How Steak Became Manly and Salads Became Feminine

Paul Freedman wrote . . . . . . . . .

When was it decided that women prefer some types of food – yogurt with fruit, salads and white wine – while men are supposed to gravitate to chili, steak and bacon?

In my new book, “American Cuisine: And How It Got This Way,” I show how the idea that women don’t want red meat and prefer salads and sweets didn’t just spring up spontaneously.

Beginning in the late 19th century, a steady stream of dietary advice, corporate advertising and magazine articles created a division between male and female tastes that, for more than a century, has shaped everything from dinner plans to menu designs.

A separate market for women surfaces

Before the Civil War, the whole family ate the same things together. The era’s best-selling household manuals and cookbooks never indicated that husbands had special tastes that women should indulge.

Even though “women’s restaurants” – spaces set apart for ladies to dine unaccompanied by men – were commonplace, they nonetheless served the same dishes as the men’s dining room: offal, calf’s heads, turtles and roast meat.

Beginning in the 1870s, shifting social norms – like the entry of women into the workplace – gave women more opportunities to dine without men and in the company of female friends or co-workers.

As more women spent time outside of the home, however, they were still expected to congregate in gender-specific places.

Chain restaurants geared toward women, such as Schrafft’s, proliferated. They created alcohol-free safe spaces for women to lunch without experiencing the rowdiness of workingmen’s cafés or free-lunch bars, where patrons could get a free midday meal as long as they bought a beer (or two or three).

It was during this period that the notion that some foods were more appropriate for women started to emerge. Magazines and newspaper advice columns identified fish and white meat with minimal sauce, as well as new products like packaged cottage cheese, as “female foods.” And of course, there were desserts and sweets, which women, supposedly, couldn’t resist.

You could see this shift reflected in old Schrafft’s menus: a list of light main courses, accompanied by elaborate desserts with ice cream, cake or whipped cream. Many menus featured more desserts than entrees.

By the early 20th century, women’s food was commonly described as “dainty,” meaning fanciful but not filling. Women’s magazines included advertisements for typical female foodstuffs: salads, colorful and shimmering Jell-O mold creations, or fruit salads decorated with marshmallows, shredded coconut and maraschino cherries.

At the same time, self-appointed men’s advocates complained that women were inordinately fond of the very types of decorative foods being marketed to them. In 1934, for example, a male writer named Leone B. Moates wrote an article in House and Garden scolding wives for serving their husbands “a bit of fluff like marshmallow-date whip.”

Save these “dainties” for ladies’ lunches, he implored, and serve your husbands the hearty food they crave: goulash, chili or corned beef hash with poached eggs.

Pleasing the tastes of men

Writers like Moates weren’t the only ones exhorting women to prioritize their husbands.

The 20th century saw a proliferation of cookbooks telling women to give up their favorite foods and instead focus on pleasing their boyfriends or husbands. The central thread running through these titles was that if women failed to satisfy their husbands’ appetites, their men would stray.

You could see this in midcentury ads, like the one showing an irritated husband saying “Mother never ran out of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.”

But this fear was exploited as far back as 1872, which saw the publication of a cookbook titled “How to Keep a Husband, or Culinary Tactics.” One of the most successful cookbooks, “‘The Settlement’ Cook Book,” first published in 1903, was subtitled “The Way to a Man’s Heart.”

It was joined by recipe collections like 1917’s “A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband” and 1925’s “Feed the Brute!”

This sort of marketing clearly had an effect. In the 1920s, one woman wrote to General Mills’ fictional spokeswoman, “Betty Crocker,” expressing fear that her neighbor was going to “capture” her husband with her fudge cake.

Just as women were being told they needed to focus on their husbands’ taste buds over their own – and be excellent cooks, to boot – men were also saying that they didn’t want their wives to be single-mindedly devoted to the kitchen.

As Frank Shattuck, the founder of Schrafft’s, observed in the 1920s, a young man contemplating marriage is looking for a girl who is a “good sport.” A husband doesn’t want to come home to a bedraggled wife who has spent all day at the stove, he noted. Yes, he wants a good cook; but he also wants an attractive, “fun” companion.

It was an almost impossible ideal – and advertisers quickly capitalized on the insecurities created by the dual pressure wives felt to please their husbands without looking like they’d worked too hard doing so.

A 1950 brochure for a cooking appliance company depicts a woman wearing a low-cut dress and pearls showing her appreciative husband what’s in the oven for dinner.

The woman in the ad – thanks to her new, modern oven – was able to please her husband’s palate without breaking a sweat.

The 1970s and beyond

Beginning in the 1970s, dining changed dramatically. Families started spending more money eating out. More women working outside the home meant meals were less elaborate, especially since men remained loathe to share the responsibility of cooking.

