Mid-Century Visions of Modern Food


One of the most dizzying of these effects is the dominance of circles. Ringed or round connoted nature tamed. The vegetables that survived the cleansing were united by two qualities. They were round and cute: button mushrooms, olives, cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, peas, invincible iceberg. (Celery, long and tubular, made it through, too, I think because it is so neat. And so crisp and orderly.) As food production was mechanized, there followed a march of finished foods made round: cocktail franks, meatballs, cheese wheels, cheese balls, onion rings, sherbet rolls and pale, melted fondue, bubbling in small round pots.

Rachel Laudan, a food historian and author of the 2013 book ‘‘Cuisine and Empire,’’ thinks that behind the Betty Crocker recipe box lurks the Cold War — that these glossy cards were another theater for the standoff between socialism and capitalism, a version of the message that ‘‘abundance was something to…

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