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Why is Jell-O Such an American Staple?

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  • Tip Bones

I was preparing some sugar free gelatin as a dessert yesterday-- quarantine diet, you know-- and it struck me as it's occurred to many before me: why is gelatin so enduring in American culture? Without the flavorings and additives we've come to love, it doesn't taste like anything, and it's not especially beautiful on its own. And why would it be? Gelatin is just the heavily boiled connective tissues and bones from animals. Since the concept is anything but appetizing, why do we care about the famous wiggly stuff at all?

The short answer: status. Any home cook who has made a jiggly concoction knows that gelatin requires refrigeration to set properly, and in decades past, such a luxury as a refrigerator wasn't a household necessity. Therefore, serving Jell-O at home was something of a flex on income, showing off the family's considerable wealth. This doesn't just apply to the 1950s, either! Centuries before, noble houses would serve gelatin in order to flaunt their money, as well. Once gelatin and refrigerators became commonplace, it was just a way to show off a cook's thriftiness and skill in presenting an economical and beautiful meal in any flavor.

But why we added olives to it, I'll never know.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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