Back in 1974, while I was toiling away on my mega-detailed Family of Four project—Home Economics majors at Mansfield State College know what I’m talking about–little did I know that the health experts at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company were already hard at work producing weekly menu plans for the masses. There’s no date on the above booklet, but my guess, judging by the emphasis on liver and split pea soup, may be during the 30s or 40s?? The front-page illustration of a perfectly set table–complete with water goblet, bread and butter plate, cup and saucer and centerpiece–echoes back to another time. It’s how June Cleaver probably sat down to dinner as a child, which explains those pearls.
As anxious as I am to start my weekly Old Food cooking forays, there are many recipes inside this meal planner that won’t be making the trip into the 21st century: creamed liver, liver loaf, liver with rice, baked liver with vegetables, scalloped potatoes and liver, and finally, liver-stuffed green peppers. Perhaps there was a Bubba Gump liver man on the loose at Metropolitan Insurance back in the day.
All the liver-loving aside, this booklet must have been a useful resource for a homemaker/nutritionist who was pinching pennies while trying to feed her husband and kids. There are charts aplenty offering how many pounds of potatoes and dried beans and butter and lard (yes, lard!!), stew meat and vegetables of all kinds to have on hand for any given week. There are sample budgets and shopping lists and menu ideas that are enough to make you cry, especially when you see headlines like: “Menus to be used when the amount to spend is very limited.” The cereal and milk breakfasts look familiar enough, but when you get to dinner and supper, you know you’re encountering American life a long time ago–oatmeal chowder, scalloped cabbage, pork liver with rice.
For the less destitute, there are “Slightly Higher Cost Menus” which include more fruits, salads and meat. Here you’ll see suggestions for adding an orange for breakfast and a wider array of vegetables for dinner: broccoli, creamed carrots, spinach, escarole salad. There are lots of creamed soups and gelatin salads and puddings to fill in and fill up.
And for the mineral-deficient, there’s another set of menus with heavy emphasis on organ meats, seafood and greens.
Like now, food was vital for good health, but with such a pronounced emphasis on food amounts, food budgets and cheaper ingredients, it’s easy to see the connection between lean times and lean plates. Three Meals a Day: Suggestions for Good Food at Low Cost is rich food history with a theme. Some of us who menu plan do it now because we’re on special eating plans involving points and carbs and calories, which seems so absurd when put alongside this survival guide.
I don’t normally say grace before a meal, but from now on I may at least bow my head. For a split second before I dig in, I’ll need to contemplate my blessings.