Snacking between meals is normal, but at one time snack foods "drew suspicion and even scorn," reports Abigail Carroll in The Wall Street Journal (9/1/13). Abigail is author of "Three Squares," about the history of snacks in America. "The original American snack food," she writes, "was peanuts," which arrived in America via "slave ships and showed up in African-inspired cooking on southern plantations." The peanut migrated North after the Civil War because Union soldiers got hooked on them while down South. Peanuts eventually took "their place alongside beer at baseball games" and the rowdy upper balconies of vaudeville shows, known as "peanut galleries."
With their shells, peanuts were inherently messy and considered low class. Popcorn was somewhat less controversial, although sufficiently messy that movie theaters banned it "for decades." Both peanuts and popcorn "bore the stigma of being sold by street vendors of questionable hygiene … often sold uncovered and dust-exposed, it was prone to draw the public’s suspicion." During the Victorian era, when proper etiquette dictated that even bananas be eaten with fork and knife, the idea of any kind of finger food was frowned upon.
Pretzels also suffered from similar stigmas, often sold under unsanitary conditions "by dirt-poor immigrant entrepreneurs" and associated with beer. Indeed it was prohibition that forced a change in the pretzel’s image. To entice consumers, pretzels were re-positioned as "a healthy, mineral-rich food for children" and manufactured in "fun, new, child-appealing shapes – sticks, half-moons, letters of the alphabet." Cellophane packaging further sanitized – and branded — the pretzel. Other snacks similarly "dressed up" peanuts (e.g., the classy Mr. Peanut), and commercialization eventually turned snacking into "an all-American pastime," culminating in "the snack food explosion of the 1980s."