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White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf Hardcover – March 6, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: It's in, it's out, it's good for you, it's bad for you: over the last hundred years, bread has gone from industrial-strength cure-all to nutritionless fluff, and every place in between. White Bread is Aaron Bobrow-Strain's look at the central place of bread, not just on the American table but also in its discussions about morality, class, race, and the environment. Bobrow-Strain takes readers from the immigrant-run bakeries of the 1900s, which were associated with unsafe bread, to the shining promise of industrially-made loaves that could bolster Americans against communism, to the brown-bread revolution of the '70s and '80s. Along the way, Bobrow-Strain shows that the history of bread was leavened with good intentions and ironclad convictions--many of which succumbed to the ageless hobgoblin of unintended consequences. Entertaining for fans of history, food, and the history of food, White Bread reveals yet another facet to the ever-complicated world of what we eat. --Darryl Campbell


“This terrific book does for the humble loaf what Mark Kurlansky does for cod.” —Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved
“This is entertaining history and an example of food studies in action.” —Marion Nestle, Food Politics blog
“As Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows ... the lowly loaf is so much more than the sum of its simple parts.” —Jesse Rhodes, Smithsonian’s Food and Think blog

“I was hooked a few pages in, and devoured White Bread cover to cover.”—Whole Grains Council

“Whatever you think of white bread, its history is full of surprises. And Bobrow-Strain shares this history with wit, style, and imagination. This is a richly researched and cleverly told story.”—PopMatters.com

"This book provides an enlightening take on bread's social and cultural value. Bobrow-Strain blends academic rigor with a friendly, insightful tone, making White Bread the best thing since...well, never mind."—Serious Eats

"Written by a seasoned baker, White Bread is both an epic, often funny history of the industrial loaf and a wise commentary on today's polarized food politics. Tear into it."—Susanne Freidberg, author of Fresh: A Perishable History
“In clear prose that is both muscular and nuanced, Aaron Bobrow-Strain bravely leads us into the belly of the corporate beast to confront the consummate processed food, archetype of everything not whole, crunchy, or virtuous. We emerge with a much better understanding of the staff of life, along with startling insights into our political, economic, military, and environmental crises.”—Warren Belasco, Author of Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry

“Aaron Bobbrow-Strain has accomplished a difficult task: White Bread is imaginative, scholarly, yet totally accessible. Any reader who cherishes bread and all the issues it touches as a powerful social and aspirational metaphor will love this book.”—Peter Reinhart, baker and author of Artisan Breads Everyday

"A really good read"–Mother Earth News

Highly recommended. General and undergraduate collections and up."—Choice Magazine

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807044679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807044674
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,092,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As the author explains, he had a major task just finding documentation about a food item that we all mostly take for granted and has been around for what seems like forever. He didn't find other books about white bread, there are not extensive newspaper coverage or scholarly papers, but there is definitely an interesting story here.

As with many items bread was just sitting in the background of our consciousness as it was in plain site but other than the odd hiccup it was a benign object.

As with many other products industrialization of the production process pushed this to the forefront. The Ward family created a demand for bread produced "Untouched by Human Hands". This was in the 1920's and 30's and just like today we didn't know we wanted it until the advertising told us we did.

With an ever increasing spread of their bread factories the Wards just about created a USA monopoly but were stopped at the final stages when they tried to merge their three companies into one controlling company. Kudos to the government officials who figured out what could have happened if the merger had occurred. We dodged that potential problem.

The next major step was sliced bread. What was a menial task of cutting loafs of bread now became a mechanical operation and again the public demanded something they didn't even know they wanted. Bakers had to make changes to their processes so that the loaves baked could be sliced by the new machines.

And the final process covered in the book is enriched bread which was an attempt to get the general public to eat better through the introduction of vitamins in bread.
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Format: Hardcover
"Modern industrialism has ruined American bread...It's so soft and spongy you can contract it with your hands, mold it any shape you have a mind to....The soft fluffy center is like a mouthful of powder puff. The more you eat it the hungrier you get. This is what America's staff of life has come to."

Such were the observations of Christian Science Monitor critic Horace Reynolds in the 1950's about the bland industrial white bread that most Americans were consuming in those days. Did you ever wonder how the American people came to be hooked on mass-produced white bread? Likewise, would it ever occur to you that the story of white bread might actually be a subject worthy of a serious book? Aaron Bobrow-Strain, an associate professor of politics at Whitman College in Washington and an avid baker himself studied the matter and decided that indeed there was a book here and that he was the guy to write it. "White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf" is the fascinating tale of the spectacular rise and steady decline of mass-produced white bread in America. It turns out to be a much more complicated story than I ever imagined. "White Bread" is about the American people's dreams of purity, naturalness, scientific control, perfect health and even national security. This is a story that evolved over the entire 20th century and frankly is still evolving today. Much to my surprise and delight I could not put this book down.

The dawn of the 20th century found a large segment of the American people becoming increasingly concerned about the safety and purity of the food supply. There had been a dramatic influx of immigrants from Europe and in order to eke out a living many of these folks operated tiny bakeries in the basement of their homes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was really engaged during the first part of the book, but towards the middle, I felt like the author rambled a bit so it was difficult to keep my interest. Some of the chapters seemed to begin with one topic and end with another. The book was more focused on the social history (which makes sense since it's the subtitle), than any of the health aspects of white bread. I thought it was interesting that the author didn't mention the impact of steel milling on the processing of bread as having a huge impact on the nutrition. Also, I thought it was interesting that the author didn't cover new strains of "white wheat" (wheat with a lighter bran layer) which have been around for the last several years. Being in the industry, I felt I had to power through the book; but I found I lost interest at the end. I thought it was strange that he ended the book with a chapter on fermentation, which, although it does apply to yeast, was a little far off left field since most of the book had been focusing on the social history. I thought a more appropriate ending would be to postulize the potential fate of the white loaf. It seems the author really only was able to differentiate between a white or wheat loaf, and really, there's a lot more to the story of white bread.
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Format: Paperback
This was an informative book in many ways. For instance, I never had heard of "white trash parties" before this book. White Bread is something I used to feed to the geese when I was little, not something I ever ate myself. And in fact, it was always considered to be a "poorer" type of food; we ate wheat bread at home (and the brand was probably no nutritionally better than the white bread out there). So to have this book bring the social history of the bread into light was a different way of looking at things.

Bobrow-Strain takes the white loaf and leads you through time showing its sociological impacts in America. He also explores its use on the world market and how different innovations were used when making the bread and turning it into a machine driven process. There is some description of additives used to make the bread fluffy and light, the enrichments added to the bread, and the general feeling of its health benefits as well.

The general topic of this book was how white bread shaped the United States and also shaped the world. I have to say, I realize this was a social history, but I think the author was stretching a little bit when he tied in breads importance to some foreign policies and other matters. I don't doubt it was a contributing factor, but I don't think it held the kind of importance he claimed it to have. He also didn't really explore the people using the bread except to say that it's shifted several times from being a poor persons food to a rich persons food. I wish he had maybe included some interviews with real people and their thoughts on the food now to provide the contrast with the advertisements he quotes for the past decades.

The book has a lot of interesting facts.
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