Man shall not live by bread alone.
That doesn’t mean he can’t take advantage of a really good sale if he sees one, though.
Not sure if that’s six whites, or six wheats; nor do I know who in the family would have eaten the rye.
But, after consulting my dad and aunt, it’s clear to me that my grandparents and great-grandma chose Oct. 24, 1974, as the day for one serious baked-goods run.
Sounds silly, perhaps; but this brief calendar entry captures a particular moment in American time.
The ’70s were an inflationary decade, and food costs were very much susceptible to that pressure. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that prices for food consumed at home rose an average of 8.1 percent per year during the decade, with particularly strong shocks in the first part of the decade.
Those price pressures reverberated in numerous ways. Some American housewives angry over the skyrocketing price of beef tried to organize meat boycotts, as captured on this Time magazine cover of April 1973.
(As a man who does most of his household’s grocery shopping, it feels remarkably sexist to me to say “housewives” led the battle against expensive food. But that ain’t a working father stamping his foot on the cover of Time, now, is it?)
In November 1974, just two weeks after my grandparents’ epic bread run, Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent lost his bid for re-election to challenger Michael Dukakis. In his concession speech, Sargent blamed “the price of hamburg” as a main contributor to his defeat.
So what’s this got to do with my grandparents’ bread binge?
Well, Norwalk, Connecticut, two towns up the coast from Stamford, happens to be the corporate headquarters of Pepperidge Farm. (Remember?)
There’s a Pepperidge Farm outlet store there, too.
So, what we most likely have here is my grandparents and great-grandma going to the outlet store to save money stocking up on cut-priced bread.
No doubt they wedged a few loaves into their tiny freezer. Maybe they also picked up a loaf or two as a favor to my other grandparents in Stamford.
I do not think this was a case of excessive food-buying, as was sometimes seen among people who had survived the hunger of the Depression. (My other grandma, for instance, routinely kept enough chicken parts in her freezer to feed the Buffalo Bills.)
But I don’t believe that was a factor here. My grandparents were more frugal than that, and excessive stocking up was not a common behavior for them. Plus, they didn’t have a whole lot of storage space.
The price of bread probably didn’t spike as sharply in 1974 as the price of beef and other goods. Still, three senior citizens on fixed incomes would have been looking for any chance to save on their grocery bills. They might have paid a little extra for gas, but maybe they felt like they made that up by buying bread in bulk.
That’s what my mom thinks, anyway:
It is possible they were getting bread for themselves and someone else (maybe Nana to save her a trip?)
They were dedicated bread eaters. Your father thinks this is an extreme amount to purchase but I don’t.
(When I kick off, I should like to be remembered by my kin as a “dedicated bread eater.” I need to get busy on that.)
My aunt confirms:
I distinctly remember Drawing Boy going on missions to an outlet store to buy bread. Pepperidge Farm was their bread of choice so I imagine that was it.
Keep in mind that your grandmother would go to any lengths to save a penny, especially on groceries, so maybe Drawing Boy calculated that they would save a few pennies by driving to Norwalk for discounted bread!
My dad, meanwhile, suggests they were stocking up for some special event — perhaps a picnic at the Methodist church.
I don’t have record of that; I suppose it’s possible. But even if they didn’t eat all that bread themselves, it’s still clear that they went out of their way to get it. And there’s no real reason they would have done that except to score a discount — which fits right in with the inflationary mood of the times.
Of course, the price of bread ain’t getting any cheaper nowadays, either. Google the phrase “price of bread” and you’ll read about numerous places — London, Lagos and Sydney, to name a few — where bread prices have significantly jumped, mainly because of the current U.S. drought.
Bread costs more than it used to here in the U.S., too, but it still makes up a relatively small part of the average American household’s grocery bill. Most of us can still find room in the budget for a basic loaf of wheat or white. (Or we can invest in some flour, salt and yeast and bake our own.)
And that’s worth a quiet moment of appreciation. I may go take a couple of slices, toast ’em brown and slather them with (salted) butter.
May we all have the basic staples of life when we want them … even if we decide to drive a couple of towns over to get them for cheap.