Author Talk: Inventing Baby Food

Author Talk: Inventing Baby Food

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Amy Bentley (New York University), “Inventing Baby Food”

Inventing Baby Food by Amy Bentley explores how the invention of commercial baby food shaped American notions of infancy and influenced the evolution of parental and pediatric care.

This lecture is open to the public. Those planning to attend should r.s.v.p. to Carol Lockman, clockman@Hagley.org or call 302-658-2400, ext. 243. 

Inventing Baby Food by Amy Bentley explores how the invention of commercial baby food shaped American notions of infancy and influenced the evolution of parental and pediatric care. Until the late nineteenth century, infants were almost exclusively fed breast milk. But over the course of a few short decades, Americans began feeding their babies formula and solid foods, frequently as early as a few weeks after birth.

By the 1950s, commercial baby food had become emblematic of all things modern in postwar America. Little jars of baby food were thought to resolve a multitude of problems in the domestic sphere: they reduced parental anxieties about nutrition and health; they made caretakers feel empowered; and they offered women entering the workforce an irresistible convenience. But these baby food products laden with sugar, salt, and starch also became a gateway to the industrialized diet that blossomed during this period.

Today, baby food continues to be shaped by medical, commercial, and parenting trends. Baby food producers now contend with health and nutrition problems as well as the rise of alternative food movements. All of this matters because, as the author suggests, it is during infancy that American palates become acclimated to tastes and textures, including those of highly processed, minimally nutritious, and calorie-dense industrial food products.

More information on the book is available at inventingbabyfood.com

Amy Bentley is an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health in the Steinhardt School at New York University. A historian with interests in the social, historical, and cultural contexts of food, she is the author of Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health and the Industrialization of the American Diet (University of California Press, 2014) and Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity (University of Illinois Press, 1998).