Canned food, mediation and food practices

Canned food, mediation and food practices in Belgium and the Netherlands, 1930-1980

Jon Verriet

Canned foods caused a paradigm shift in food preservation, shopping, cooking, and eating. Their cultural significance, however, has hardly been studied. This project examines the discourse that helped shape the image of canned foods in Belgium and the Netherlands. Its central research question is: how did the image of canned foods in the twentieth-century Low Countries develop over time?

The main sources for this project are Belgian and Dutch commercial women’s magazines and consumer guides, which were widely read, and which influenced the popularisation of this crucial invention by mediating between producer and consumer. While the entire twentieth century will be covered, the focus is decidedly on 1930-1980, capturing the broad dissemination and the (start of the) decline of canned foods. The chosen period will offer three specific circumstances that may have altered the image of canned foods: the crisis of the 1930s, World War II and the recovery period, and the emergence of alternatives – especially frozen foods – in the 1960s and 1970s.

An important theme will be studying this invention as both a consequence and a catalyst of modern times; canned foods provided modernity as an everyday experience, bringing the industrialized outside world into the home. This theme, and others, will be the subject of quantitative discourse analysis with the use of signifying words (e.g., ‘modern’, ‘innovative’, ‘dangerous’) A close-reading will then into cultural and historical references extant in the source material. In the end, a diachronic and comparative history of canned foods will be formulated, showing the modern food experiences of consumers in the Low Countries.