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1949 – the First Pillsbury Bake-Off begins in New York City. Image Source:

FSRG talk – Shortcuts, mixes and the transformation of American home baking, 1949-1969

November 16, 2018 — 

The next Food Systems Research Group seminar takes place November 28. We invite you to join us and be a part of the discussion.

Our fall FSRG research knowledge sharing series continues with the seminar “Shortcuts, mixes, and the transformation of American home baking: The Pillsbury Bake-Off and the promotion of convenience foods, 1949-1969” by Dr. Sarah Elvins, Associate Professor of the Department of History. Join us Wednesday, November 28 at 1:30 pm in 409 Tier Building. 


In the decades following World War II, American home cooks were inundated with advertisements and magazine articles suggesting how convenience products could transform their families’ diets.  Food manufacturers encouraged home cooks to rethink their own involvement in meal preparation, suggesting time-pressed modern wives and mothers could abandon “old-fashioned” approaches to cooking and substitute packaged mixes, pre-made items, and shelf-stable jars and cans to modernize meal preparation.   

Dr. Sarah Elvins 

The popular Pillsbury Bake-Off contest offers unique insight into the changes in food marketing and promotion in the postwar era.  Contestants were encouraged to submit family favourite recipes or innovative creations which highlighted the use of Pillsbury products.  By the 1960s, the contest had transformed so that recipes were required to use not simply Pillsbury flour but other prepared ingredients and shortcuts like frozen foods, cake mixes, premade piecrusts, and refrigerated dough.  The Pillsbury Bake-Off provides a means to explore both the practices of American home cooks and the power of food manufacturers to shape notions of modernity and skill. 


Dr. Sarah Elvins is a historian of American culture and business.  Her research has explored the history of consumer culture, covering topics ranging from the rise of the department store, the lure of cross-border shopping for Canadians, and the use of alternative currency during the Great Depression.  She is currently at work on a new project on corporate recipes and American food culture.  She teaches courses in U.S. politics, popular culture, and most recently, on the history of American food, where she introduced a lab component that allowed student to experiment with cooking with historic recipes.


Each month during the regular session we will hold a presentation and discussion session, so that as a research community we can learn from each other about the breadth and diversity of food systems research happening across our campus. The location of the session will vary depending on the host Faculty. The session consists of a 30 minute presentation followed by 30 minutes of discussion which will begin at 3:00 unless otherwise noted.


  • Jan 30 – Organic and ecological agriculture research and teaching at the University: Building on 27 years of exploration– Martin Entz, Professor, Plant Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (130 Agriculture Building)
  • Feb 27 – An offering: Lakota Elders contributions to the future of food security– Mary Kate Dennis, Assistant Professor, Indigenous Knowledges Program (MSW-IK), Faculty of Social Work  (409 Tier Building)
  • Mar 27 – Protecting Canada’s crops using next generation molecular fungicides– Mark Belmonte, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science (Location TBD)


The Food Systems Research Group – a joint initiative by Agriculture, Environment, Science, and Arts Faculties – is an umbrella group fostering the creation of multi/trans-disciplinary collaborative research to advance the UofM signature research theme of Safe, Healthy, Just, and Sustainable Food Systems.

 Faculty and students are welcome to join the FSRG. Email foodsystems [at] umanitoba [dot] ca to join our mailing list to be informed of future events and activities of this diverse group.


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