Behind the Scenes with Buying Food

25 July 2009 · 4 comments

One of the things I’d like to do here at Foldedspace is to have a little fun with some of the things I write about at Get Rich Slowly. When I write at GRS, I mainly play it straight. I can’t provide a lot of extraneous info or make fun of the things I’m writing about. That’s not the case at Foldedspace!

This morning, for example, I posted some grocery shopping tips from the 1950s. These tips are taken from an old educational film about buying food. Here’s the 11-minute video, in all its gender-role-specific glory:

As with all of these old insructional films (I’ve watched dozens over the past couple of months), I love Buying Food in oh so many ways. I love the cheesiness and the earnestness. But I love it for non-ironic reasons, too. I love the glimpse into the past, I love the writing (it does a great job of distilling ideas into a short segment), and I love a lot of the individual frames.

Here are some of my favorites (and, incidentally, a short summary of the film):

First up is this glimpse at a supermarket circa 1950. Self-service grocery stores were introduced in 1916, though they didn’t gain popularity until the 1930s. (Many people were resistant to the idea at first.) Supermarkets were still relatively young in 1950. I like to think that they were trying to discover their “vocabulary”.

Although early supermarkets did not contain the thousands of products we’re accustomed to today, they did flood consumers with choices. Which beans to choose? And which size?

I love this example of comparison shopping: Which beans have the lowest price per ounce?

The film belabors the point that hamburger is a cheap cut of meat, and less desirable than a t-bone steak. I find this interesting. Was hamburger once marginalized? Did people have to be persuaded to eat it? Nowadays it’s accepted as a matter of course. And look how it’s being served here! It’s in the butcher case, being scooped up oh-so-casually. I’ve never seen such a thing.

And look at this, too. “Quality frankfurters” and “skinless wieners” outside of their packaging. The film has an hilarious example of creating a tasty and attractive frankfurter salad.

I also like this comparison of food quality. Why are the grade A peaches tomatoes better than the grade C peaches tomatoes? They both look unattractive here!

Finally, here’s a shot of the happy housewife after she’s finished pleasing her husband. I wish I could tell what they were eating!

Anyhow, the Internet Archive contains hundreds of old instructional films like this on a variety of subjects. There are films on dating, diet, and driving. My favorite sources of these films are the Prelinger Archives (browse by subject) and the A/V Geeks collection (browse by subject). (You can find more from A/V Geeks at the blog.)

1 Erin July 25, 2009 at 10:42

I believe the picture of the Grade A and Grade C foods you have displayed is of tomatoes, not peaches!

2 Chickybeth July 25, 2009 at 13:03

I am only 29, but when I was taking driver’s ed in high school (1996), the only film we watched about actually driving was from (I am guessing) the 1950’s or 60’s. In the film they drive past a gas station and gas is only 25 cents/gallon! (It also said that when you see people walking down the sidewalk, give 3 honks of your horn to let them know you see them so they won’t decide to walk in front of you!) Hilarious stuff.

Considering that these are the only things I remember about it, I doubt the usefulness of showing in driver’s ed. I wonder if I fond it today, if there were actually useful lessons in it though.

3 Andrea Coutu > Become a Consultant Blog July 26, 2009 at 20:02

Hamburger was considered a poor person’s food. Even in the poor neighbourhood from which my family hailed, people called the swanky section of town with oppressive mortgages “Hamburger Hill”. (People were house poor.) It was not considered proper to serve your family hamburger…if you were middle class.

Nowadays, where I live, it’s considered risky to use ground beef. That’s because of worries about e coli, mad cow disease and so on. Upper middle class families around here are all talking organic beef from a single cow.

When I was a kid, bulk hot dogs were just in a tub at the grocery store. I have no doubt that you could buy hamburger that way in the 50s.

4 Chris Gates July 26, 2009 at 20:35

JD – When Kris’ mother and I lived in Great Falls, MT (1968-70), there was a small grocery store around the corner with a butcher who actually cut up sides of beef. We purchased hamburger in five pound packages and split it into smaller packages for our use. The hamburger was in a tray just as shown in your movie. I’m fairly sure that it wasn’t the 4% fat ground beef that we purchase now!

Previous post:

Next post: