Sealtest Food Adviser (Lent 1939)

The Sealtest Food Adviser. Sealtest Laboratory Kitchen, Radio City, NY. Lent, 1939. University of Alabama Special Collections. “Carolyn Shepherd Price Home Economics Teaching Materials” collection, “Foods—Menu Planning” folder. 1632.0001/39.

Though a modest recipe booklet seems unlikely to yield substantial insight into the Great Depression, the Sealtest Food Adviser offers enough writing variety to justify exploring its pages. Sealtest’s status as a dairy company renders the Lenten edition available in the Hoole Library to be of particular

note; Catholics in 1939 were required to abstain from meat during every day of Lent, and defaulting to cheese-based foods makes such stringent dietary restrictions much easier. As a result, this recipe booklet understandably targets that seasonally-expanded market.  The introduction to “Menus and Recipes for the Lenten Season” serves this purpose, capitalizing on the inconvenience inherent to Lenten meal prep: “How difficult it is to develop menus for each day of this Season—menus that appeal and are practical!” This sentiment engages a Catholic audience by relating to their problem without disparaging its repentant aspect — Lent is, in part, supposed to be inconvenient. In the same vein, these recipes aren’t marketed as delicious or tempting, but “satisfying” instead.

Attitudes toward food during the Great Depression actually followed this ascetic Lenten ideal more often than not. Nutrition science increased in popularity as the New Deal began shifting public opinion in favor of governmental care and intervention. Nourishing hungry students, for example, was thought to provide better educational results in turn, and thus a better workforce along the line. Between this idea and a prevalent need to feed big families on less, nutritional efficiency became the goal. Vitamins had also been recently discovered; though they weren’t well understood, their general concept suggested that people needed a variety of them to stay healthy. “To Prolong One’s Days…”, an article by Cornell professor L. C. Norris and the longest piece of paragraphed writing in the booklet, addresses this same concern, discussing the scientific need to eat a balanced diet. Norris’ unequivocal tone stretches from the first sentence (“Everyone wants to be healthy.”) to the last (“To prolong one’s days, eat a diet containing liberal amounts of milk, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole wheat flour.”), and his heavy, ethos-building vocabulary also helps project the authority needed to convince an audience of the large logical jump between natural self-preservation and consuming Sealtest products. This source supplies these bits of writing and more as culturally rich material, qualifying it as both relevant to my research regarding a Catholic housewife in the thirties and likely suitable to anyone doing similar research.