By the the third quarter of the nineteenth century, it dawned on corporations in the United States that cookbooks held a significant potential for marketing food-related products. Beginning with a few pioneers in the food industry, American corporations began issuing small, often tightly focused cookbooks aimed at rousing the interest of middle class women. Distributed free of charge or as an accompanient to the purchase of other goods, or sometimes sold for a modest price, these cookbooks became an unique part of American consumer culture and a barometer for many of the major changes affecting our society. As the nation became more highly urbanized and more deeply rooted in consumption rather than production, corporate cookbooks played an important role in creating consumer demand for old and new products.
The corporate cookbooks in the McIntosh Collection document the efforts of various food producers, wholesalers and retailers, industry groups, and manufacturers of kitchen goods, appliances, and cookware to raise their create demand for their products. It seems obvious that molasses and chocolate producers would want the public to lead a sweetened life; and that banana growers would write about their exotic fruit’s peculiar appeal. Certainly, too, cranberry producers would want to expand into a year-round consciousness; while makers of potted meats and lima beans would want it known that their products are — well — edible.
But it is not only food producers who saw profit in cookbooks, which can be found almost anywhere in the greater food industry, reflecting the evolution of domestic technology, gender roles in the home, and the commodification of daily life. When gas and electric ranges or refrigerators emerged as things the middle class could desire, appliance manufacturers and retailers published cookbooks to instruct housewives how to take advantage of the new labor saving devices. How was a woman to use tin foil? Reynolds Corp. knew the answer. Was pastry cloth a good idea? Roll Rite thought so, absolutely. Led by corporate cookbooks, convenience products, processed foods, and new replacements for traditional products like vegetable shortening and Crisco crept into the kitchen.
Beyond the food industry, corporations used cookbooks to appeal to middle class women, their most coveted consumers. Everything from newspapers to financial institutions and our beloved Boston Red Sox have issued cookbooks for various purposes, not all of which can be categorized as strictly corporate. Indeed, some corporate cookbooks are produced for employees and their families, rather than as marketing tools, others for charitable purposes, and it is not uncommon to see state or federal governmental agencies publish cookbooks on behalf of the food industry.
What do they look like?
Unlike the sparsely illustrated and often cheaply-produced cookbooks prepared by charitable and community groups, and unlike the majority of formally-published commercial cookbooks, the corporate cookbooks are often elaborately designed and illustrated, appealing as much to the eye as the palate. When hawking novel kitchen gadgets, their graphics may be designed to appeal to a self-consciously modern sensibility, but they can be nostalgic, exotic, or whimsical, all in an effort to create desire and demand. Corporate cookbooks document changes in taste, but taste of several kinds. The promotion of new food stuffs and cooking products, but also changes in leisure practices, home economics, and the aesthetics of commercial design.
Comments Off |