White bread

Posted by R. Berg on January 02, 2001

In Reply to: White bread posted by ESC on December 23, 2000

: : : I believe there's more literalism to the origin of "white bread" in the sense of bland, unimaginative, and middle-class than the explanation on the "Origin" page conveys. This term was popular in the 1960s in the U.S. counterculture, which valued doing things the natural way and consuming homemade products instead of whatever the big bad advertising industry wanted one to consume. Diet in particular offered opportunities for a return to nature. Thus "white bread" describes the bourgeoisie not only because its members are racially white but also because they subsist on highly processed commercial foods.

: : : Only someone raised in a white, middle-class bourgeoisie household attuned to CheezeWhiz and McDonald's could have figured that out.

: Here's my take on the subject, from my vantage-point as someone who grew up in the 60s in the mountains of West Virginia in the U.S. My folks were descendants of pioneers with roots in Germany, Scotland and England and of the Cherokee people. Our "ethnic" breads were biscuits and cornbread. But we were made to feel ashamed of home-baked bread, even thought it tasted a LOT better than "store-bought." A child who had to bring a biscuit in his lunch was mortified. A sandwich made with store-bought white bread (called "light bread") was the only acceptable alternative. Most homes had a loaf of store-bread reserved just for packing lunches. White bread was the only choice in our stores, if I'm remembering correctly. There was a whole world of pumpernickel and "Jewish rye" (as I've seen it labeled) that we didn't know about.

: Don't you think it's ironic that we started buying "white bread" to escape embarrassment over our ethnicity and now "white bread" is a label for someone who is bland and devoid of connection to his or her ethnic roots? I do.

Actually, Marcus, I've never eaten Cheez Whiz or anything from McDonald's; figuring out the symbolism of white bread came more from having been a student at Berkeley in the 1960s and being surrounded by the counterculture as it was developing then. Natural foods were in style there before they caught on nationally. Even now people refer to Wonder Bread when they have in mind a lifestyle or set of values which one accepts uncritically because it's conventional and which is mass-produced, not nourishing, and not satisfying.