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White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  719 ratings  ·  132 reviews
How did white bread, once an icon of American progress, become “white trash”? In this lively history of bakers, dietary crusaders, and social reformers, Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows us that what we think about the humble, puffy loaf says a lot about who we are and what we want our society to look like.
White Bread teaches us that when Americans debate what one should eat, the
Hardcover, 257 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Always Pouting
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book about the history of white bread in America and the cultural connotations that inevitably followed it and the way those connotations change over time. From the late 1800's to the current day white bread has changed it's associations constantly with different scientific discoveries and cultural changes. I personally really enjoyed this book because grains are ubiquitous and in the West that means bread. All food has meaning attached to it because of the importance of food to survival and s ...more
Robert Kinosian
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure if this book is turning me into a social justice-loving Communist or a regulation-hating Libertarian. I guess that means it's presenting a balanced perspective. Definitely an interesting read. ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it
From basement bakeries to industrial production, this book details the history of store-bought bread in America. The choice between dark bread and white bread is really only a choice for the affluent. Choosing "good bread" also assumes moral superiority. But when poor men are needed for the first peacetime draft in 1940, The Great Depression has left them less than fighting fit. So how do you get these malnourished men the vitamins they need? By enriching the poor man's main staple: white bread. ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I’m not someone who usually cares about cover art but camannnn look at that clever fucking design.

When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was reading a book called White Bread that, yes, was literally a book entirely about white bread, he chortled at me and said that if he went home for Thanksgiving and told them he was reading this book his mother would beat him for wasting time.

That’s why it’s soooo great. Who the hell can write a book- an entire, great, engaging, fascinating book- on wh
N.N. Light
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book on the history of white bread. With plenty of humorous lines, this is a fun read.

My Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by: Mrs. N
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, library
Lest you think white bread is nothing more than, well, white bread, this social and political examination of the fluffy stuff will come as quite a surprise. White bread is society, its hopes and dreams, its aspirations and ideals — and, yes, its fears and bigotries — writ small (and sliced). What we’ve thought about the seemingly-innocuous store-bought loaf over the past 140 years says a lot about who we are and what we want our society, and, to a large extent, the world to look like.

A lot of g
Dan Seitz
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bobrow-Strain looks at white bread in America through several different lenses and industries, from nationalism to health to counterculture. It's a fairly interesting set of chapters that offers a view of American history, albeit a narrow slice of one. Some chapters are better written than others; the sixth one promises to look at the conservative side of "white trash, white bread" but never really gets there. Yet all of them are fascinating. ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Bobrow-Strain details the history of white bread over the course of the twentieth century, and ends up covering a whole lot more. From "pure food" movements of the 1840s and 1970s to the effect of the Progressive Era on gendered food production, White Bread covers a lot. Framed around "dreams", or ideals of good eating which affected the perceptions of white and dark breads in America and around the world, the book explains how each dream benefited some and harmed others. If the book has a moral ...more
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for a review.


This book isn't just a history of bread, it's also a history of the social movements relating to food, and how they have used popular fears to champion industrial bread and then artisan bread. The author does a great job of discussing the (sometimes) unintended side-effects of these social movements, discussing how conservative ideas of eugenics, class and race were promoted along with dis
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
A little drier than I would like, but most interesting.
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
When you think of social change bread is probably not in your top 1,000 things that come to mind. However the bread is really a case study all itself. We have a front row seat to the history of store bought bread and it's wild ride of purity, naturalness, scientific control, perfect health, national security, vitality, and social status.

While the preface of the author and the 20th century history started out a bit dry, like a loaf of warm bread, you soon come to the hearty body that leaves you s
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic as both a work of history and of advocacy. I would love to teach this some day in a twentieth-century history course--few works narrate so engagingly and so expansively the ways that power, reform, and idealism intertwine continuously, making judgments of the intentions of the past (and assumptions about the wisdom of the present) both impossible and necessary.

Moreover, I think the subject matter of the book is vital, instructive, and captivating. I would highly recommend this book.
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was really hard for me to get through - obviously considering how long it took me to finish! However, the very last chapter was incredibly moving and powerful and really tied up all of the anecdotes, discourses and history. It is very interesting to think of the impact that a food item, such as bread, has had throughout history and on social movements/change and politics. It was fun to read a book by an author from my hometown (Walla Walla) as well.
Apr 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: food, history
A good companion to Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. The changing perception of white bread--from strength and nutrition to lower class--is interesting. ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone cought up in the bread wars
mar 4 2012 Npr this date get transcript weekend
There are now 3 cys in the local library system.
29 march still getting this book out of the library and working on the details


Is it ironic that last week Wonderbread and Hostess went into bankruptcy and was sold off. Dec 2012 All those hoarding twinkies will probably eventually put them up for sale on Ebay!

TOC from the library computer:
Preface ix
Introduction Bread and Power 1 (16)
1 Untouched by Hum
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As far as food goes, bread has some of the most baked-in symbolism (no pun intended). Bread, as a basic staple in many diets, is pregnant with (sometimes contested) cultural, social, mythological, religious, economic, and political meanings. Aaron Bobrow-Strain zeroes in on one type of bread (the loaf of store-bought, slicked, packaged white bread that has a special place in Americana) and the many meanings that have been attributed to it and battles fought over it.

He organizes the book by look
mad mags
Oct 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
American Dreamz (of "Good" Food)

Note: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.

When is bread just bread? After reading White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain (2012), you'll realize that the answer to this deceptively simple question is likely "almost never."

Tied as it is to issues of class, race, gender, and nativism, the history of bread - which types of bread are considered the healthiest, which are a
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
This would have been a four star book, but I felt that it was not organized in a reader-friendly manner. This micro-history tells the story of bread in the United States and how this food has taken on much more meaning than just something to eat or as a holder for peanut butter and jelly. In the 1800's dark or whole wheat bread was seen as the food of immigrants and the poor. White bread was the preferred food of the wealthier white population. Factory-made white bread was seen as a way to free ...more
William Guerrant
Mar 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
After almost 20 years in the food movement, I've gotten used to seeing people twist themselves into knots as they try to overlay their worldviews and political biases onto their concerns about the industrial food system and their preferences for more nutritious and ethically-sourced food. In this case the author's fascinating examination of the history and cultural significance of white bread is continually accompanied by a sort of tortured and at times nearly insufferable postmodern obsession w ...more
Balloon Bruce
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Gets a little bogged down. I wasn't expecting to read about India in a book about white bread in America. At times I found myself glossing over the philosophy and economics. I was also expecting more about health. He didn't mention the connection (or lack thereof) between white bread and diabetes. Overall, it was fair.

Its strongest point was that corporations have just about zero interest in health.
Paniz K
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, quarantine-2020
I thought this would be a fun indulgent book. It is fun, but it also Marxist and very informative.
I really enjoy “social history” in general (and I put that in quotation marks because I hate that “real” history is the history of men and war and empire and then the “soft” stuff is pigeonholed as “social history”). This book is essentially American history as seen through the white bread loaf (as opposed to the president in power).
Duygu Öksünlü Beytur
Mar 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: soc
This is one of the most amazing books that I have read. This book is an inquiry of white bread -baking, branding, eating, and perceiving white bread- in the USA. It is astonishingly well organized research example, also. For me, I am not just learn about the topic (although it is fantastic as I said), I also learn about writing in social sciences, how a material product has a web of significances and how a writer can construct a narration. If you are interested in the topic or you are social sci ...more
Don LaFountaine
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had been very interested in reading this book for a while, and was not disappointed. It was interesting and thought provoking, and helped me see the topic of social change through food through a different "lens".

The author discusses how white bread evolved in America to become an icon in the early 20th century of all that was right in the world to "white trash". The book has 6 major chapters, specifically "dreams" of society to bring about change in food. They are:
- Dreams of purity: The idea
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
The author might consider writing a sequel called White Guilt. It can include the sixth dream underlying the five white bread dreams in the book--dreams of apology and redemption. "As more young white people came to rediscover the flavor and soul of whole-grain artisan breads, they felt a deep sense of shame for having the money, education, and leisure to try to enjoy their own lives and share the news with others." -Potential quote from White Guilt.

Though the book is interesting, the author's i
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have to confess, I am a lover of bread. I also have a soft spot for the white bread that this book is about. This book covers the fact that bread has become a status and class symbol. I enjoyed this, even though it did make me feel hungry in some parts.
Jul 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, adult
Very thoroughly written with a lot of view points well summarized and well-intended but harmfully executed policies are laid out not in a manner that casts judgement but more of a slightly-resigned but diligently truthful recorder.

it could have used a little humor, it was pretty dry.
Bruce MacDonald
Aug 23, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The politics out weighed any historical content

I prefer to make my own interpretations of historical data / content. I found more political view explanations than (to me) interesting history.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
fun & pretty quick (for me) read about commercial bread history
Rick Jones
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Really could not enjoy this book. Too much 'splaining, and not enough history. I did not ever really appreciate the author's voice, and quit halfway. ...more
Tiny Moonbeams
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Exceptionally well written. Very insightful.
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Aaron Bobrow-Strain is a professor of politics at Whitman College, where he teaches courses dealing with food, immigration, and the U.S.-Mexico border. His writing has appeared in Believer, The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, Salon, and Gastronomica. Along with The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, he is the author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf an ...more

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