Green onions: kitchen design and foodways in mid-century Memphis
Keesee, Angela King
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Flush with the victory of World War II, America faced an expansive industrial and agricultural landscape that had been focused on war. As factories re-tooled themselves from military production to a domestic market, kitchen appliances, metal cabinets, plastics, and synthetic fabrics appeared at the same time that processed and packaged foods inspired by the efficiency and development of MREs became available for public consumption. Simultaneously, a pent-up need for housing and an end to the deprivation of the Great Depression and war led Americans to embrace new approaches to design and construction. The development of suburbs with affordable single-family houses, standardized kitchen furnishings, and the open plan reflected new attitudes towards living. The accessibility of a variety of foods and time-saving preparations such as cake mixes and canned fruits complemented those attitudes. In this study of mid-century Memphis, the synchronous qualities of cultivation, production, presentation, and consumption in kitchen design and foodways are analyzed to demonstrate an inextricable relationship between the design of place and the culture of food. Memphis was a Southern city steeped in regional tradition but modernizing rapidly while absorbing the national and international dynamics of social and economic changes during the Cold War. Local factors of race, gender, and class on this growth affected the convergence of new ideas in kitchen design and foodways. Regional and national media such as newspapers, magazines, and the rise of television saturated the public with images of idyllic suburban life, particularly available to middle-class whites despite the increased appearance of a black middle-class culture flourishing in the same modern environment. Whether spotlighting the femininity of Betty Crocker or the favorite appetizer of a local socialite, the growing publication of cookbooks fueled a desire for new kitchens and the presentation of new foods. The convergence of kitchen design and foodways illustrated the influence of material culture and regionalism on the experience of place.