Friday, September 24, 2010

Flabbergasted Friday – How Did Our Ancestors Survive Lunch??

I’m having a ball transcribing the journals of my great grandmother, Elvirta Knutz.  The “current” year is 1956.  They loved to take “day trips”, and pack their own lunches rather than eating at restaurants, in order to economize. 
Each year they would visit the South Dakota State Fair at Huron.  They’d make an incredibly fun day of it.  My Aunt Mabel, the fourth of five children, told of how her mother would spend the whole day beforehand frying chicken and preparing potato salad, and then on the day of the trip, they’d get up early and pack everything they’d need into the trunk of the car, including the food, and drive to Huron.  They’d spend all morning at the livestock barns and seeing all the machinery and other attractions, then take a break and head back to the car, where they’d sit in the hot early September sun, in the treeless parking lot, but oh, how that fried chicken and potato salad tasted so good!
Another time they took a “day trip” to Pierre, South Dakota, to watch the Oahe Dam being built.  From their farm, it was close to a four-hour drive.  After seeing the dam, and touring the general area, they found a lovely riverside park, where they… you guessed it… pulled their lunch from the trunk and ate it.  Afterwards, they toured the Capital building, made several stops on their way home, and once there, pulled the remainder of the lunch from the car and finished it off.
Having my formal education in the field of microbiology, I was appalled, but apparently, this was not an uncommon practice.  The New England Journal of Medicine, in the November 19, 1953 issue, published a report by Dr. K. F. Meyer stating that contamination with E. coli, Clostridium perfringens (the bug you get from improperly canned foods), among other nasty little germs, “has been implicated in food-poisoning outbreaks.”  He goes on to say that “the true etiologic significance of the bacteria incriminated has never been satisfactorily proved.”  Yikes!
Many times, while going through very old death registers, I’ve seen cause of death attributed to diarrhea, or some vague stomach complaint.  I wonder how many of these were caused by the family’s lunch? 

(Image courtesy of


  1. As a kid we used to take picnic lunches on trip all the time. I don't recall eating out while taking days trips all that often. When we did it was a real treat. Now that you mention this....I'm really glad we have good ice chests these days!

  2. Hmmmm, never thought of it that way,

    I will now! LOL

    Surprise, our generation, for the most part, survived.

    Ditto Michelle tho, I kinda like my ice chests!

  3. If they didn't survive, where would we be today? I always dreamed about time travel, but I know that if I went back in time I would probably drop dead of some small bacterium that our ancestors lived with everyday. Our world has become so sanitized, so overly cleansed, that now our immune systems react to every little germ.

  4. Interesting insight. I agree with Heather, we are super aware of every bacteria and germ. My M-in-L once mentioned to me how they didn't have refrigeration when she was a child, and they often reheated food that was just sitting around the kitchen for the day. On the colder winter days, food could be kept cool outside. Many people could and did survive those lunches, but not all...

  5. Growing up in the 1960's, mom would always pack a lunch for a day trip. We did have a round ice chest to keep things cool. We also had thermos bottles. I don't remember ANY of us getting sick. It seems like in recent years I have had more cases of food poisoning than at any other time in my life. Are you sure is was the packed lunches and not the food from eating out that caused food poisioning, even back then?

  6. The stories I'm referring to were NOT cool packed at all. Just put into a box in the trunk.