Curious Bites

The Great Depression... in the Kitchen

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The Great Depression... in the Kitchen
Photo Bettmann / CORBIS

Middle-class families weren't starving, but they were - and still are today - finding ways to "cut back" on food.

Despite the well-documented hardships following the stock market crash and its consequential "Great Depression", the 1930s in America was not a time of starvation in a widespread sense. People of course had to cut back from their normal food habits (which many had already done during the rationing of the Great War), but true hunger was only a serious problem for the poor families in the rural areas.

But in middle-class households, families made smaller, though significant, sacrifices. Instead of buying sirloin beef, women would buy lesser grades of meat like meat, heart, liver and even the feet of all kinds of livestock animals. While only the truly rich could enjoy dining out in fine restaurants, diners and inexpensive eateries were popular and diffused all across the U.S. and the government did provide some help to the neediest families.

Oddly enough, or perhaps in the quest to provide true "escapist" entertainment, the food magazines and cook books of that era gave virtually no hint of the economic crisis that many wives and mothers were struggling with in the aim to feed their families. One of the most successful and admired female voices of the time was Mabel Claire, who wrote and self-published the wildly successful Macy's Cookbook for the Busy Woman in 1932, becoming a role model for women everywhere.

In the average American’s diet, soup was a regular staple at the dinner table. And for those struggling to fill their bellies, but who didn't qualify for government aid, there was also a plethora of so-called "penny restaurants", in which nothing on the menu cost more than a dollar, where white-collar workers and their families would often go to eat.
Fun fact: in 1931, the Beach-Nut company put the first baby food on the market.

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