The Food of a Younger Land: Introduction
The only chain restaurants I recall were A&W Root Beer, with frothy root beer on tap, and Howard Johnson's, a New England company—my father claimed to have worked as a student for Howard himself in the first store in Quincy, Massachusetts—and I liked their ice cream and their fried clams.
America was starting to build highways, sell farms to build suburbs, and industrialize the production of food. The ways of prewar America were rapidly vanishing. The war industries that brought America out of the Depression had changed the landscape. I grew up in a blue-collar community on the edge of Hartford where people worked in factories and crowded into neighborhood housing. It in no way resembled the description of it in the 1938 WPA Guide for Connecticut, the first of the guides after which the rest were modeled. The guide characterizes the crowded, fast- growing industrial area I knew as an "attractive verdant setting."
From 1940 to 1950 the population of the United States increased from 20 million to 151 million, and Americans became far more affluent. In that same decade the gross national product of the United States nearly tripled. The average yearly expenditures of an American also nearly tripled. But despite the growth in the economy, the value of exports in 1950 was only a third of what it had been in 1940. The country was changing from an export-based economy to a consumer-based one. By 1950, the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower would warn about in his 1961 farewell address had already firmly taken root. In 1950 government military spending was seven times as much as it had been in 1940.
There were twice as many cars on the roads. America was becoming a less family-centered society, which was having an enormous impact on the way Americans ate. In 1940 there were 264 divorces for every thousand people. By 1950 the divorce rate had risen to 385 per thousand.
America was becoming much more multicultural. From 1935 to 1940, the WPA years, 308,000 immigrants were officially admitted to the United States. After the war, from 1945 to 1950, 864,000 were taken in, and in the next five years another million would be admitted.