With the crises derived from the invasion of Ukraine, the rationing that marked Europe as a result of the wars of the first half of the 20th century no longer seems so distant. in full World War IIthe United States also had to tighten its belt, and faced a challenge that almost caused a real crisis social: the prohibition of sliced bread. Families, led by housewives, were not willing to jump through hoops.
popularly known as sliced breadthe term refers to what we simply call sliced bread or, by association to the most widespread brand, Bimbo bread. In Spain always we have been more than loaf of bread to accompany meals, to practice the so-called Spanish breakfast or for sandwiches, but the Anglo-Saxon culture, particularly the Americans, adore sliced bread.
For this reason, examples such as the last Madrid Fusión contest, where the types and cuts of bread respond more to our concept of sandwich, conflict with us. not sandwich. Yes, we admit it more open, like toast more to eat with butter, jam, honey, Nocilla/Nutella or cream cheese. Traditionally it has been the bread of the breakfast toasta clear Anglo-Saxon influence that today includes other ingredients and different breads.
In the US they love bagged and sliced bread
That for us it is sliced bread and for the Americans it is called sliced bread says a lot about the cultural differences Between both. And it is that this tender, rectangular bread and, originally, with a white and neutral crumb, marked American society forever when it began to be manufactured industrially, packed and pre-cut.
And that’s why a social crisis almost broke out when the government announced measures to ban it.
“Best since sliced bread”
The expression “greatest thing since sliced bread” (“greatest” or “best since sliced bread”) is a very popular American saying that continues to be used today. It is a reference to slogan of the first industrial bread marketed already sliced, first released for sale in 1928. It was from the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, and was billed as “the greatest achievement in the baking industry since bagged bread.”
It may seem trivial to us today, but the invention caused a real furor and in just five years, 80% of the bread bought in the United States was already pre-sliced. was born a American everyday staple, particularly from lower and middle class families. And he would also conquer Europe, although with other nuances.
After a few first attempts designing the machine, he was the pioneer Otto Frederick Rohwedderfrom Davenport (Iowa) who presented the first slicing machine suitable for industrial use, acquired by the aforementioned company, and his second device was at the hands of Gustav Papendick, who managed to improve it so that it could fully automate the slicing and bagging process.
But it was the company Wonder Bread, still active, the one that unleashed madness throughout the country by selling this type of sliced bread nationwide. The company, founded in 1921, began marketing sliced bread in bags in 1930, and would change forever American culinary routine.
The drama of having to cut it by hand again
The success of this invention in the American country is reflected in the blisters that lifted its ban barely a decade later. In 1943, during World War II, the United States also had to apply economic containment policies to face the bleeding that the conflict was assuming, in all senses. And you had to cut costs everywhere.
The first ration cards were launched in 1942, anticipating the shortage of products and food that it would not take long to arrive. From sugar to nylon, through butter, cocoa or tires, society had to manage to try to keep up with what was available.
But the Housewivesthose american housewives who in the middle of the century went out of their way to serve their husbands, take care of the home and raise good children, they were not willing to give up pre-sliced bread.
The ban was intended to save on manufacturing materials, not bread
According to the magazine Time on those dates, as collected dark atlasthe ban was almost as serious as gasoline rationingAnd it caused them, of course, much more trouble. The situation was described as a true drama, recounting terrifying scenes of housewives battling against the block of bread, grandmother’s knife in hand, unable to cut identical slices to fit in the toaster, smashing the crumbs and in a stressful rush to get breakfast ready before their husbands left for work or the school bus arrived.
It was even suggested having to resort to the individual rolls, but those were meant to accompany dinner and were a last resort. They couldn’t even get their hands on other popular breads in the country, such as hot dogs; those were also sold already pre-cut at the factory.
Not everything is worth saving, not even in times of war
In January 1943the secretary of agriculture Claude R Wickard, at the head of the War Food Administration, officially declared the sale of sliced bread illegal. It was not about cutting the sale of the bread itself, but about saving on production and manufacturing materials.
The goal was save on waxed paper and other packaging required by pre-sliced sliced bread, as well as in machinery costs, particularly alloy steel. But the country was not willing to give up its beloved product, a staple for breakfast, lunch, breaks, snacks and between-meal snacks. Neither do most local bakers.
Sliced bread was a pillar “for the morals and sanity of a home”
The press of the time began to receive angry letters from readers, rather readers, expressing their personal outrage and drama before the forced resignation of what they considered a pillar of the family. “I would like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and sanity of a home,” said one sue forresterfrom Fairfield, Connecticut, to the newspaper The New York Times. It was impossible for her to cut identical slices by hand that would not cause conflict each morning, having to deal with the meals of her husband and four of her children.
His five hungry relatives demanded the consumption of five toasts and two sandwiches a day per head, which they added up to about 25 slices, without counting those of the poor woman. And she had to have them ready every morning, before work and school, every day. perfect, thus adding extra work to the rest of the daily chores -that juice was not going to be squeezed by itself nor was the coffee going to appear by magic in the husband’s cup-. A true drama.
Meanwhile in NY attempts were made to calm the waters by allowing the bakeries that they already had a slicing machine, they would continue to use it. But Mayor LaGuardia’s measure backfired on him, as he generated a large conflict in the sector and gave rise to the picaresque with illegal activities.
The social tension reached such a point that on March 8 of the same year the ban was lifted in all the country. Although he had society and the press on his toes, Wickard never acknowledged the angry reactions from consumers or the bakery industry, simply declaring that the measure was not delivering the expected results, did not save so much and in the end there was enough material to bag the bread.
So, as the war continued thousands of miles away, Americans were able to enjoy their usual toasties and sandwiches again, with perfect slices and ready to take and serve at any time of need.
It is estimated that by the end of the 1950s each citizen consumed, on average, six slices daily industrial pre-sliced white bread, which has already become a symbol of American society itself. There were still a few years to go before it would be the object of attacks by countercultural movements, which would link this type of bread to a oppressive white societyconsumerist and slave of the ultra-processed even linked to the working class.
Today, the white sandwich bread of a lifetime survive living with artisan bread (artisan bread), the rise of sourdough loaves and wholemeal, multigrain sliced breads or those packed with nutritional claims, exactly the same as in Spain. But that is another story.
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