"Choosy Moms Choose Jif" was a long-standing ad campaign for Jif peanut butter, one of the two leading peanut butter brands in the United States. Each advertisement featured a devoted mother, generally idolized by her friends as a "supermom", who shockingly claims that all peanut butter brands taste alike. After her friends wave a bottle of jif under her nose, she (who has apparently lived most of her life as a homemaker without ever having contact with one of the two main brands of American peanut butter) admits that Jif does smell and taste more like "fresh roasted peanuts", and therefore decides to choose Jif. The campaign was persistent and lasted for the better part of two decades, and became a proto-meme of sorts: the late David Foster Wallace used "Choosy Moms" as a rock band name in his novel Infinite Jest.

These commercials seem quaint now. Some of my readers who are a decade or so younger than me might not realize there was a time when there was only two big brands of peanut butter in the United States, and that each was an identical mixture of peanuts, hydrogenated oil and sugar. There was Adams Peanut Butter, but it was a speciality item. And you couldn't walk into a local grocery store and get almond butter or sunflower butter. What did people with peanut allergies do in the 1980s? We didn't really have peanut allergies in the 1980s, either. Given so little actual differences in products, the protofoodies of yesteryear had to base their decisions on things like this, an ad campaign that denied the rather obvious fact that all peanut butter was the same.

A second issue that this advertising campaign raises is that it publicly states a tacit belief, which I am thankful for. Often, when investigating the culture around me, there are underlying thoughts and beliefs that I notice, but are hard to find concrete examples of. One of these is the belief or expectation that women are more selective, more likely to make fine distinctions, and more capable of rejecting things based on subtle differences. But while making large generalizations about untold cultural expectations are difficult, sometimes a specific example can be found. The "Choosy Moms Choose Jif" campaign is one such example. Because the commercials target women's fears of not being selective enough: by failing to make a distinction between two products, the woman's status of a paragon of taste is threatened. This is even more obvious because, as mentioned, there was little to no actual difference between peanut butter brands at the time. The style of selectivity must be maintained, even while the substance of selectivity is absent.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LOT78zhA5w: the genesis of the campaign.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEDpx9PMfFc-Behold the 1980s, in all their glory.

From a female "choosy mom" perspective, in the 1970's, I bought organic peanuts from a food co-op and made my own peanut butter, using cold-pressed sunflower oil, raw honey and lightly toasted sunflower seeds, in the proportions to complement the protein, since I was a vegetarian at the time. Time consuming, but in my mid-twenties, I had more energy and thought I knew everything. I guess you could say I was "choosy", just not in the traditional sense.


Growing up during the 1950's and 1960's, we ate whatever peanut butter my father bought on Wonder Bread. As the new kid in school when we moved to New Jersey, everyone thought I was weird for not liking jelly. I still don't like peanut butter with jelly, or jam, or bananas, or Marshmallow Fluff (as in fluffernutters). I stopped getting teased for that when I pulled out of my red plaid lunch box a boiled tongue sandwich.


A quick bit of peanut butter branding history in the USA: the top three brands were/are: Jif (ironically owned by Smucker's, as in Smucker's jelly, jam and preserves), whose pre-1980's slogan was actually "Choosy mothers choose Jif", and whose current politically correct slogan is "Choosy moms and dads choose Jif". Skippy brand peanut butter, which had started in the mid-1930's, had former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello as spokesperson, followed by Derek Jeter in the 1990's, and is the only peanut butter website of the top three brands to include an Allergy Info FAQ page. Peter Pan peanut butter is hanging onto the third most popular spot despite the salmonella scare of 2006, and despite a low level of advertising.


When my sons were in elementary school, I volunteered to be a lunch aide, which required an hour long video on peanut allergies and what to do to avoid incidents or how to administer medication in the event of anaphylaxis. This was in the early 1990's, when many schools and airlines were becoming sensitive to the life-threatening allergy.


As far as "we didn't really have peanut allergies in the 1980s", I beg to differ. It's similar to many issues that were either not reported or in this current instant-technology-and-information-explosion, we are aware of so much more. We can watch crimes, war, death, baby puppies, all-the-news-you-can-eat, minutes after events occur. Personally, I don't think it truly helps us, but rather feeds into the insatiable voyeurism that rages rampant, often taking on a life of its own, whether it's true or not. Stories in the news don't feed us but dissipate after a few days, becoming insignificant and ultimately unsatisfying. For whatever reasons, WE WANT MORE.


Which brings me back to peanut butter, one of the all-time comfort foods. Think about it. What is it we really want more of? I think it's simplicity, comfort, a calm voice in the chaos. But now, in 2014, you can be as choosy as you want about your peanut butter in an ordinary grocery store from numerous brands in smooth, chunky, extra chunky, reduced-fat, no sugar added, natural, organic, generic, in addition to other nut butters. In my family, everyone has a different texture preference, so I purchase whatever they want, but have returned to making my own mixture for myself.


In conclusion, trivia facts from one of the many peanut butter websites: 96% of people who eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches put the peanut butter on the bread first. Apparently, we have the Aztecs to thank, as first known makers of peanut butter. As well as Canada, who had a popular brand called Squirrel, which later became Skippy. Last, check out this theory on peanut allergies about when and why they started. If you're interested, do the research, people! See if you can find out how Elvis and Hemingway preferred their peanut butter sandwiches! Which brand is most popular in China? And who among us has not eaten peanut butter straight from the jar with a spoon?

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