The Jell-O Age

Originally published in Gather Journal: Senses Issue

Who can deny the lurid allure of sixties-era home cooking? A nation ready to colonize the moon was also ready to eat futuristically, and so America welcomed a new culinary modality in which pre-fabricated products represented sophistication. Throughout the decade, technology birthed space-age snacks like Pop-Tarts, Dream Whip, and Starburst candies, but perhaps the sixties dish most stubbornly stuck in our collective memory is the one most reflective of the era’s domestic ideal of orderly elegance. That is: Jell-O salad. Not a new concept back then, but one at the peak of its popularity in the sixties, when housewives embraced the power to trap the unsightly chaos of chopped produce within a forcefield of gleaming gelatin. In her pictorial survey of Western cuisine, Feast for the Eyes, curator Susan Bright cites sixties cookbooks (now in Technicolor!) as social documents for the modern historian’s edification. “The garish colors had a lot to do with technical advances in color printing, so they look very gauche to us now, but must have been amazing at the time amongst all that black and white,” says Bright. On the cookbooks’ pages, alien-hued jellies quiver with the conviction that nothing could be more appetizing. 
© Adrienne Matei 2017