Raymond Loewy on Burgers versus Creamy Chicken

In his 1951 autobiography, Never Leave Well Enough Alone, French-born American Industrial Designer, Raymond Loewy devotes a chapter on “American Cooking” and gives food a pivotal role in the development of his design aesthetic. The analogy between food consumption and product consumption arises out a shared response to taste. Loewy presents himself as the harbinger of modern taste in food and products.  In order to promote ‘industrial’ and simple, he negates the  ‘domestic’ and the decorative, through gender differentiation. He writes,

“It seems to me that the American Woman may be partly responsible for the blandness discussed above. I’ve noticed that about the best food in America is not found in the tearoom shoppe, but at the truck driver’s joints, near plants at workmen’s eat shops, or Second Avenue bars and grills. There, you can always get a wholesome hamburger or some nice juicy pork chops with plenty of hot cottage fries, a hefty chunk (not a thin, patrician slice) of corned beef with real honest to goodness cabbage, and a glass of cool beer. I believe that if men were left alone they would soon demand real he-man’s bread, not the sissified stuff that looks as if it were daintily made by some arty and desiccated spinster at Ye Olde Tea Roome Shoppe.”

“Okay, sister, you win. Bring on the pink candle and the lace paper doily.”

His blame of ‘bland’ ascribed to women, separates the domestic and decorative from the mobile, industrial masculine world of diners. According to Loewy, the best food happens on the road or near industrial plants, where men consume unadorned, unadulterated, ‘wholesome’ food. The menu he describes of hamburgers, chops, corned beef and beer consists primarily of meat without accompaniment. The association of diners and diner food with masculinity, continues today in shows like ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.’ The 1930-40s diners were exemplars of modern life that served mobility, urbanity, simplicity, mass production, mechanical production, masculinity, efficiency and reliability that Loewy hoped to spread.

By way of concluding the chapter and continuing on his gender differentiation, Loewy continues, “Another surprising American culinary phenomenon is the Home Economist. These dangerous creatures try to keep the bored and frustrated hausfrau from falling into the hands of a psychoanalyst (which they couldn’t afford anyhow) by keeping them busy in the kitchen. The formula is a blend of poetry, art and cookery. It gives the repressed, romantic mamma a chance to express her social amenities and relieve her libido through refuge in Arts and Cookies. A typical example of the home economist recipe ordinarily calls for an electric mixer and it runs something like this:……..” Here he inserts a recipe in the form of a poem.  His first accusation against American women involves, pink paper doilies, dainty decorations and superfluous details. His second accusation, involves the misuse of technology. Whereby the use of blender is followed by attention to presentation details. The use of machines, scientific attention to food by the home economist lacks, according to Loewy, simplicity and honesty. Loewy accused the house wife of ‘busy work’ using the decorative to mine meaning, whether by habit or intention. The desiccated spinster and the hausfrau in need of psychoanalysis represent obstructions to modern progress. They are guilty of sauces that cover and garnishes that distract. He would not appreciate food network shows like‘Semi Home Made’ that promote presentation.

Loewy’s autobiography is full of such anecdotes and opinions about food aim to direct modern consumption habits. More on Loewy later……..

[excerpt from conference presentation for “Food Networks: Gender and Foodways” University of Notre Dame, 2012]

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