FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Snack Nation

Between 1950 and 2000, the United States became a nation of snackers.  Manufacturers introduced a host of packaged snacks that catered to basic cravings for sugar, salt, and fat.  By the 1980s, people were consuming snacks everywhere—at home, work, and school, and while in the car or walking down the sidewalk. Yet as these items became widely accessible and affordable, many questioned whether they were contributing to the loss of healthy eating patterns and the overconsumption of foods with little nutritional value.

Upswing in snacks, 1970–1993

Upswing in snacks, 1970–1993

Adapted from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 1, 1999

Potato chip tin, 1950s

Gift of Paula Johnson

Food companies understood that advertising products in terms of science and health would appeal to consumers in the 1950s. The New Era potato chip tin promised health and vitality through scientifically processed snacks. It also encouraged consumers to “Feast without Fear,” a slogan to erase anxieties about overindulging, a common problem with snacks.

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Super Snack Bowl

Since the first Super Bowl football game in 1967, the annual championship contest has become a national day of snacking.  For many Americans watching at home on television, the game has become secondary to the feasting.  Game-day favorites include pizza, chicken wings, chips, nuts, popcorn, dips, spreads, and beer.

Football snack bowl, 1990s

Gift of Flo and Skip Ford

Flo and Skip Ford have hosted Super Bowl parties for friends and neighbors since 1997. Chili, taco dip, and crab dip are their perennial favorites.

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Super Bowl spread, 2000s

Super Bowl spread, 2000s

Courtesy of Emily Hoar, Mary Ellen Leonard, Dana Richards, and S. Kaye

Creative game-watchers have built “snack stadiums” with a variety of sweet and savory snack foods as raw materials. The average American consumes 1,200 calories during the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Wagers, 1993

Super Bowl Wagers, 1993

When the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills in 1993, Texas Senator Phil Gramm received Buffalo chicken wings from New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato.  Most Super Bowl bets between politicians involve regional foods. Buffalo wings were created in 1964 and have become a Super Bowl standard.

Courtesy of AP Images

Super Bowl gourmet

Super Bowl gourmet

Blondie © Dist. by King Features, Inc., Hearst Holding, Inc. 

By 2012, even Dagwood Bumstead (from the long-running comic strip) stocked up on food for Super Bowl Sunday. Known for his penchant for enormous sandwiches (the “Dagwood” is named for him), Bumstead proved he was in step with changing food preferences in the United States by ordering huge quantities of pulled pork, sushi, shrimp, and crab cakes, in addition to pizzas galore.

From Street to Staple

Fritos corn chips launched a snack empire by transforming a popular Mexican street food, fritas, little fried things, into a mass-produced, mass-marketed snack staple. C. E. Doolin of San Antonio, Texas, purchased a recipe and equipment for making the chips by hand from Gustavo Olguin in 1932. By 1950, having applied Henry Ford’s assembly-line methods to their production, Doolin was selling bags of Fritos nationwide.

Production line in Los Angeles, 1950s

Production line in Los Angeles, 1950s

Courtesy of Kaleta Doolin

Fritos display, around 1950

Fritos display, around 1950

Courtesy of Kaleta Doolin

This rolling display featured an early version of the Fritos mascot that traveled between grocery stores.

Cooking with Fritos, about 1960

Cooking with Fritos, about 1960

Courtesy of Kaleta Doolin

Doolin imagined Fritos as a side dish or ingredient. His mother, Daisy Dean, developed all kinds of recipes, from Fritos chili pie to Fritos chocolate cookies.

Frito Kid ashtray, around 1952

Frito Kid ashtray, around 1952

Gift of Kaleta Doolin

Like many other 1950s snack manufacturers, Doolin adopted a mascot. The Frito Kid’s cowboy attire evoked the snack’s ties to Texas. This figure stood on Doolin’s desk.

Casa de Fritos, Disneyland, 1955

Casa de Fritos, Disneyland, 1955

Courtesy of Kaleta Doolin

Frito Bandito ad, around 1968

Frito Bandito ad, around 1968

The Frito Bandito replaced the Frito Kid in 1967. Speaking broken English, he robbed people of their Fritos, a reference to the “Mexican bandit” stereotype in Westerns. He was retired in 1971 due to complaints from the public.

Corn-shell shaper and fryer, 1955–1958

Gift of Kaleta Doolin

C. E. Doolin opened the restaurant Casa de Fritos at Disneyland in 1955, where he promoted Fritos and served Mexican and Tex-Mex foods. The menu included a “Tacup,” a small, easy-to-eat taco, made in a device patented by Doolin. This tool is an early mockup for the Tacup iron.

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