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Better Than Homemade [Paperback]

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Item description for Better Than Homemade by Carolyn Wyman...

Americans pride themselves in their knack for innovation, and nowhere has America’s can-do attitude been more apparent than at the supermarket.
Need a cheese that is virtually indestructible? Want to find a way to stretch a pound of hamburger into a hearty main course for a family of five? Hard pressed for time to throw together a home-cooked meal? In the early decades of the twentieth century, and from the world wars to the cold wars, food producers and everyday dreamers met these challenges with the same ingenuity and resourcefulness that launched the country to the moon and back, with groundbreaking packaging, new technologies, and improvements on Mother Nature.
Better Than Homemade is food biographer Carolyn Wyman’s freewheeling and entertaining cultural history of the innovative packaged foods that changed the way we eat. With dozens of archival ads and original product shots of Hamburger Helper, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Minute Rice, Coffee-mate, Green Giant Canned Peas, Lipton Cup-a-Soup, Pillsbury Crescent Rolls—and many more revolutionary products—Better Than Homemade highlights the fascinating stories behind the food inventions; the histories behind the brands and icons that have become synonymous with them; the jingles that have made them such a large part of our popular culture; and the recipes that have tutored generations of homemakers and comfort food master chefs.
Carolyn Wyman is the author of Spam: A Biography and Jell-O: A Biography. Her nationally syndicated column, “Supermarket Sampler,” appears in more than one hundred newspapers nationwide. Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Los Angeles Times. She writes, heats, and eats in Philadelphia.

Homemaker Helpers: Foods that revolutionized the kitchen—freeing Mom from the role of kitchen slave
     Birds Eye Frozen Vegetables
     Minute Rice
     On-Cor Family-Size Entrees
     Hamburger Helper
     Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
     Potato Buds Instant Mashed Potatoes
     Marshmallow Fluff
     Shake ’n Bake
     Dinty Moore Beef Stew
Powerful Packages: Foods with innovative product delivery systems
     Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh Dough
     Easy Cheese Aerosol (a.k.a. Snack Mate)
     Jiffy Pop Popcorn
     Pringles Potato Chips
     I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Spray
     Lipton Cup-a-Soup
Triumphs of Technology: Foods that improve on Mother Nature
     Coffee-mate Non-Dairy Creamer
     Cool Whip
     Sweet ’N Low
     Wonder Bread
     Minute Maid Orange Juice
     Beer Nuts
     Philadelphia Cream Cheese
     Carnation Instant Breakfast
Indestructibles and Recyclables: Foods for the long haul—plus recycled food-factory
     Carnation Instant Nonfat Dry Milk
     Slim Jim
     Cheez Whiz
     Mrs.Paul’s Fish Sticks
     Ore-Ida Tater Tots
Marketing Marvels: Advertising has made these must-eats
     Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts
     Little Debbie Snack Cakes
     Green Giant Canned Peas
     Swanson TV Dinners
     Hawaiian Punch
Permissions and Trademarks
Table of Equivalents

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Item Specifications...

Pages   144
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 6.75" Height: 7.75"
Weight:   0.74 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 2004
Publisher   Quirk Books
ISBN  1931686424  
ISBN13  9781931686426  
UPC  082345364245  

Availability  0 units.

More About Carolyn Wyman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Carolyn Wyman is the author of several other books, including Better Than Homemade and Spam: A Biography. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Boston Globe, and her syndicated Supermarket Sampler column appears in newspapers nationwide.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Cooking, Food & Wine > Culinary Arts & Techniques
2Books > Subjects > Cooking, Food & Wine > Gastronomy > History
3Books > Subjects > Cooking, Food & Wine > General
4Books > Subjects > History
5Books > Subjects > Science > Agricultural Sciences > Food Science

Reviews - What do customers think about Better Than Homemade?

Back When Marketing Groceries Was Enjoyable  Jun 26, 2008
Better Than Homemade is a trip back in time, in an era when food was enjoyed for what it was, without dire warnings of what consuming the product would do to one's health. Many of the products in the book bring back memories of when I worked part time at the now defunct Red River Co-op grocery store in Winnipeg. Marketing food was fun in the 1970s, as there was none of today's customer obsession with "healthy", low fat, low calorie tasteless food.
And yet the irony is that these days far more people have weight problems.
Retro-Fun Abounds with an Entertaining Look at Familiar Baby Boomer Kitchen Staples  Oct 29, 2007
This is a retro treat aimed squarely at baby boomers that get a nostalgic rush every time they watch an episode of "Unwrapped", the addictive Food Network show that details how classic American food is made. As a junk-food connoisseur who has already written comprehensive books on Spam and Jell-O, author Carolyn Wyman has compiled eminently readable snapshots of forty-six familiar packaged goods created in the wake of World War II. At the time, housewives, who experienced the fruits of labor on the home front with their husbands away at war, were not as interested in fussing over meal preparation. Convenience came by way of increased industrialization and even the space program, manifesting itself into the kitchen staples highlighted here.

