Book Review: Fashionable Food Seven Decades of Food Fads, by Sylvia Lovegren

3 out of 5 stars


This book was initially published in 1995 and is thus a bit out of date with its food fads ending in the early 1990’s. However the interesting bits are really the 1920’s through the 1970’s, so the book is still quite revelant to the study of American food trends.  One of the major drawbacks of the book is that Ms. Lovegren often explains the historical significance of her chosen recipes by referring to modern sources, although she cites many of her recipes from the original contemporary cookbooks.  I think the book could’ve been better had she done the research herself from period references.  For example, in her chapter on the 1920’s she frequently refers to the book “Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century” by Laura Shapiro.  Also, primarily due to the extensive number of food fads she is trying to cover, the book feels a little convoluted and often seems to lack direction.  It is, however, a great book to help understand the history of American food.  Especially the chapter on the 1940’s and the WWII rationing, one can better understand the growth of Jell-O (this pre-sweetened dessert did not count against your sugar ration points), margarine (real butter was heavily rationed and very expensive), and other food stuffs now generally relegated to bad hospital cafeterias.

Although it appears she tested most of her recipes, the book does not include many pictures of the food.  In this era of food porn, I consider this to be a definite drawback.  However the book is already almost 500 pages long.  My favorite recipe is definitely in her 1950’s chapter: Fruit Cocktail-Spam Buffet Party Loaf, combining the classic fifties ingredients of fruit cocktail and Spam with gelatin, Miracle Whip, and paprika for the ultimate in 50’s cuisine.  While it is hard not to make fun of such a dish, Ms. Lovegren’s generally unkind opinion of food fads in the previous decades can sometimes edge on disrespectful toward our grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

All told, this was an interesting book that I easily read over a weekend. However, I have yet to try any of the recipes and personally I would find it difficult to throw a 1920’s party using the recipes supplied in her book as she has purposely picked some of the most garish foods of the time.  But, as the title says, it is a book on food fads.


4 responses to “Book Review: Fashionable Food Seven Decades of Food Fads, by Sylvia Lovegren

  1. Sounds like a fun read!


  2. You don’t really think of foods as having fads, do you? At least I didn’t. But I am now remember the Fruit Roll-Ups of my youth….


  3. I am confused, is this a recipe book filled with “fad” foods or a history book detailing foods of the past and how they came to be? Since you talk about the garish foods was the author literally picking the most obscene foods of all these decades and not the standard “meat and potatoes” of those decades? It doesn’t seem to make much sense. As you know, time, location, and availability are a stricked combination of what is available to eat. The depression and WWII created a time of much want with little to no options thus many strange and curious dishes came to be, but they were not fads, they were necessity. The 70’s didn’t truely create fads, but they entered us into a world of new possibilities with cultural relevence where crazy new products and new foods were being inserted into the food market with little testing or knowledge of side effects (this can be said of many things in the 70s as technology took a big leap in chemistry it seems). Throughout the 80s and 90s things seemed to be a steady amount of processed foods as fast food joints became a norm to address the new period of 24/7 economics due to worldly expansion. Now in the 2000’s and on we are a people of excess since the general population has grown tired of processed foods and are attempting to create new ways of cooking and adding new ingredients to our diets. I apologize for going into this since you read the book and I know you understand all these concepts, but the general cuisine for all Americans dating all the way back to the 20’s, if they could afford it will always be meat and potatoes and the fads didn’t really exist as many of these products were found to be extremely unhealthy or were caused because of an extreme lack of money and availability. A Fad in my mind is something people want to do while most of what you describe in your review is more what was forced to happen. There was a reason it is dead and not back. Fads are cylical and these will never return as long as we are not put in the same circumstances.


  4. Chad, I totally agree that the desire of extravagant buffets of meat, poultry and fish are the standard of wealthy cuisine throughout history. Americans have always had a love affair with meat. However, this book definitely looks at food fads in America. As discussed in the book, and as you stated in your comment, fads are usually the result of new ingredients (or previously not widely available ingredients) now accessible to the masses. With the labor of enough servants, gelatin, ultra-fine flours, and frozen delicacies have always been available to the extremely wealthy. However, as these items became available to “the servantless American cook,” as Julia Child so aptly described the American middle and lower classes, they had their moments when home cooks used them in pretty much everything, for better or for worse. Although the desire of meat as an expression of wealth and refinement in cookery has existed throughout American history, the use of new and novel ingredients supplemented this idea of refinement, and the ability to use these new ingredients reflected on one’s culinary prowess. So, in conclusion, the book is both an examination of culinary fads and culinary history. Gelatin has not gone away, but our current culinary culture does not demand that every meal contain something with Jell-O.


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