The microwave encouraged alternatives to the traditional, sit-down dinner. The women’s movement destroyed lady-centered luncheonettes like Schrafft’s and upended the image of the happy housewife preparing her condensed soup casseroles or Chicken Yum Yum.

Yet as food historians Laura Shapiro and Harvey Levenstein have noted, despite these social changes, the depiction of male and female tastes in advertising has remained surprisingly consistent, even as some new ingredients and foods have entered the mix.

Kale, quinoa and other healthy food fads are gendered as “female.” Barbecue, bourbon and “adventurous foods,” on the other hand, are the domain of men.

A New York Times article from 2007 noted the trend of young women on first dates ordering steak. But this wasn’t some expression of gender equality or an outright rejection of food stereotyping.

Instead, “meat is strategy,” as the author put it. It was meant to signal that women weren’t obsessed with their health or their diet – a way to reassure men that, should a relationship flower, their girlfriends won’t start lecturing them about what they should eat.

Even in the 21st century, echoes of cookbooks like “The Way to a Man’s Heart” resound – a sign that it will take a lot more work to get rid of the fiction that some foods are for men, while others are for women.

Source: The Conversation

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Meet Sally, the Robot Who Makes Perfect Salads

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . .

Silicon Valley’s newest celebrity chef goes by just one name, Sally. This chef has just one specialty: salad.

Still, Sally will make you the most perfectly proportioned salad you’ve ever eaten: through science. Sally is a green-and-brown robot, a brand-new creation from Chowbotics Inc. (that’s a real name) and a major new player in a potential multi-billion market for food-service robots.

Sally occupies about the same amount of space as a dorm room refrigerator, and uses 21 different ingredients—including romaine, kale, seared chicken breast, Parmesan, California walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and Kalamata olives—to craft more than a thousand types of salad in about 60 seconds, while the customer watches the process. The machine weighs in at 350 pounds, making it more appropriate for industrial settings than for home kitchens at the moment. “Sally will be going on a diet,” said its creator, Deepak Sekar, 35, founder of Chowbotics Inc., looking into his and Sally’s future.

The benefits of Sally are manifold, according to Sekar. “Sally is the next generation of salad restaurant,” he claims, comparing it to chains such as Chopt and Fresh & Co. For one thing, a robot can make salad faster than a human can. Also, you will know precisely how many calories your salad is delivering; there won’t be the problem of consuming one piled high with garnishes that turn out to be more fattening than a burger. And it’s more hygienic to have a machine prepare your salad than to have multiple people working on a line—or worse still, a serve-yourself salad bar.

Sally does require a human set of hands to prep the ingredients that go into its canisters, which are then installed in the robot. (Sekar called the process of chopping ingredients in the machine “too complicated right now,” although it’s something he promises for the future; he offered an analogy: “It’s like paper getting stuck in a printer; it shuts down the process.”)

This spring, Sally will debut in Silicon Valley, at Mama Mia’s, a fast-casual restaurant in Santa Clara, Calif., and at the corporate cafeteria at H-E-B Grocery Co. in Texas. The public launch will come on April 13 at co-working space Galvanize in San Francisco, where the public will be able to order Sally’s salads.

Sally’s current list price is $30,000; there will be an option to lease one for about $500 per month. Chowbotics will start delivering pre-orders of Sally in the third quarter.

Sekar hopes to see Sally installed soon in hotels, where business people check in late and room service is dreary, as well as at convention centers, airports, and gyms. Sally will be a key amenity for fast food chains such as McDonalds, exponentially expanding the array of fresh offerings. “If a location installs Sally, they’ll have a thousand kinds of salad, using fresh ingredients, while their kids are eating Big Macs and fries.” He noted that the ingredients are fresh and kept in refrigerated compartments—stored better than at many salad bars. And then there’s the millennial-oriented, ‘eat-o-tainment’ opportunity of watching a salad be assembled by a machine.

According to Sekar’s plans, Sally’s next incarnation will be as an instantaneous deliverer of ethnic foods—Chinese, Mexican, or Indian—possibly even breakfast, depending on the demand. Much farther down the line, Sekar envisions home versions of Sally. “Remember the first computers in the ‘60s were the size of a room. An affordable home food robot might not take decades to create, but it won’t be next year.”

Sekar built the first prototype of Sally in 2014. “ I’ve always believed that cooking is fun. But during the week, life is so rushed between work and family. When I looked at time I spent cooking, 85 percent was spent doing repetitive tasks, like chopping. I wanted to do something else with that time.” His first robot focused on prepping the Indian food that he and his wife cooked at home, such as spiced, fried cauliflower. The owner of more than a dozen McDonald’s in the San Jose area, Cosme Fagundo, was impressed enough to help Sekar bring it to market.

