Planning Meals:  A Historical Note

Sitting here and making a mess of multi-tasking, mixing up food preparation and notes on upcoming articles, I wandered to the pantry.  Like many other households, ours is filled and we prefer to keep it that way.  But why do so many of us prefer it that way?

The fully stocked pantry for many families is a learned behavior that was picked up from parents, who in turn got it from their parents and their grandparents.  And where did that generation learn that behavior?  From the Great Depression.

Supermarkets are a product of the 1920s, pioneered by firms such as the Great Atlantic & Pacific Company (A&P).  With a rising middle class and the start of sprawl away from the cities, supermarkets were a successor to the corner grocery that had served generations of Americans.  Buying habits began to change during this period as improvements in food storage and household appliances meant that food could be stored longer with fewer trips to the grocery that had marked the lives of those previous generations.  But the major change occurred after the onset of the Depression.

Job losses ripped through the economy and income dropped disastrously.  Those without jobs rapidly spent their savings and those still with jobs – only 75% of the wage-earning public – shut down spending to everything but the absolute necessities.  And the parents began to contend with the concept that their jobs could be next.  Adults saw that their jobless friends were running out of food and with kids and a roof to provide, began to stock up on the food necessities to carry them as far as possible should they lose their jobs.  Note that in some cities, existing charities estimated that fully more than 70% of the schoolchildren were malnourished.

These children – our grandparents – remembered the hunger and poverty.  If they didn’t suffer, they certainly knew someone who did and when they became adults, they changed their shopping habits to assure that there y would be food in the event of a lost job. 

That behavior was passed along to our parents, who’ve in turn passed it along to us.  But without the lessons of the Great Depression, what foods are in our pantries should we lose our jobs?




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