Forging a national diet: Beef and the political economy of plenty in postwar America
Few foods items are more associated with the United States than beef yet it was not until the 1950s that Americans ate more beef than any other meat. The triumph of mass beef consumption was not accidental or a preordained event. As this dissertation argues, beef became the most consumed meat in America because of a policy enacted by a succession of presidential administrations and was aided by popular demand. Beef policy, as understood by its enactors, was an attempt at creating a nation undifferentiated by diet and unified by eating a meal fit for the leader of the free world. Drawing on primary research materials found at the National Archives in College Park, MD, and at five presidential archives, along with government publications and beef industry literature, this work shines a light on a policy of domestic security that went unnamed and uncelebrated yet had a profound effect on how Americans ate. Within the five presidential administrations between 1945 and 1974 could be found a dedication to securing economic peace between producers and consumers as each side battled over the shape of the economy after World War II. This work situations beef policy within several historical fields, including the history of policy and politics, food studies, environmental history, social history, and women’s history. By drawing on a diverse group of fields, this dissertation uncovers the complex factors that transformed a nation of aspirational beef eaters into literal ones.