Chowbotics has $6.3 million in funding from such notable venture capital sources as Techstars and Foundry, the company behind Fitbit and 3D printers. “The machine I created for Indian cooking looked like a modified 3D printer,” noted Sekar. “But instead of plastic shapes, it was making food.” Now Rich Page is executive chairman at Chowbotics; Page built some of the first Macs at Apple, and worked with Steve Jobs at NeXT. “Sometimes he’ll look over my shoulder and say, ‘Steve made that same mistake 20 years ago, so I think I’m doing something right,” laughed Sekar.

He’s also brought in Google’s original chef, Charlie Ayers (employee No. 56) to be Chowbotics’s executive chef.

Ayers, who owns Calafia Café in Palo Alto, Calif., is a salad specialist who is also used to making food in mass quantities. (By the time he left Google, in 2006, Ayers was serving 4,000 lunches and dinners a day in 10 cafes across the Google campus.)

“A few of the things that I love about robots is that they don’t come in late, they don’t talk back, and they’re always accurate,” said Ayers over the phone. “And the labor savings.”

Ayers doesn’t lose sleep over the inevitable loss of kitchen jobs in Silicon Valley “I don’t feel like I’m betraying my brothers and sisters by replacing them,” he said, resolutely. “It’s happening in every industry now. You can either fight it, or be on the team that makes it happen.” He added: “People will find other things to do. Like fixing salad-making robots.”

At Google, Ayers said, he first entertained the idea of a food robot. “Engineers are notorious for never launching anything on time. They’d come down and see me in the kitchen, and I was always on time. They said, ‘Imagine what you could do with a robot.’” When Sekar approached him, he got on board.

Ayers and fellow former Google chef Kelly Olazar have since programmed a few specialty salads. These include:

  • Sally’s Salad (romaine with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, walnuts, Parmesan, and black peppercorn ranch)
  • The Power Chow Salad (kale with cabbage, sun-dried cranberries, walnuts, and honey mustard vinaigrette)
  • The Silicon Valley Salad (seared chicken breast with kale, mixed bell peppers, olives, crunchy wonton chips, and honey mustard).

The few items you won’t find in a Sally-made salad include, curiously, avocado—one of California’s signature ingredients. “It doesn’t interact well with the machine,” explained Ayers, presumably because the soft flesh makes it hard to apportion via automation. Sliced cucumbers are missing, too, though Sally can dice them. Chopped salad is off the list. And though Sally is currently stocked with romaine, Parmesan, and croutons, there’s no Caesar salad dressing—yet. Sally’s ingredients will change periodically, so the team reported that Sally might soon be dispensing Caesar salads.

Source: Bloomberg

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Bagged Salads and Salmonella

A new study from the University of Leicester shows that small amounts of damage to salad leaves in bagged salads encourage the presence of Salmonella enterica. Juices released from damaged leaves also enhance the pathogen’s ability to attach to the salad’s plastic container. The research is published November 18th in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

In the study, salad juices in water—to mimic the grocery salad bag environment—more than doubled motility, or movement of individual Salmonella bacteria, abetting salad leaf colonization. In the course of a typical five day refrigeration storage time around 100 Salmonella bacteria multiplied to approximately 100,000 individual bacteria. Salad juices also boosted formation of biofilms on salad leaves. Microbial biofilms generally cling tenaciously to the surfaces they coat—medical implants, stainless steel, or one’s teeth, in the form of dental plaque—and Salmonella biofilms on salad leaves are no exception. They are powerfully resistant to being washed off.

Yet surprisingly, the normal microbial flora on salad leaves did not respond to leaf juices, suggesting that the leaf juices give Salmonella a marked advantage in colonizing salad leaves as compared to competing bacteria, according to the report.

Salad leaf crops are usually grown in open fields where they can be exposed to Salmonella, via insects, bird poop, and manure, among other sources. While outbreaks of Salmonellosis due to such contamination are uncommon, they are nonetheless a public health problem. Such outbreaks may occur despite practices used to mitigate the problem, such as irrigation with clean water, good hygiene, leaf washing, and the like, said coauthor Primrose Freestone, PhD, Associate Professor in Clinical Microbiology, University of Leicester, UK. In fact, salad leaves can acquire Salmonella from recycled wash water, she said.

Moreover, earlier studies have shown that Salmonella are so powerfully attracted to salad leaf and root juices that they can find their way into the plant vasculature during the salad plant’s germination, and once inside, there is no way to wash them out, said Freestone.

Salmonella grows especially well on spinach, said Freestone. “”It seems the pathogen prefers spinach.”

Pre-prepared salads are sold increasingly commonly in grocery stores, said Freestone. They also appear in fast food and in airline meals. However, few studies had previously investigated the behavior of Salmonella within ready-to-eat bagged salad, she said. “We wanted to investigate what happens to Salmonella in a bag of salad to better understand the potential risks to consumers and inform future research on reducing attachment of this pathogen to salad leaves. This study is part of our ongoing research into ways to reduce the risk of Salmonella persisting and growing when it is present in bagged salad.”

Source: American Society For Microbiology