Anyone who has grown up in America at any point over the past century has some familiarity with Betty Crocker, Little Debbie, and Ronald McDonald, as well as dozens of others whose faces smile at us from packages of food. The relationship we form to these familiar figures is real, even if they’re the faces of people who never existed.
I’ve always admired my beloved Betty Crocker’s baking mixes and cookbooks—she reminds me of the kind of grandmother that I never had. She felt as real, as evergreen as the Douglas Fir trees in my home state. But then I discovered the truth about Betty Crocker—more on that later—which sent me on a hunt to discover the truth about the other food icons that grace our grocery shelves and drive-thrus. As it turns out, many of these figures have an interesting history, even if they never lived to tell it.