Three words. Coffee table book. I don't understand coffee table books. Are they that popular that they get their own category? Who buys them? Do people who buy them place them on their coffee table and read them there? Or do they buy them for their guests? And wouldn't it be kind of rude to ignore your guests and expect them instead to read your coffee table books while you go about your business? Seriously, if anyone understands the mystery of the coffee table book, please share it with me.
The Century in Food: America's Fads and Favorites by Beverly Bundy is a coffee table book. It presents information without information, meaning it tells you some things, but not all things, or even related things. For example, at the end of the first chapter is the recipe for Perfection Salad. Aha! I thought. She's going to tell the story about this unusual salad and where it came from. No. Just the recipe. Which would seem pretty random and meaningless to anyone who didn't know the history of the salad.
There are some neat historical ads, photographs, and quirky bits of information, with the best sections being the timelines presented by decade from 1900 to 2000. Here are some highlights:
1902: Nabisco introduces Barnum's Animal Crackers. The crackers appear just before Christmas in boxes topped with white string so they can be hung from Christmas trees.
1911: Procter & Gamble introduces Crisco, the first solid vegetable shortening. The product is a hard sell for women who had been taught to cook with butter and lard. To promote its product, the manufacturer suggests glazing sweet potatoes with brown sugar and Crisco, and spreading sandwiches with Crisco mixed with an egg yolk, Worcester-shire sauce, lemon juice, and vinegar.
1917: The hamburger becomes a "liberty sandwich" and sauerkraut is "liberty cabbage" during World War I.
1927: Pez is introduced in Austria as a peppermint breath mint for smokers. In 1948, the plastic dispensers are introduced and the United States begins to manufacture the brand and market to children.
1937: Sylvan Goldman . . . devises a shopping cart by fabricating lawn chairs into a frame that holds two hand baskets. He figures if the shoppers can carry more, they'll buy more. But the first shopping cart is a hard sell. Men find the carts less than masculine and women don't see the point---they're accustomed to shopping often. Finally, Goldman pays "shoppers" to cruise the stores using the carts.
1946: Earl W. Tupper invents resealable food containers. The inventor's plastic, a lightweight but sturdy "Poly-T," was probably first used in gas masks worn on European battlefields.
1958: Tang Breakfast Beverage Crystals is introduced nationally. . . Contrary to playground myth, Tang is not invented for the astronauts, although it does go into space with Gemini 4 in 1965 and on all manned U. S. flights throughout the rest of the century.
1962: John Glenn says that his first meal in space, applesauce through a tube, is nothing to write home about.
1974: The first product printed with a UPC (Universal Product Code)---a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit Gum---is scanned at March Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. An IBM engineer is credited with the patent, although several companies are working on the project at the request of a group of grocery stores.
1980: Whole Food's Market opens in Austin, Tex., with a staff of 19. By the end of the century, through growth and acquisition, the chain is the No. 1 natural-foods grocer in the U.S.
19992: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barbara Bush duke it out with rival cookie recipes published in Family Circle.