May 10, 2013

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

This was an informative book in many ways. For instance, I never had heard of "white trash parties" before this book. White Bread is something I used to feed to the geese when I was little, not something I ever ate myself. And in fact, it was always considered to be a "poorer" type of food; we ate wheat bread at home (and the brand was probably no nutritionally better than the white bread out there). So to have this book bring the social history of the bread into light was a different way of looking at things.

Bobrow-Strain takes the white loaf and leads you through time showing its sociological impacts in America. He also explores its use on the world market and how different innovations were used when making the bread and turning it into a machine driven process. There is some description of additives used to make the bread fluffy and light, the enrichments added to the bread, and the general feeling of its health benefits as well.

The general topic of this book was how white bread shaped the United States and also shaped the world. I have to say, I realize this was a social history, but I think the author was stretching a little bit when he tied in breads importance to some foreign policies and other matters. I don't doubt it was a contributing factor, but I don't think it held the kind of importance he claimed it to have. He also didn't really explore the people using the bread except to say that it's shifted several times from being a poor persons food to a rich persons food. I wish he had maybe included some interviews with real people and their thoughts on the food now to provide the contrast with the advertisements he quotes for the past decades.

The book has a lot of interesting facts. Like the Bimbo Bread company that is Mexican based yet owns a great deal of the large bakery factories in the United States. I hadn't heard of them either, but I also don't buy a lot of bread as I prefer to make my own. But the way the information was presented was not very cohesive. The author jumps all around in this book and doesn't ever complete a chapter with a single thought. It just sort of meanders here and there without purpose sometimes. And I actually found the book a bit boring in places. Especially the latter half of the book. The first part of the book was filled with enough interesting facts about Graham (yes the one who invented the Graham cracker) and other parts of history and of the making of brad itself that it was more of a pleasure to read. But when he started getting into wheat production after the wars and the foreign policy, it just kind of lost my interest. Don't get me wrong, talk about ingredients was there, but it was so interspersed with other things that you could almost blink and miss it while reading.

I'm not really sure how to classify this book. Maybe social history is a good name for it, but someone who enjoys more foodie types of books might get discouraged with the lack of actual talking about ingredients and strains and overwhelmed with all the political statistics. But a person who enjoys more general history might get more out of this book. Myself, well I fall into the first type of people, this is a solid three stars from me.

White Bread: A Social History
Copyright 2012
257 pages

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