One Nation Over Coals: Cold War Nationalism and the Barbecue

Kristin Matthews

Abstract


1950s Americans fervently embraced the barbecue in attempts to understand themselves and their place in an uncertain world. Barbecue extended a ready-made analogy to those seeking national fortification; just as red meat’s protein and iron nourished the individual body, its consumption strengthened the body politic in the face of continued geopolitical conflict and shifting domestic structures. Postwar barbecue culture celebrated democracy’s bounty, fortitude, and might; invoked American values of ingenuity, community, and progress; and invited individuals to find security in a shared heritage of American exceptionalism. Simultaneously, it excluded populations who threatened its white, heterosexual, home-owning image of model citizenry. This exclusivity, however, signals awareness of the presence and permanence of political and social change. Thus, postwar barbecue is a contested site, the examination of which illuminates our understanding of the ideological and ontological struggles in Cold War America.

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American Studies. ISSN 0026-3079.

This electronic publication is supported by the University of Kansas Libraries