No Cake Mixes Wanted

HiddenPersuadersby Anniel  12/5/14
Thank You, Vance Packard  •  I became the family cookie and cake baker very young because my father always wanted some treat he could serve with the coffee when his friends dropped by. We kept chickens so only fresh eggs were used, and we churned our own butter, which meant not much Crisco for us. I loved baking with a passion.

Mr. Vance Packard wrote an important best seller published in 1957 called The Hidden Persuaders. I was young but decided to read the book to learn about Madison Avenue and the manipulation used by con-men and hucksters. There had been other men who tried to warn Americans about Snake Oil Salesmen and the like, but Packard’s book was the first really popular book on the subject available to me.

I was horrified by the outright Freudian psychology and manipulation described in the book, but the story that made me the angriest had to do with my passion for baking and caused me to become almost rabid in my desire to never be conned by advertisers.

As Mr. Packard tells the tale, cake mixes were introduced to the public in a big way shortly after World War II, but failed to make any sales headway. The manufacturers knew the cakes were every bit as good as home-made, and were much more convenient since all you had to do was add water, beat and bake. But women just wouldn’t buy the mixes.. All sorts of marketing ploys were used, but mixes seemed a losing proposition.[pullquote]To me he looks like a cadaver and even has purple lips to complete the picture . . . Obama’s narcissism and psychopathy were in evidence from the beginning.[/pullquote]

Someone finally decided to do a psychological study on why women bake cakes. What they discovered was that, to women, baking a cake is symbolically making a new baby for the family. (If you bake 2 cakes, do you present the family with twins?) Armed with this knowledge, the manufacturers removed powdered eggs from the mixes and began a campaign directed at women telling them “You Add The Fresh Eggs.” And cake mixes promptly took over the world.

I was incredulous when I read that account. What the heck, I had been baking babies for my dad and dumb brothers all those years?

I stewed over this revelation for days. I found the whole concept revolting and humiliating to women – probably the only feminist leaning I ever had.
In the end, as more and more women turned to cake mixes, it was clear we were all being psychologically manipulated, and I found it embarrassing.

My decision about what I would, and would not buy changed me forever.
I vowed not to be swayed by advertising of any sort, and, most importantly, I would never, not ever, use a cake mix. I would bake everything, cookies, cakes, pies, bread, from scratch. So there, Mr Psychologist.

In the 57 years since I read Mr. Packard’s book I have stuck to my guns and maybe used 2 or 3 cake mixes when I absolutely had to, as when several people had to bring the same cakes to a social event. The no mixes rule also went into effect for pie crust and other items.

One of my real triumph’s was Mrs. Edgar’s Buttermilk Cake Recipe, with 14 whole eggs, 1 pound of butter, etc., per loaf and cholesterol be damned. When my husband was a Scoutmaster and took his troop out winter hiking, or, worse yet, camping in snow caves so the boys could earn their 100 Degrees Below Merit Badge (sleeping out enough nights below freezing to equal 100 degrees), he wanted something to fortify the cold and whining boys on the hike home. Mrs. Edgar’s cake never fell apart in a pack, sliced easily, and it never failed, the boys loved it. Funny, but 25 years later one of the boys who had left Alaska called to get the recipe because he was a new scoutmaster and wanted a reliable treat for his own troop members. I was proud to pass it on.

Angel Food Cake was always great because one could also use the yolks for Yellow Sponge Cake (there go those twins again, fraternal of course). Uncle Dick is visiting from San Francisco? Wow him by baking a Golden Gate Cake. Does anyone besides my kids know what a real Red Velvet Cake tastes like? Chocolate, lemon, banana, cakes and pies, anyone hungry yet? Breads, biscuits, popovers. Oh it was fun, and all because of Mr. Packard.

But the biggest gift from The Hidden Persuaders was my distrust of all things politicians had to say. The first time I heard Bill Clinton’s voice I had to leave the room because I knew he was a liar. I never listened to the State of the Union Addresses, nor anything else that man ever spoke, and Hillary’s voice is just cringe inducing. I’m afraid I would believe anything about those people, just from their voices.

If Al Gore had become President I would have boycotted his stuff, too, but more out of boredom. His lies and cardboard delivery were so hilarious at times I almost felt sorry for him. I always felt sorry for Tipper and his kids.

