Ever since the beginning of the Great Struggle Against the Carbohydrate Empire, people have tended to deride bread when talking about health. “Oh, bread is so bad for you. The cavepeople never ate bread, and just look how wonderfully sinewy they were!” It wasn’t all that long ago (85 years ago today), however, that easy access to toast and sandwich fixings was a mere fantasy for the overworked wrists of housewives slicing through blocks of bread in early 20th century America. Then, of course, the greatest thing to ever happen, happened — Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa finally perfected his loaf-slicing machine, which yielded its first yeasty fruits on July 7, 1928.
The abridged history of sliced bread (whose anniversary you ought to celebrate today with a pre-sliced bagel sprinkled with flakes of salted pumpernickel toast) is pretty interesting, not least of all because it changed a lot of things about America, including its diet — now, with conveniently pre-sliced bread just waiting to be plucked from its packaging, Americans could eat more bread at a time. Since only a deranged person eats plain, unvarnished bread, the consumption of spreads such as jam increased, too. Think of all the wonderful spreads and condiments that might never have existed if Otto listened to his friends, gave up on his bread-slicing endeavors after the first setback in 1912, and became an insurance salesman instead (hint: Otto’s ghost is waiting for a thank you note, preferably the kind that comes in a basket of jams, jellies, and spreadable cheeses).
So there America was, placidly pre-slicing its bread when all of a sudden Hitler invades Poland, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and newly-appointed Food Administrator Claude R. Wickard decides on January 18, 1943 that, to conserve resources, America is going to do without sliced bread for a while. At the time, government officials explained to the New York Times that “the ready-sliced loaf must have a heavier wrapping than an unsliced one if it is not to dry out,” and that somehow wouldn’t do during a wartime pinch.
Almost immediately after the ban was announced, a woman wrote a letter to the Times explaining that, with all due respect to the wartime decision makers, they weren’t the ones who had to slice all the bread — she was, and, quite frankly, she didn’t want to:
I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that's ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry.
In the spirit of fair competition, no deli or bakery in New York was allowed to pre-slice its own bread, but Wickard rescinded the ban anyway in March of 1943, convinced that the savings the government intended through the ban of sliced bread were negligible. Also, slicing one’s own bread was perhaps the most frustrating pre-snack exercise imaginable, increasing the risk for finger lacerations, uneven toast slices, and crumbs, which, as we all now know, is how you get ants.
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