Historians argue that what constitutes a good childhood and, relatedly, good parenting has changed dramatically over time.  Today, keeping children busy with lessons (in this, that, and the other) seems to be one version of ideal parenthood/childhood.  I thought this ad nicely illustrated this new ideal:

Found at MultiCult Classics.

See also this post on constructions of modern parenthood.

There is a lot going on here.  Comments after the image (found at MultiCultClassics):  

First, notice how this ad mobilizes a nostalgia for a simpler past (“We’re bakers”).  Goldfish crackers are likely baked not by bakers (how quaint), but in large automated factories.  Second, in line with this nostalgia, Pepperidge Farm, the company, is recast as a parents (“We’re bakers. But we’re parents, too”) instead of a corporation in a capitalistic society likely employing low-wage workers (who are not, by the way, busy caring about consumers kids).  Notice that, by re-casting the company as parents, they encourage you to think of the company’s motives not as profit, but nurturing.  Third, the Goldfish crackers themselves are anthropomorphized into a happy parent and child. Finally, happiness and family togetherness are commodified. Text:

That’s why we bake Goldfish crackers the way we do. Natural. With no artificual preservatives adn zero grams trans fat. Made with whole grains, real cheese, and plenty of smiles. For tips and tools to help keep your kids smiling, visit fishfulthinking.com. Because we believe kids should be happy and healthy.

I use TV dinners to show my students that nearly everything, even things they’d never expect, are awash in race, gender, and class meaning.

Hungry-Man is probably the most obviously meaning-laden of the TV dinners.  It is aimed directly at men, of course, with one and a half pounds of food, an excellent blue box, and a strong font in all capital letters.  But it also advertises a particularly working-class masculinity.  In these two boxes, notice the references to “backyard barbeque” and “sports” (XXL).  The food itself, barbeque chicken and pork, mashed potatoes, and beer battered chicken, reinforces this class message.  But this is also about race, as the working-class masculinity is implicitly white.

Stouffer’s, in contrast, is more moderate.  The font for the brand is cursive, for the meal in lower-case.  Without being over the top, it still passes as masculine.

Stouffer’s bistro, in contrast, is a feminine version.  References to a “bistro” makes you think of France (a notoriously feminized country) and the meal here is a “crustini” (something a “real” man would never eat).

Healthy Choice seems to go further towards neutralizing its brand.  The green color is neutral and using the term “healthy,” instead of “diet” or a similar word, keeps the brand from being too feminine.  Plus, there’s a running MAN in the logo.  Still, there’s a feminine feel to the food choices.  The first meal is “Roasted Chicken Marsala… in Wine Sauce with Penne Pasta [and] Green Bean and Red Pepper Medley.”  The second includes “Caramel Apple Crisp” and “Broccoli Florets.”  Descriptions of truly manly food would not include “wine,” “medley,” “crisp,” or “florets.”

The Cafe Steamers sub-brand further feminizes Healthy Choice.  Notice the cursive font and the double reference to “merlot.”

Lean Cuisine is the most feminized brand.  Between the turqoise and orange color scheme, the reference to slimness with the word “lean,” and the delicate all lower-case font on the boxes, the fact that the product is aimed at women is clear.  There is also a class message.  Who eats “Szechuan Style Stir Fry with Shrimp”?  Not the same guy that eats “Backyard Barbeque.”

I saw this shirt online at a site advertised on YouTube. It also comes in “women’s cut” tees and spaghetti string tank tops. The story here is old…

Also see the last t-shirt in this post: “I like my women like my chicken, battered.”

Eric S. sent us a link to the webpage for the Sun-Maid Girl, the girl used to represent Sun-Maid raisins. Here is the original painting of the first Sun-Maid Girl, Lorraine Collett Peterson:

The logo was most recently updated in 1970; here is the current incarnation:

In discussing the original painting, the website says,

Sometimes we forget that in 1915 there were no electric hair dryers, that television would not be invented for decades to come, and that automobiles were not in every home. Life was much simpler, more rural, a lot less hectic and sunbonnets were still part of women’s fashion in California.