George W. became an enigma to me. His voice and accent were peculiar, however I found his gaffes kind of endearing. But to never defend himself, ever? Even if Carl Rove told him not to, he should have pulled up his big-boy pants and acted like a man with some pride. Now I wonder if he is a masochist, I mean he and Bill Clinton are brothers from different mothers? It’s bad enough that his father and Billy Boy have teamed up at times. And for W. to overlook Obama’s insulting behavior? Hmm, maybe that’s why he and Clinton have become so lovey-dovey, to diss Barack. Everything I hear from Bush these days leaves me shaking my head. Has he just lost his mind?

And then along came Obama. All the grandiosity and self adulation. I have a friend who thought he was so handsome and a wonderful husband and father, all the usual hype. To me he looks like a cadaver and even has purple lips to complete the picture. I cannot listen to his voice at all, and when Rush Limbaugh plays a sound byte and Obama goes off teleprompter and starts stuttering and stammering I have to run to turn the radio off. Obama’s narcissism and psychopathy were in evidence from the beginning. But that may have been because I stayed so often in Hyde Park and knew of his shady Chicago dealings and his wife’s supposed “job” at the University of Chicago Hospital. The urinary tract problems and the wonders of the creases in his slacks so beloved by BarackO’s supporters are just plain silly.

Oh, Mr. Packard what have you wrought? You made me a Conservative.

How about calling this a Book Review? I can now tell you that the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Hidden Persuaders, published in 2007, with a Forward and Critique by Mark Crispin Miller, is available at Amazon, and on Kindle.

Consider reading, or rereading, this somewhat dated but wonderful book, with or without any kind of cake. • (1993 views)

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26 Responses to No Cake Mixes Wanted

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    What they discovered was that, to women, baking a cake is symbolically making a new baby for the family

    I read somewhat the same thing in a marketing or advertising book years ago. But the story was a little different. It said it had been determined that with an absolutely instant (just add water) cake mix, it was thought by women to be a shirking of their duties as a home maker. But when they had to add eggs (and whatever), that overcame the threshold.

    Given our fast-food culture of destroyed palates and Democratically slobbish vulgarities, it may seem ludicrous that anyone could care to do something loving, respectful, and dutiful. But there was a time. It’s a time that the slobs and vulgarians do nothing but make fun of and belittle. But there was a time.

    And right now I’m learning to make my own soups from scratch (well…I do use prepared chicken stock). I admit to being vulgarian in many things. But occasionally we can make some headway. 🙂

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Now I wonder if he is a masochist, I mean he and Bill Clinton are brothers from different mothers?

    No. George Bush was just “nice” — aka “the new tone.”

    • Anniel says:

      He’s become a Pajama Boy now? By the way, Bush is now calling Hillary his sister-in-law. Oh my gosh, how sweet is that?

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Playing “nice” is what got us to Ferguson where some people think it is a god-given right to riot and loot. We must be “sensitive” and understand the “feelings” of the looters.

        • Anniel says:

          Cooking is more fun than politics. I guess W. doesn’t even own big boy pants.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            There’s a traditional Christian worldview/ethic. I’m sure you know it. It doesn’t all come in one package, but there is a general package. People mix and match, but generally there isn’t much disagreement on the main issues (man is not the measure of all things, hope is better than grievance, male and female are intrinsically different, sin is not just a function of economics, etc.)

            There’s also an Establishment Republican worldview/ethic, and it is quite different. It’s a capitulation to the Leftist worldview, although they try to disguise it. It’s not about right and wrong (standards). It’s about “sensitivity” (feelings) and caving to every stupid conceit that someone might have (inherently a sign of the acceptance of “diversity” and multiculturalism, and all the dark, anti-American aspects that go along with them).

            That’s why these dumb asses go for open borders, for instance. All they know is how to be “sensitive” girly-men instead of upholding standards of right and wrong. Nothing against Mexicans, but if you’re in this country illegally, you need to be sent back. Such a thought would cause an Establishment Republican to wet his pants.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I remember discussing The Hidden Persuaders in a high-school class (most likely English, perhaps Advanced English). One thing I remember from the book is very similar, their study of toothbrushing which revealed that people thought of it as a purging process. Hence the advertising of toothpastes as “fresh”. (For very practical reasons, I look for good tartar-control toothpastes.) I later picked up some other books by Packard — and who knows, I may still have them.

