I read Priya Krishna’s history of yogurt in America, published in Vox, while eating my own bowl of breakfast yogurt with granola and strawberries. This is how many Americans eat their yogurt. Compared to the rest of the world—specifically southeast Asia and the Middle East, where yogurt is an essential ingredient for making sauces, marinades, and breads—this is an elementary and unimaginative way to eat yogurt. But, hey, they’ve known about yogurt for thousands of years while we’ve only had it in our stores for about 50, so cut us a little slack, maybe?
Krishna’s story begins with yogurt’s first appearance in America, where it was initially scorned because it tasted tart, something our sugar-loving palates had been trained to associate with spoiled food. But Dannon was not defeated! It aired a television commercial featuring old people talking about how they owed their longevity to a steady diet of yogurt, and then it started manufacturing Fruit On The Bottom and other yogurts with sprinkles and candy and sugar. It was an American miracle food: it tasted like dessert, but it was good for you!
Over the years, yogurt embraced just about every other American food fad. Greek yogurt had protein. Icelandic yogurt was artisanal. Nondairy yogurt was, uh, not dairy, and it tasted good. High-fat yogurt was a healthier indulgence than ice cream. And all boosted by the power of advertising until it took over the whole damned dairy aisle. It’s such a gloriously American story, and a lot of fun to read.