Wyman cleverly categorizes the products into five groups - Homemaker Helpers, Powerful Packages, Triumphs of Technology, Indestructibles and Recyclables, and Marketing Marvels. First up were products designed to free up mom from the kitchen, for example, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Bird's Eye Frozen Vegetables, Marshmallow Fluff, and of course, Hamburger Helper. The packaging itself was the key differential for products such as Reddi-wip, PAM, Jiffy Pop Popcorn, and Pringles Potato Chips. Technology breakthroughs encompass revolutionary, genre-expanding products like Sanka, Bac-Os, and Carnation Instant Breakfast. Long shelf lives made Twinkies, Velveeta, Cheez Whiz and Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks constantly available to harried housewives without worry of food poisoning. Lastly, the power of marketing became palpable with a diverse range of products from Jell-O to Kellogg's Pop-Tarts to Swanson TV Dinners, arguably the most duplicated concept on the market.

A wealth of pleasing graphics is provided in the book, including images of original ads and packaging. There are also fun facts galore such as the evolution of the Green Giant as an advertising icon and a listing of the actual twelve ways that Wonder Bread helped build strong bodies, and bizarre trivia like the origins of the phrase, "Drink the Kool-Aid", in the 1978 Jonestown massacre and the fact that the Unabomber left an empty box of Ore-Ida Tater Tots in his deserted Montana shack. With the focus on organic foods now, these forty-six products have fallen mostly out of favor, although there are signs of a revival among some, for example, Swanson TV Dinners were being offered at San Francisco's trendy trash-food eatery, Butter, just a couple of years back. Regardless, Wyman knows that there is a strong affinity for these foods among an aging segment of the population, those who really feel they taste good in a pleasantly predictable way. I suppose that's why the idea of a Deep Fried Oreo still appeals to me now.
Amazingly Entertaining - and Educational Too!  Feb 27, 2007
I like to collect pop culture "curio" books, and this is one of my favorites. It's lightly humorous while being very interesting, and I would recommend it to anyone casually interested in food, trivia, and pop culture. It's also great for people who take forever to poke through the asiles of the supermarket, reading all of the labels and product packaging out of interest more than anything else. Highly recommended, and also a great gift idea for children to discuss with parents or grandparents who "lived through it."
Light, thought-provoking read  May 21, 2006
This is such a fun read! It's a fresh change of pace from all the dieting, natural and healthy food cookbooks that crowd the shelves of the cookbook section. This is probably one of the best retro food books out there. Wyman aims to neither worships nor ridicule these `miracle foods' of postwar years but instead showcases these foods and their stories with lighthearted fun. She makes the reader both question their food choices (Jell-o is made out of what?!) as well as quell the guilt of so many who eat and enjoy these processed foods. For example, Velveeta was made to be a healthy alternative to milk and Cheese Wiz a way to free up time spent making cheese sauce. The histories behind the foods are a lot of fun to read, especially for anyone liking trivia.

While this book is a lighthearted, fun read, it does make you think more about food, the reasons behind buying and eating, and the social implications of how we eat. Food can signal a political leaning (potato flakes), an income (Hamburger Helper), a destruction of a way of life (the TV dinner and families eating around the dinner table) even teenage rebelliousness (Slim Jim). I like that Wyman focused so much on the way advertising affected the consumer. The more you know about the reasons why you eat the way you do leads to greater purchasing power or at least a heightened awareness of the food you buy. At any rate, this is a really fun book and would make a great gift to any food lover.
Fun food histories  Sep 5, 2005
Fans of the Food TV series "Unwrapped" will feel at home with this book. As does the TV series, this book tells the story of a parade of food products. Unlike the TV show, this book focuses exclusively on specific products invented by American food industry -- inventions such as SPAM, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Hawaiian Punch and Kellogg's Pop-Tarts.

In general, I'm not a big fan of pre-packaged food. Having said that, I've probably eaten just about everything Ms. Wyman chronicles at least once. And so it was fun learning the origins of foods like Tater Tots (designed to use the leftover potatoes from making Ore-Ida French Fries) and Redd-Wip whipped cream (which had to overcome the 1940s association of aerosol spray cans and insecticide).

The author seems vacillates between a genuine admiration and a healthy (pun intended) disdain for her subject. On the one hand, she says of Kraft's mac-and-cheese: "It's cheap, keeps nearly a year without refrigeration, and is quick and easy to make while still demanding enough to make you feel like you're cooking." On the other hand, she opens her chapter about Wonder Bread this way: "Bread is called the staff of life. What does it say about America that its best-selling bread is as soft as a pillow, as absorbent as a sponge, and as gaily dressed as a clown?"

The book is attractively laid out and filled with graphics including some of the original packaging and ads for the foods (see, for example, a young Frank Gifford reaching for a glass of Minute Maid Orange Juice from concentrate).

So if you can get past the schizophrenic editorial voice, it's a fun romp through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the American food industry.

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