    I try to avoid listening to Democrats, reacting much as Radar O’Reilly’s wife in MASH Goes to Moscow by Richard Hooker and William E. Butterworth. (It made her physically ill. The main Democrat in question there was the newly elected president, Jim-Boy.)

    Of course, the concept of baking a baby can also have a very sinister meaning. After we moved to Louisville in 1966, we went with some relatives to a popular local seafood and chicken restaurant, Mike Linnig’s. One of the relatives mentioned a gruesome story that actually involved a “baked baby”. I doubt anyone will want any more detail than that (not that I have much more to add anyway).

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Annie, I just wanted to say that you have articulated the highest ethic of this site: Do not let yourself be a sloven and dumb creature of pre-packaged pop culture. Well done and well said.

  5. GHG says:

    Annie, your story reminds me of my maternal grandmother, we called her Granny. She emigrated from Sweden in the 1910’s. She was tough as nails with a heart of gold and could she ever cook and bake. Everything from scratch. To supplement income, she cooked for some well to do families when they had big dinner parties. She was a stubborn Swede and would never consider doing something just because it was more convenient or less time consuming. No, she did things Granny’s way because it was the right way and that was that. Period.

    I can still picture her in the kitchen. I miss her food. I miss her even more. A whole lot more.

    • Anniel says:

      We had a Swedish grandma who lived near us. She could do the most amazing things to make pie crust beautiful and she loved nothing more than to have her grandchildren’s friends watch her work, and then feed them. Yum. I hope there are enough old-timers in my own grandmother’s Eskilstuna to keep Swedish culture alive.

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


    This piece is a re-enforces my belief that the advent of modern advertising was a sort of watershed moment in the corruption of our nation and culture.

    Much, perhaps most, of advertising is based on lies and deceit. It is presented in a way so as to lull people into a type of defenselessness.

    After years of continuous lies, the population has become inured to mendacity as a way of life. Such a flood of daily dishonesty cannot but have a deleterious effect on all of us, in one way or another.

    • Anniel says:

      Mark Crispin Miller’s Foreword to the book does say that we seem to have forgotten the lessons Vance Packard and others taught and have become more easily manipulated. Even those who see the lies often choose to believe them anyway, or don’t acknowledge the harm they do.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I often watch ads on the basis that anything said in neutral tone by a neutral commenter must be factually true (the government, at least in theory, checks such things out — Papa John’s came under legal fire for their slogan “Better ingredients, better pizza”), but that anything acted out can be a very subjective opinion. And we all know how something can be factually accurate but misleading. It can be an interesting study in language interpretation.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Mr. Kung, I think you’ve hit upon an important factor in understanding our culture. My first thought upon reading what you wrote was to simply high-five ya. My second thought was in the vein of Einstein’s formula, “E=MC2“. The formula is correct, but without seeing the dozens of green chalk boards full of derivative equations that lead up to it, that final formula may not on its own provide a full explanation (at least for those who haven’t done the green-board work, which in conversations with you, I’m sure you have).

      So my second thought was something like “Indeed, we do get inured to lies, half-truths, exaggerations, and boasts because of advertising and marketing. And yet behind those boasts there is enough technological truth to allow us to keep playing this game with lazy brains, for although Brand X laundry detergent might not have ‘The Whitest Whites,’ we’ve become familiar enough with technological advance that often enough it is true that those whites will be at least a little better than last year’s.”

      So if you see what I mean, there has been consistent technological substance behind the marketing and advertising lies — at least enough for us to not have to worry about the actual particulars of truths and facts, per se. We write off the rhetoric and marketing gimmicks as perhaps not literally true, but representing a core truth, and the one that matters. And this has worked in the technological realm, by and large.

      But as we see in the political realm, buying a political candidate such as Obama as “New and Improved” (aka “hope and change”) doesn’t work. But I fear that the all-pervasive consumer mindset now clouds other areas of thought. Here’s a case in point:

      I was reading Rick Moran’s article about the demise of The New Republic magazine. And that’s all well and good (if true…we know the Left keeps coming back to life like zombies in a bad horror movie). But his concluding paragraph stunned me (to the extent I can actually be “stunned” anymore by this sort of stuff). I’ll present the whole paragraph in context, so please stick with me:

      I would say that all the political opinion magazines will probably suffer a similar fate eventually. Mass audience magazine such as Time, Life, Look, and Colliers, are all gone because the market has disappeared. There’s no sense mourning the demise of these magazines. Change is inevitable and usually good. A niche will be created and others will rush in to fill it. “Creative destruction” will work its magic and it is likely that from the ashes will arise new and interesting forms of opinion publications.

