THE SOURCE: “Atomic Bread Baking at Home” by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, in The Believer, Feb. 2012.
Your average loaf of sliced white bread may not inspire much wonder, but its unassuming character masks an intriguing provenance. According to political scientist Aaron Bobrow-Strain of Whitman College, industrially produced white bread emerged from a confluence of political and social needs unique to the mid-20th century.
At the beginning of the 1900s, an unprecedented surge of immigrants was landing on American shores. Industrial food products, with their predictable shapes, standardized ingredients, and hygienic assurances, enjoyed rising sales, thanks in part to Americans’ desire to avoid what was then perceived as racial contamination. As World War II approached, the federal government scrambled to think of ways to fortify a populace weakened by the skimpy diets of the Great Depression. Of the first million men screened by draft boards in 1940, at least 13 percent were rejected for reasons relating to malnutrition. It dawned on the government to spike the most ubiquitous items in American pantries with vitamins. Thiamin, niacin, iron, and eventually riboflavin became banner ingredients of enriched bread.
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