More from my trip to the Library of Congress and incredible US News and World Report photo collection: 1968’s Harried Housewife Preparing Convenience Foods (and how her diet was re-engineered to be carbohydrate-rich)

2017.11.27 Library of Congress Photo Archives - US News and World Report, Washington, DC USA 0961
2017.11.27 Library of Congress Photo Archives – US News and World Report, Washington, DC USA 0961 (View on

While perusing the incredible U.S. News and World Report (@usnews) photograph archives at the Library of Congress (@LibraryCongress), I was intrigued by this series captured by photographer Warren Leffler, just a few months before he captured the devastation of a riot-destroyed Washington, DC in April, 1968.

Most of the photographs are not digitized, which makes a trip to the Library that special (see this post for more from my trip: Photo Friday: Photos of Photos of LBJ, Bobby Kennedy, and a world upside down in 1968 and 1972, Washington, DC USA ).

This series is entitled “Harried Housewife Preparing Convenience Foods” and shows what appears to be a woman arriving home and creating a meal out of engineered foodstuffs. My belief is that it’s connected to the story “Revolution in the Kitchen,” which appeared in the magazine in February, 1968. I was unable to retrieve more than the cover, unfortunately.

I was also unable to retrieve the nutrition labels on the foods she was indulging in, which included a heavy dose of carbohydrates, as you can see. I was curious and dug a little deeper…

Link to photos on Flickr

She ate a higher fat diet compared to a person today, which medicine and industry was working to change

Cohen E, Cragg M, deFonseka J, Hite A, Rosenberg M, Zhou B. Statistical review of US macronutrient consumption data, 1965-2011: Americans have been following dietary guidelines, coincident with the rise in obesity. Nutrition [Internet]. Elsevier; 2015 May 1 [cited 2017 Dec 4];31(5):727–32.

  • In 1965, fat consumption was 44.7 % of adult American Diets; carbohydrate consumption 39 %.
  • In 2011, fat consumption was 33.6 % of adult American Diets; carbohydrate consumption 50.5 %.

These are the results of campaigns/policy since 1961 to move Americans to high carbohydrate diets. The campaigns were successful.

In 1961, spurred by emerging medical and epidemiologic research, the AHA issued dietary recommendations to “reduce the intake of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol”.In 1977, the US Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued Dietary Goals for the United States, which recommended that fat consumption be reduced to 30% of energy intake, and that carbohydrate consumption be increased to account for 55% to 60% of energy intake.

This article published at USDA shows the coincidence of the potatoes in the photos:

There is one field in which the average Russian does better than the average American—eating pota- toes. The Russian eats over 400 pounds a year, the American little more than 100. Back in 1910, we were pretty good potato eaters; we ate about 180 pounds per person. However, by 1952, this had dropped to about 100 pounds. One reason for this drop in potato consumption was the growing concern of the public with calorie intake and the mistaken belief that potatoes are high in calories. It is unfortunate that potatoes acquired this undeserved reputation. It is not the potato, but the added butter, gravy, or frying oil which account for most the calories in our favorite styles of new processed potato products began cooked potatoes.The Many-Splendored Potato, a Marvel of Convenience

Her serum triglycerides were lower, she was less likely to be obese, less likely to have insulin resistance, less likely to have diabetes

And then everything changed.

It is especially disconcerting that in the United States, mean triglyceride levels have risen since 1976, in concert with the growing epidemic of obesity, insulin resistance (IR), and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).6,7 In contrast, mean low-density in contrast, mean low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels have receded.1. Miller M, Stone NJ, Ballantyne C, Bittner V, Criqui MH, Ginsberg HN, et al. Triglycerides and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2016 Dec 25];123(20).

See this post: Just Read: Triglycerides and Cardiovascular Disease – American Heart Association Scientific Statement

She didn’t have access to informative food labeling

If this seems difficult today, prior to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966, it seems near impossible to know what a person was ingesting, and after the act, it seems like it wasn’t a whole lot easier.

“To shop rationally, the housewife would need the impulses of a sleuth, the stamina of a weight-lifter, and the skill of a certified public accountant.”

A.Q. MowbrayThe Efficacy of the Fair Labeling and Packaging Act: Then and Now

Her convenience foods were an engineering marvel

It doesn’t say in any of the documents below what kind of “fat” the potatoes were fried in, which would impact trans-fat exposure (if engineered vegetable oils were being used). This food label does not bode well.

With the high cost of labor today, restaurants are just as interested in “convenience” foods as the housewife. More than two-thirds of all mashed potatoes served in restaurants are now made from dehydrated potato flakes or granules…Newest of the many varied forms of processed potato is the extruded french fry. This ingenious product is made from a dry mix of dehydrated potato granules with added starch, vegetable gum, and flavoring and is designed primarily for restaurants or hamburger stands.The Many-Splendored Potato, a Marvel of Convenience

3,468,673 Patented Sept. 23, 1969 Any dehydrated mashed potatoes may be used as a starting material. A variety of these are commercially available and others are described in the literature. The products most commonly available commercially are known as potato flakes or potato granules. Because of their ready availability, these two forms of dehydrated mashed potatoes are preferred. However, any dehydrated potato product which may be rehydrated to provide a homogenous mash free from lumps may be used in the present invention.French Fried potato mix made from dehydrated mashed potatoes: US Patent 3468673A

We know what happened next

See this post for graphics of the trends in food availability and health status from 1970 to present.

The photos grabbed my attention because of the health implications present in them, also because of the sense in the images that the women pictured, and marketed to (above) do not seem to or are afforded the semblance of control over their own destiny.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important desires that a human has.

Thanks again to the Library of Congress for being a resource, to show where we came from, so we can know where we should be going.

Ted Eytan, MD