10. Gerber's Canned Spinach

Patrick Cox, H-NET President-Elect and Editor's picture

Contributor: Leah Dilworth

Professor of English

Long Island University, Brooklyn

Any study of foodways is potentially rich in what it reveals about a culture; this can of processed spinach for babies seems particularly loaded with social, political, and cultural meaning. It speaks about the industrialization of processed foods in the early 20th century, as well as constantly changing ideas about domestic labor, nutrition, and motherhood. The discourse around what to feed the American baby has been simmering (with occasional boil-overs) for the last 100 years; the intensity of the debates about appropriate infant nutrition seemed to have peaked at the end of the 20th century; now education seems to be the locus of parental anxiety, but that doesn’t mean baby food is off the map. And, of course, there’s the connection to Pop-eye. It seems to me that the long-lived cultural trope of children’s hatred of spinach (and vegetables in general) is peculiarly American. I would love to hear what people have to say about this object.


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Categories: AC25

Don't forget the Shirley Temple and Alice Faye performance of "You Gotta Eat Your Spinach Baby." Shirley begins with protest, but the song ends with "children must do what they are told."