The Tragedy of Kraft Dinner

James Eckstein  |  Contributor

Kraft Dinner has been ranked as one of the classic student meals of all time. Not only is it tasty and affordable, but more importantly can be prepared relatively quickly without burning down the entire house. It would be extremely difficult to find a university or college student who has never eaten Kraft Dinner at least once in their life.

On average, a Canadian family will eat approximately 3.2 boxes of Kraft Dinner every year. That’s a total of almost 90 million boxes sold every year in Canada alone. No matter how many boxes of Kraft Dinner you eat per year (or day in some cases), the history of how Kraft Dinner came to be is wrapped in tragedy, going all the way back to the early 1900’s.

The main element that makes Kraft Dinner so convenient and quick to prepare is the cheese powder. The invention of processed cheese is credited to Walter Gerber of Switzerland, in 1911. However, it was not patented until the year 1916 by James Lewis Kraft, who just so happened to be the president of soon to be Kraft Foods Inc. After expanding the company to Canada in 1919, there were only two events that had to occur before Kraft Dinner was created. The first was the Great Depression.

During the economic crash of 1929 and the massive loss of employment, many families were tight on money to spend on food. Many began to resort to cheaper alternatives to feed themselves. A brilliant St. Louis salesman, who never earned the credit he deserved, came up with the idea to bundle together macaroni pasta and cheese and sell this to the hungry public.

Much like the modern Kraft Dinner of today, his bundle was made up of a cardboard box filled with dry macaroni and a little bag of cheese. The cheese in this case was simply grated cheddar in a bag held together with a rubber band. This version of macaroni and cheese was sold all the way through the Great Depression, all the way up to the final event that altered the history of Kraft Dinner, World War II.

In 1937, the Kraft Foods Inc. took the idea of the bundled macaroni with cheese and branded and sold it as Kraft Dinner. While the initial sales of the product were lackluster, the popularity saw a massive surge in popularity after the beginning of World War II in 1939. It was at this time that many mothers of large families had begun work as their spouses were enlisted to fight overseas. This put families in a tough spot where they had a combination of both a lack of time and money for preparing meals.

The fact that there was also a ration of milk and dairy products and an increased reliance on meatless meals did not help very much. Kraft Foods Inc. decided to change the labelling on their Kraft Dinner boxes to “A meal for 4 in 9 minutes”. After this shift in marketing, the sales of Kraft Dinner soared. Another contributing factor to its success was because families on food stamps could buy two boxes for only a single stamp.

Ever since the start of World War II in 1939, Kraft Dinner, or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese how it’s known in the United States, has remained a staple in North American culture. It’s bizarre to think that without these massive events of history, we may have never of had a meal as simple as Kraft Dinner.

Today, instead of helping low income families that are dealing with the world’s greatest economic depression or the Second World War, Kraft Dinner is helping broke university students not starve to death.