Now that I’ve covered a bit of TV and music, it’s time to move on to one of the often less-acknowledged parts of pop culture: food. I don’t often think of edibles as “trendy” myself, but looking back, it’s clear that the midcentury in particular had a full menu of fashionable food. Enter Velveeta.
My great-grandmother immigrated to the States from pre-republic Czechoslovakia, and while her particular pocket of 1940s Chicago was full of people who shared her heritage (and she loved a good štrůdl just as much as the next person), she wanted to fit in with her new American friends. And their trendy American food.
She was also very proud, which is why my dear ancestress decided to figure things out by herself—making “American pasta” that consisted of spaghetti, tomato sauce and Velveeta. Quite a hit at parties, I’m sure.
I can’t really fault Great-ma for having that independent streak, given that I seem to have inherited it. It took years of Microsoft Office use before I discovered that one can set Word to automatically double-space a paper. Years. (And this, dear readers, is the first time I’m confessing my great embarrassment to the Internet.)
Still, looking at the story of Velveeta in particular, sometimes even being perfectly on-trend can make one look perfectly silly. Originally created as a way to reuse broken cheese wheels (“What if we add some whey until it gets velvety?”), Swiss transplant Emil Frey struck gooey gold when Kraft bought the brand in 1927.
And then—as we’ve seen so many times in decades since—the marketing department pushed the product as “healthy.” To be fair, however, the American Medical Association was backing them up, claiming that Velveeta had the nutritional value to all but banish cellulite. Which is part of the reason Velveeta kept its golden reputation for generations. Don’t believe me? Check out the inspiring ad, straight from 1967, on the left.
Is that cheesy marketing, or what? Silly ad execs, next you’ll be telling me that “fat free” and “healthy” are the same thing—but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.