When We Were Women

Like many North Americans, I have a fascination with the early 1950’s that, at times, borders on unhealthy. Everything from my style, to my favourite movies, to my hopes, dreams and ideals for the future have either caused or been effected by my interest in this bygone time when men were men and women were women. Sure times weren’t all great, they had rampant racism, sexism and multiple wars, but we still look back and think, ‘It was a better time’.

It was a time when gender roles were clearly defined. The man would go to work and support his family, while the woman would run the house: cooking, cleaning, sewing, taking care of the children and managing the finances. Somehow, the majority of them were satisfied and fulfilled by these rolls. They didn’t feel over-worked or under-appreciated, at least not as much as we do today. They had less to work with; they functioned well, despite having to endure a primitive level of communication and information technology. They were handier in the kitchen, even with a serious lack of tools and ingredients, compared to what we have access to today.

How was it that they were able to turn out healthier, better tasting meals with only a marginal difference in time and energy spent preparing them? I mused over this question for several blocks one afternoon while walking home from the grocery store. What was it that they had then that we don’t have now? It would seem that we are better off, that only thing they had that we don’t is time, in the case of woman who work full time and still perform all of the duties around the house, and knowledge. There were a few exciting new convince items on the selves of those Technicolor grocery shelves, but for the most part, everything was made from scratch. They knew what was going into their food: pure, simple and wholesome ingredients that everyone could pronounce. (What does sodium stearoyl lactylate look like anyway?)

Why is it that people were healthier in a time before salt, sugar and lard were seen as evils? The people of the 1950’s had not yet lost all sense of portion control. They indulged in high sugar, high fat treats regularly – but in much smaller quantities. They expected less and were therefore satisfied by less. There was no such thing as high fructose-corn syrup. Hydrogenation of oils had been invented but our bodies were not yet become trans-fat wastelands.

Teenagers were happier and relatively well behaved, kids were healthier and relatively allergy free. Being of the modern generation I come complete with my badge of an acquired peanut allergy. I developed this allergy at the ripe old age of 20. Since then I have been leaning the hard way that if I want to continue living comfortably I have to make many common food stuffs from scratch.

Though it takes extra work, thought and conscious planning, the weekly chore of making bread has become a joy. I thought bread was supposed to taste bland and uninspiring. I thought toast was supposed to remain soft through many settings on the toaster. I though soggy grilled cheese was just the way it was, no two ways about it. That was until I experienced my own creations. Yeasty full-bodied flavour, crunchy toast and crispy grilled cheese are now the cherished norm. It doesn’t end there, next I started experimenting with staples that were perfectly safe for me to buy pre-made. Mayonnaise, guacamole, turkey stock, cream of turkey, salad dressings, numerous sauces and pancake mix, just to name a few, and there’s no turning back.

I wonder; does the secret lay in the way we eat? Can we recapture the health and prosperity of a time long ago, simply by imitating the way they lived?  People have changed, lifestyles have changed and food has changed. Where do the correlations fall and how deep does the connection go?