Farm Workers Picking Oranges

Graduate Student Profiles

Clare Gordon Bettencourt

Cohort Year: 2015

Advisor: Dr. Yong Chen
First Field: U.S. History
Second Field: World History

Dissertation Title: Bread and Butter Policy: America’s Food Identity Standards, 1938-2020

Dissertation abstract:

“An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess” - Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, July 2018

In recent years, the popularity of plant-based products like almond milk has prompted a debate about what constitutes “milk”. This debate isn’t just for foodies; it reflects the FDA’s power to oversee the naming of foods through a little known provision initially created as a part of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938: food identity standards. Presently, there are about 300 food identity standards in effect that dictate the ingredients and naming of many common foods like bread, peanut-butter, and cheese. These provisions hold a massive influence on America’s food supply, yet currently there are no comprehensive studies on the history of these standards.
My dissertation traces the history of the FDA’s food identity standards to understand how these regulations were written, and who they were meant to protect. My research suggests that the history of food identity standards is not simply the history of a little-known provision, but a reflection of industrial, cultural, and economic transformations of the twentieth century.