1900s: Food and Drink
1900s: Food and Drink
Like much else in America during the first decade of the twentieth century, how Americans prepared and ate their meals was also changing. At the heart of these changes was the movement from preparation of food in the home from scratch, using primitive appliances, to the preparation of prepackaged foods using modern, electric appliances. Although these changes occurred over the first thirty years of the century, they trace their beginnings to the 1900s.
Here is a look at this transition from the vantage point of a typical middle-class kitchen. In 1901, Mrs. Jones, a middle-class housewife (a woman who did not have any servants in the house, which was still a common practice in this day in well-to-do households), spent the majority of her day cooking and cleaning. She tended a small garden that produced food for the family. In the fall, she canned fruit and vegetables to last through the winter. Mrs. Jones kept a fire burning in the wood-or coal-burning stove on which she cooked the meals, although getting the heat level right was never easy. She fetched water in a bucket from the well out behind the house. She bought unbranded foods in bulk from the local grocer.
By 1910, keeping house was beginning to get easier. The Jones family moved to the city, and their new apartment had running water, indoor toilets, and a gas stove. (Electric stoves were available, but too expensive.) Now Mrs. Jones did not have to spend most of her day tending a fire or fetching water—she simply turned on the flame or the faucet. Though she no longer had a garden, Mrs. Jones was lucky that a new A&P grocery store had opened just down the block. The A&P carried all types of dry food, fruits and vegetables (both fresh and canned), and refrigerated goods. Now that canned goods were readily available, Mrs. Jones no longer canned food of her own. She did not have to worry about the quality of the canned foods, because Congress had passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 to ensure the safety of mass-produced food. Among the Jones family's favorite branded foods were products that were introduced in this decade: Coca-Cola, Cracker Jack popcorn, and Jell-O gelatin. When the Joneses wanted a change of pace, they could walk three blocks to the local diner, a low-cost restaurant that served good family food, or head out to the amusement park, where they could buy a hot dog and an ice-cream cone—new, popular fast foods.
The growth of mass-produced, branded food products began to make life easier in this decade, and the food industry would expand dramatically through the century. The A&P Grocery Company pioneered the concept of the grocery chain, but it soon faced competition from regional and, later, national grocery chains. In diners and at hot dog stands, Americans got their first taste of fast food.