Casseroles Against Communism and Other Food Fights: How American Kitchen Culture Conscripted Women into the Wartime Kitchen 1920-1959
This thesis explores American kitchen culture’s role in influencing gender norms and expression of patriotism during the mid-20th century and the extent to which both government propaganda and commercial advertisements created this phenomenon. It attempts to answer how advertisements for kitchen products marketed women’s labor, traditionally carried out within the domestic sphere, as a crucial weapon in the wars against both the Axis powers in World War II and the threat that communism posed to the American way of life during the Cold War. What is meant by weaponization is that the traditionally private labor done by women in the home, like cooking or cleaning, became the subject of propaganda campaigns during war, and was elevated as a patriotic duty critical to the war effort. In a hot war, such as World War II, the goal was to promote the domestic war effort; in the Cold War, it was to emphasize the preeminence of the American way of life in a dangerous world where the threat of Soviet communism loomed as a real and present danger in the minds of Americans. The kitchen represented values of the American way of life, including abundance and prosperity. War threatened these values, so ads and propaganda targeted women with messages about the importance of their role within the home. This question bears upon larger themes related to the intersection of culture, history, and consumption. I provide examples of advertisements and propaganda from different wars as well as from the peacetimes in between and analyze their underlying messages regarding gender and patriotism with an emphasis on historiographical perspective. Advertisements form extremely rich texts that communicate a society’s values, wants, and fears. The images, text, and underlying messages within ads for food and kitchen goods during World War II and the Cold War culturally conscripted women into kitchen service to protect the American way of life. In general, my findings support the conclusion that, while women’s labor has been historically devalued, these advertisements show that winning women’s support was crucial to the success of the war effort and should be remembered as such.