Through modern eyes, most American cuisine in the 1950s may not seem like the most appetizing stuff. There was an abundance of strange meats, way too much jello, and hot dogs in just about everything (and vice versa). Sometimes the combination of the three made for a fascinatingly grotesque display. But while some of the food in 1950s cookbooks may look a little weird to those of us in the year 2013, as an inverse of the old joke goes, at least there were large portions.
America's postwar economic boom created an environment where food abundance was the norm. For decades, the concern had been about trying to produce enough food so that every American could have plenty to eat. Finally — at least in the United States — food insecurity was no longer an overwhelming concern for the majority of the population.
As Warren Belasco points out in his 2006 book, Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food, by 1950 farmers were growing 50 percent more wheat per acre than they had in 1925. The American farmer of 1950 also grew 75 percent more potatoes per acre than his counterpart just 25 years earlier. And supermarkets exploded in numbers around the country. While there were just 10,000 supermarkets in the U.S. in 1946, there were 17,000 by 1953.
If things were so good and Americans were generally able to get enough calories, then what did the future hold for the techno-utopians who spent all day dreaming about the kitchen of tomorrow? The answer was convenience.
In the mid-1950s, the promise of our food future was the push button. The microwave oven was still decades away from becoming a mainstream reality in the American kitchen. But soon — very soon — all your food would be cooked automatically in just a matter of seconds!
Pick your favorite foods! Then this imaginary SUPER CHEF assembles your choice from a vast freezer storage, cooks it to perfection by infra-red ray and serves it by conveyor in a matter of seconds!
The September 1955 issue of Scientific American included an advertisement for New Departure ball bearings which promised that the "Super Chef" was on its way by 1965. Just push a button, and everything would materialize without anyone having to lift a second finger.
Last month we looked at another ad from this same campaign which imagined the food truck of the future. Hot and fresh baked bread in just 9 seconds flat? It was coming soon, thanks to New Departure ball bearings.