Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A home-style design on the 1959 book.

Teaching students privately is a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, you tend to get a better quality of student who is diligent, more personable, and more goal-oriented. Teaching such students is several cuts above the dead-eyed, lifeless experience of teaching in fast food English conversation schools which are quite often catch-alls for people who have to study rather than a large group of people who really want to.

One of the two books my student has (from 1961), with whimsical artwork.

On the other hand, there's a lot more time spent in preparation for such students which is off the clock. While you don't have to do extra work for such students, depending on their specific needs, you really should if you want to give them a good lesson. However, there's often something in this extra preparation for the teacher if she approaches it with the attitude that learning for the sake of the student is also a form of learning for the teacher.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my students wants to be a journalist and she wants to write about Betty Crocker for a lifestyle magazine. To that end, I've been investigating Betty Crocker cookbooks so that I can help her (hopefully) develop an article that will be accepted at some point. Since she's particularly interested in the '60s books because of their style, I've also been researching what are considered the hallmarks of 1960s style.

A book from 1972 with rather funky text (reflecting '60s psychedelic style).

Doing this has actually been more difficult than one might imagine since the focal point of most articles is on the psychedelic and drug-based counterculture of the late '60s and not on more mundane aspects of domestic life among the non-hippie generation. While those elements were certainly a big part of the '60s, there was also a strong thread of transition from the '50s leading into the early '60s that tends not to get any attention, but you can see it reflected in the items targeted at housewives throughout the decade. Also, a lot of what is considered '60s style is actually early '70s style.

A book from 1980 which is starting to see a cleaner look, but still using relative bold text elements.

Most interestingly though, by looking at the covers of the cookbooks and the titles, you can actually make a very good guess as to when they were made. The style of the era is reflected not only in the artwork, the photographic style, and types of dishes, but also in the fonts used. You can see a definite trend from somewhat plain with country or home-style designs with a bit of a flourish to overly-stylized to sophisticated in the text styling and layout. There's also a transition from a focus on entertaining and catering to guests in the book's titles to a focus on faster meal preparation for the family that reflects the changing roles of women from the '50s to the '90s.

White tends to be used more in the most modern layout styles as it has been accepted as more of a use of space for design purposes rather than a byproduct of not wanting to do full color printing. This book from 1996 reflects that.

I'd like to persuade my student to make the article she's writing about either the way the books reflect their times in terms of food, style, and women's roles, but I believe she's fixated on the two cookbooks she has and the artwork in them. The main problem with this is that I'm not sure there's enough to say in this regard, especially after I had to disabuse her of the notion that those two books represented the entirety of "Betty Crocker" styling throughout the decades of the company's release of cookbooks. If nothing else, I now have a deeper understanding of why her original article was rejected. The suppositions she made and the claims she asserted were simply based on too little research and a lot of erroneous conclusions.


Kanagawa G said...

What an interesting idea your student has. I have fond memories of my mother's cookbook from as far back as I can remember. I saw it again for the first time in about 8 years at Christmas-time and the memories came flooding back. The well worn pages and stained cover tell the story of years of warm cookies and cassaroles.

It is quite common for people to take a little fact and a lot of misperceptions when drawing conclusions about foreign cultures. I have a friend who has lived for more than 10 years in the US and speaks English at a near-native level who has a totally different idea of US culture than another friend who only lived there for a few months (of which most of the time was spent in Japanese restaurants).

One can never research too much when preparing an article for publication. Call it professional responsibility, if you may.

CMUwriter said...

That is very interesting? Why is your student so interested in Betty Crocker? I would be neat to take a gander at her story when she is finished.

Shari said...

KangawaG: I think that it's understandable for folks to not really know a whole culture well as it's pretty vast and we can't experience all of it (just selected bits), but being able to research a cookbook isn't quite so vast a thing. I think she just didn't look very far because even doing so didn't occur to her, oddly enough!

FWIW, I'm not even sure Americans know what America culture really is as it's so variable. I guess that's what happens when you have a federalist system of government and your country is a patchwork of areas originally settled by various countries.

cmuwriter: She's mainly interested in the whimsical styles of two cookbooks she picked up at a used book shop. The drawings are in the same style as the animated sequence that precedes episodes of "Bewitched", though they are just line art (not full color). It's not that she's interested in Betty Crocker, but she liked the look of the books and just broadened her view from there.

Unfortunately, the original article and any subsequent article will be in Japanese so I couldn't share it with people if I wanted to. Also, she's not likely to even give me the Japanese version as it doesn't concern her lessons in that format.

Many thanks to both of you for commenting!

Kanagawa G said...

I would be interested reading the Japanese, if she wouldn't mind telling you what magazine/issue it will be in. It might make for an interesting reverse-cultural study.

Shari said...

KanagawaG: I'm sorry that I took awhile to reply to this comment. It slipped my mind a few times and it took awhile to get back to it!

Unfortunately, since the article didn't have a soundly-based premise, the magazine rejected it and will not be published. If she ever does get it published, I'll let you know!