      I’ve found Moran to be an American thinker, generally speaking. But — gasp! — to see such a Libertarianesque thought of “change is usually good” did surprise me a bit (“surprise” being a few watts below “stunned”). I wonder if the countries of Europe adjacent to France thought Napoleon was good change. Heck, how many revisions of software have we seen that have been worse than its predecessor?

      “Change” is a value-neutral idea…except when seen through the Libertarian filter where any sort of market forces which bring “creative destruction” are always seen as good — thus you see the driving epistemology of Libertarianism bleeding into other areas of thought. And it now occurs to me that blind consumerism has perhaps given impetus to that decrepit form of thought known as “Libertarianism” in the first place.

      Think about dear Annie baking her cakes the old-fashioned way. I can assure you they are better than anything you can ever buy out of a box, and I haven’t ever tasted her recipes. In the case of electronics, if only because of technological advances (which do seem to have a steady upward curve), things do tend to get better. But foods? Politicians? Countries as a whole? Here we need to understand that the base ingredients are extremely important (and those base ingredients being values, ethics, and principles). And when you buy pre-packaged mixes such as Obama, you don’t really know what you’re getting.

      Libertarian and consumeresque thought has certainly pervaded our culture — the naive belief that we needn’t have things such as “values” for things will always get better if we simply destroy that which is and start again.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That discussion of “new and improved” reminds me of one of my more recent observations, concerning social media products such as smartphones. One product will do an ad about how much better it is than the rival — which probably came out just enough in the past that of course it doesn’t have as many bells and whistles. But it will likely be replaced by another which has even more than the boasting rival — and so on, ad infinitum.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I hold a very special place in my heart for The Island of Misfit Toys.

          First, here’s a complicated thought (somewhat like chewing gum and walking at the same time — theoretically difficult, but more than possible): One can appreciate the new as well as the old.

          That is, for all intents and purposes, a heretical thought…or at least one that paints one as worse than a heretic — uncool.

          What we believe is nearly everything. And “gratitude” is neither a Leftwing or Consumer value. But I just marvel at some of the amazing (nay, miraculous) electronics and other stuff that is commonly cast away and marooned on The Island of Misfit Toys (otherwise known as “Goodwill” or “St. Vinny’s”). It is a true pleasure to be able to, from time to time, fix an old toy.

          Should we, for instance, throw away Bing Crosby and substitute Michael Buble for Christmas just because one is “new” and one is “old”? (No offense, Mr. Buble, but it’s possible to croon with a testosterone level higher than most modern crooners have achieved.)

          Much of what is created today is disposable. And one doesn’t tend to value disposable things (or, as in the case of abortion, to make them disposable you must first devalue them).

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        And yet behind those boasts there is enough technological truth to allow us to keep playing this game with lazy brains

        There is a reason for the old saying, “the best lie is the one nearest the truth”

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Change is inevitable and usually good

        Good for whom?

        This is the type of blather which could only come from one steeped in the deep philosophical thought of “sound-bytes”; or perhaps he read “Candide.”

  7. Rosalys says:

    Oh dear! I feel like an apostate now because I do use cake mixes once or twice a year. Can I ever be forgiven?

    Wonderful article, and if for no other reason, Vance Packard is to be commended for turning people to Conservatism.

    • Anniel says:

      Blessings on you Rosalys, your cake mixes are forgiven. Actually, I think it’s funny the lengths some women will go to in order to make cakes “better than box.” As I recall it started by using 7Up instead of water, then someone thought Coca Cola was even better. People do tend to get creative.

      • Rosalys says:

        Cake mixes can be a good base for more elaborate concoctions. I make an awesome cherry marble cake which starts with a yellow cake mix.

        • Anniel says:

          I’d undoubtedly eat it (probably the whole thing if the truth be known). Maybe Brad should start a Recipe Exchange, he probably needs something more to do. Merry Christmas and back at you.

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