I like the romanticization of the past there. In 1915…World War I was going on. I guess life was “less hectic” in that you didn’t have a Blackberry to check every 15 seconds, but overall, I’m not sure I’d say it was “simpler” in a way that implies everyone had time to just sit around eating raisins and drying their hair in the sun.

Also from the website:

To Payne, the sight of the red sunbonnet and the pretty girl in the morning sun was the ideal personification of E.A. Berg’s brand name SUN-MAID.

This might be an interesting addition to some of the images in this, this, and this post about the sexualization of food. Whereas the women in those instances are mostly explicitly sexualized, in this case, the product is being associated with an idealized, non-sexual “maiden” version of femininity. I just thought it might make a good contrast if you’re discussing connections between women and food–the use of female sexuality and idealized female chasteness as marketing tactics related to food products. I wonder if Sun-Maid has stayed with the de-sexualized icon because raisins are associated with children?

FYI, Sun-Maid was one of the companies boycotted by United Farm Workers of America, the group let by Cesar Chavez.

Thanks, Eric S.!

NEW: In a comment Adriana pointed us to Ester Hernandez’s parody of the Sun-Maid girl:

Thanks, Adriana!


The things women have to put up with. Most husbands, nowadays, have stopped beating their wives, but what can be more agonizing to a sensitive soul than a man’s boredom at meals. Yet, lady, there must be a reason. If your cooking and not your conversation is monotonous, that’s easily fixed. [Ed. – Though apparently boring conversation is a life sentence.] Start using soups more often, with lighter, more varied dishes to follow. Heinz makes 18 varieties. You can serve a different one every day for three weeks. Use them in your cooking too, and strike some new flavours that will lift ordinary dishes out of the commonplace.

Vintage ad found here thanks to Laura R.

In this election, no one wants to be “elitist.” You know, the kind of person who went to an Ivy League, speaks perfect English, and avoids processed foods like high-fructose corn syrup.

Ben O. sent us these two ads, made by the Corn Refiners association, in which two historically marginalized groups–women and blacks–get it over on historically privileged groups–men and whites respectively–by exposing their obsessive-health-food-mania. Ben writes:

…the implication is that critics of [high-fructose corn syrup] HFCS are privileged (white and/or male) people who are condescending to inform black and/or female people that HFCS is bad, although they’re not only paternalistic but ignorant. And in both ads, standing up for the supposed virtues of high-fructose corn syrup appears to be an empowering action.

Nice observation, Ben!

Stephen W. sent us this picture of the “Hispanic” foods aisle at a Walmart in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

Why is this odd? 

The word “Hispanic” was actually invented by the U.S. government to mean Spanish-speaking.  The government invented it for the census because they wanted to be able to label and identify all Spanish speakers.  “Hispanic,” then, unlike the terms “Latino” or “Chicano,” is not an identity that originated among those to whom it applies.  Further, though it is sometimes used as a euphemism for “Mexican” or “Latino,” Spanish is only spoken in Latin America because of the conquest of parts of Latin America by Spain.

Given the history and use of this term, what would “Hispanic” food be?!  (According to Walmart, it’s salsa and tacos.)

NEW: Another use of the term “Hispanic.”  This time on a bag of peanuts passed out on a Southwest Airlines flight. 

From a press release by Southwest Airlines about their celebration of Southwest Airlines:

Southwest Airlines shares its passion for Hispanic Heritage Month with our internal and external Customers by hosting celebrations in our Hispanic focus markets. Local Employees kick off the festivities by partnering with local organizations, and at airports, with gate games, Mariachi music, authentic foods, and distributing commemorative T-shirts and lapel pins emblazoned with our Hispanic Heritage Month message “Celebremos Tu Herencia,” “We Celebrate Your Heritage.” Hispanic Heritage month posters also are on display during this month-long celebration. Finally, be on the lookout for Southwest’s Hispanic Heritage Month specialty packaged peanuts! (emphasis mine)

Thanks to Stephen W. for this link, too!