So, Betty was an imaginary friend. Or imaginary neighbor or aunt for a child like me. I’ll admit, I’ve never really understood the psychological interpretation of the need for an imaginary friend… something about not feeling alone? However the marketing necessity of BC’s creation by one of the food industry giants is crystal clear. They needed Betty to sell their products and their ideas.
Why did the women of the 1950’s respond so strongly to Betty? Were they feeling lonely? To some extent, I think that was true. The young couples who married right after WWII (and who produced the ‘baby boom’) moved to the suburbs by the millions. [Pause to NOTE, as Laura Shapiro does, my thoughts are relevant primarily to the white, upwardly mobile working class/middle class to which my family belonged.]
Moving to the suburbs was part of the American Dream, but doing so often contributed to the break down of the centuries-old chain of cooking knowledge. For many women, their mothers, grandmothers and aunts no longer shared the kitchen, as had been the norm. In a few fortunate families, this dissolution did not occur. I grew up with friends who learned to cook from their moms and g’moms. Some of those moms also taught me a thing or two…and I thank them to this day.
A few years ago, I began interviewing people about their Food Life Stories. In fact, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that was an early phase of the circle that brings me to this post today. I am reminded of one woman who shared this bit of advice from her 1950’s mom: “Never get good at something you don’t like to do, like cooking, because then you will be stuck doing it.” This woman hated to cook. Her daughter, now a mother of three, struggles to find any pleasure in cooking for her family.
My mother’s mother virtually never cooked; which she could get away with because her husband traveled for work and my mother was an only child. In fact, I am quite certain that my Nanna was an early and enthusiastic embracer of prepared foods, when she didn’t eat out or hire someone to cook for her.
So, did the housewives who turned to Betty Crocker have nowhere else to turn? Not really. Betty and her ilk were easy to access, but there were other sources…
I’m talking about Home Economics. I’ve been doing a little research about the evolution of Home Ec in public schools. If you took Home Ec classes in junior high or high school, I would love to hear from you about your experiences and memories. Thanks.