Kim Severson
April 23, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It’s easy to sugarcoat American food of the 1950s as a menu of marshmallow salad and frozen dinners served by housewives happily freed of kitchen drudgery. Shapiro upends that notion, showing that women were loath to give up home cooking in favor of prepackaged food, despite the efforts of manufacturers who created icons like Betty Crocker. Not only did innovations like canned deep-fried hamburgers and dehydrated wine taste terrible, convenience food had another problem: ”The moral obligation to cook simply was not satisfied.” Shapiro laces her dissection of ’50s kitchen domesticity with enough statistics and social theory to fill a feminist research paper. Like many processed foods, Something doesn’t quite satisfy.

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