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The history behind 4 quick foods you'll probably eat during finals

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DECEMBER 16, 2013

As college students, we don’t always have time to consume healthy meals, so we rely on processed foods. When running off to class, we might quickly scarf down some cereal; for a quick dinner, we might make some ramen or have some pizza before a party. Nowadays, most of us take these foods for granted because they are so easily accessible when we need a quick bite before studying. But we probably never knew about the origins and histories of these four foods we turn to during the most stressful week of the semester.


The extent of most people’s knowledge about pizza is that it came from Italy. While Italian, it was made by the poor in the 1700s and 1800s in Naples, an originally Greek settlement. One story about how pizza gained popularity involved Queen Margherita. In 1889, after a war reunited the split Italy, Queen Margherita and King Umberto I traveled around Italy. Legend has it they were tired of eating French cuisine and asked Pizzeria Brandi, a pizza shop founded in 1760, to make an assortment of pizzas. Pizza margherita was named after the queen because it was her favorite kind of pizza: mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil. After this time period, the spread of pizza in the world outside of Naples remains relatively unknown. However, we do know pizza was first documented in the United States in 1905 at Lombardi’s, a pizzeria in Manhattan. The shop is still open today at a different location but with its original oven. After World War II, Italian Americans spread out across the United States, which helped increase the popularity of pizza as a quick, fun food.


A food item with a less clear history, its origin is highly debated, as some think it is Chinese and some think it is a Japanese food item invented in the 20th century. The etymology makes the origin more confusing because ramen might be the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word 拉麺, lamian, meaning “hand-pulled noodles.” Until the 1950s, ramen was widely called shina soba, which means “Chinese soba.” In the past, many Chinese restaurants in Japan and Cantonese and Shanghainese restaurants served ramen with toppings, salt and pork bone flavored broth. After World War II, many Japanese people began to sell ramen in restaurants made with cheap U.S. flour, but it was considered a dish for special occasions. The much less formal Top Ramen we college students know best was invented in 1958 by Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese founder of Nissin Foods. By 2008, 94 billion packages of instant ramen had been consumed per year. For those who are very interested in the history of ramen, a ramen museum opened in Yokohama in 1994.

Macaroni and cheese

A typical favorite and easy dish for most people, its history is also unclear. One of the earliest forms of pasta and cheese was a casserole called “makerouns” that was featured in a famous medieval English cookbook, “The Forme of Cury.” The first modern recipe for this dish was featured in a 1769 cookbook called “The Experienced English Housekeeper.” A similar dish became popular in the United States when President Thomas Jefferson imported macaroni and Parmesan cheese from Italy, serving a dish called “macaroni pie” at a state dinner. The dish would become strongly associated with the United States. The Kraft Foods boxed version we all know so well was introduced in 1937 during the Great Depression as a cheap source of food. Even though a lot of college students eat microwavable macaroni and cheese for its low price and quick preparation, many restaurants, such as Homeroom, Five and Angeline’s Kitchen are now making gourmet versions of the dish.


These days, cereals come in many sugary flavors, such as Reese’s Puffs, Lucky Charms and Trix. However, breakfast cereal was first produced during the Civil War to help with dyspepsia, which was caused by unhealthy high-protein diets. Dr. James Caleb Jackson believed water was the best healer and cleanser, so he mixed water with graham flour to bake “Granula.” John Harvey Kellogg created a cereal similar to Jackson’s that was named “Granola,” and he and his brother Will eventually developed the first commercial cereal flake called Granose Flakes. After the Kellogg brothers split up, Will went on to form the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which eventually turned into the Kellogg Company in 1922. Also in Battle Creek, Dr. Alexander P. Anderson made puffed rice and sold it to Quaker Oats in 1905. Cereal stayed healthy until 1939, when Ranger Joe Popped Wheat Honnies came to the cereal market and sweet cereals began to be manufactured. Radio and television advertisements increased the popularity of cereals, and cartoon characters and kids mixed to popularize the breakfast cereals we know in the United States today.

Image sources: Matt DeTurck, Steven Depolo, camknows, Mark H. Anbinder and laffy4k under Creative Commons

Contact Annie Chang at [email protected].

DECEMBER 16, 2013

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