Steve Estes Explores the Decline of the PB&J, an American Staple

peanutbutter.pngSteve Estes, History, discusses the cultural history of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his School of Social Sciences Brown Bag on Tuesday, Oct. 29, noon to 1 p.m. in Stevenson 2011.

Among the simplest of modern American dishes, the rise of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and its current decline illustrate many of the major themes of recent American history, he says.

"The growing popularity of the PB&J in the Twentieth Century reflected changing family structures and child-rearing practices as well as the evolution of food production and consumption."

Estes's discussion will contain the following ideas:

By the 1950s and 60s the PB&J symbolized both how much parents (particularly mothers) cared about their children, but was also an indication of how many more of these mothers were working outside of the home, with less time to prepare home-cooked lunches.

The PB&J was also a shining example of the efficient American agricultural industry's mass-production for a booming population and economy. The sandwich's three basic ingredients linked regional economies in the South, Midwest, and West, just as coast-to-coast consumption contributed greatly to a national cultural identity inculcated at a young age.

Children's books, television shows, songs, games, and advertising campaigns extolled the virtues of the simple sandwich. By the end of the twentieth century, however, new cultural trends tarnished the iconic image of the PB&J.

Sanitation scandals in large-scale, industrial agriculture tainted the ingredients and reputation of "factory food" just as environmentalists and health advocates urged consumers to buy locally-grown, organic, low-fat foodstuffs.

A growing awareness and fear of childhood allergies limited peanut consumption in daycares and schools. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the PB&J had gone from being a symbol of doting mothers and idyllic children to a reflection of negligent parenting and unhealthy kids.

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