period.Today, baby food continues to be shaped by medical, commercial, and parenting trends. Baby food producers now contend with health and nutrition problems as well as the rise of alternative food movements. All of this matters because, as the author suggests, it's during infancy that American palates become acclimated to tastes and textures, including those of highly processed, minimally nutritious, and calorie-dense industrial food products.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95914-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Here it was, the big day—my baby’s first solid food. For months we had been building to this moment and I knew “what to expect,” for as a first time mother with no experience I had dutifully read numerous pregnancy and childcare manuals that provided guidance for each stage. I loved the certainty of the words on the printed page that helped to clarify great unknowns, especially during those first intense, bewildering, exhilarating days after birth. Is my baby eating enough? Is he sleeping like a “normal” newborn? What is the thick yellowish fluid emanating from my breasts? Colostrum?...

  5. ONE Industrial Food, Industrial Baby Food: THE 1890S TO THE 1930S
    (pp. 15-42)

    In the late 1920s and 1930s, dozens of women (and a few men) wrote letters to the federal government’s Children’s Bureau, asking for advice about the new canned foods for infants that were coming on the market. Parents wanted to know if commercially produced baby food was safe for their babies, if it was better than homemade, or if the bureau had instructions on how to can vegetables themselves for their infants. The documents reveal a transition occurring in infant feeding in the early twentieth-century United States: now that industrially produced canned baby foods were more affordable and more available...

  6. TWO Shifting Child-Rearing Philosophies and Early Solids: THE GOLDEN AGE OF BABY FOOD AT MIDCENTURY
    (pp. 43-70)

    In may 1949New York Timesfood writer Jane Nickerson devoted her regular column, “News of Food,” to discussing the new Gerber recipe booklet, “Special Diet Recipes,” a collection of Gerber-based recipes for adult invalids. Nickerson, her usual staid tone spiked with a modicum of excitement, noted the choice of fourteen different luncheon or supper dishes. “This guarantees,” she wrote, “against boredom on the part of the patient who must follow a prescribed regimen for a long time.” “If the patient can come to the table,” Nickerson continued, “some of the prescribed dishes might be served to the rest of...

  7. THREE Industrialization, Taste, and Their Discontents: THE 1960S TO THE 1970S
    (pp. 71-103)

    By the 1960s, the practice of raising American infants on commercially produced infant formula followed by solid baby food was firmly entrenched in American culture. The trend away from breastfeeding and in favor of formula feeding had continued through the 1940s, and by the late 1950s the vast majority of mothers were bypassing nursing altogether and starting their infants out on mass-produced formula.¹ As evidence of the completeness of this transformation, during the 1950s childcare and pediatricians’ manuals ceased to use the terms “artificial food” and “proprietary food” when referring to infant formula.² Now that formula was a ubiquitous presence...

  8. FOUR Natural Food, Natural Motherhood, and the Turn toward Homemade THE 1970S TO THE 1990S
    (pp. 104-132)

    Although most americas in the 1970s were enamored with commercial baby food, there had always been critics. A few lone voices, such as holistic nutritionist Adelle Davis, had long advocated making one’s own baby food.¹ Considered the mother and spokeswoman of the billion-dollar-a-year “health food” or “natural foods” movement, an industry that was growing by leaps and bounds during the 1970s, Davis believed mainstream food produced for the masses was poisoning Americans in the name of corporate profits. Trained in nutrition and biochemistry, a fact that bestowed some scientific legitimacy on her declarations, Davis was decidedly antiestablishment with regard to...

  9. FIVE Reinventing Baby Food in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 133-164)

    Fast forward to the early 2010s: baby food is a multibillion-dollar-a- year global business, primarily centered in North America and Western Europe, but with major growth potential in India, China, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.¹ In the United States baby food remains a leading segment of the food industry market. The vast majority of American families with infants use commercial baby food, although the numbers of those trying their hand at homemade are increasing rapidly.² In 2011 Americans spent $6.2 billion on baby food, 67 percent of which was purchased in traditional grocery stores or mass supercenters.³ That same year...

    (pp. 165-168)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 169-196)
    (pp. 197-222)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 223-236)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-239)