The World's Most Famous Food Fight Happened on This Day in 1959

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Public Domain. Krushchev, Nixon and a washing machine

On this day in 1959, Richard Nixon debated Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in what is probably one of the world's most famous kitchens. Nixon claimed it was a typical American kitchen in a typical American house; Krushchev thought it was ridiculous and extravagant, and that American priorities were all mixed up.

Both leaders argued for their country’s industrial accomplishments. Khrushchev stressed the Soviets’ achievements in developing “things that matter” rather than luxury. He sarcastically asked Nixon if there was a machine that "puts food into the mouth and pushes it down".

Khrushchev didn't believe that typical Americans could possibly afford it. The News Agency Tass wrote:

There is no more truth in showing this as the typical home of the American worker than, say, in showing the Taj Mahal as the typical home of a Bombay textile worker.

I wrote about the debate last year in The 1959 Kitchen Debate: How Little Things Have Changed. This year, a little more about the actual design.

Marylee Duehring

© General Mills/ Marylee Duehring baking

Khrushchev was closer to the mark than Nixon; this was not a typical kitchen but had a lot of interesting and famous people behind it. Originally it was supposed to be from a suburban tract house on Long Island, designed by Stanley Klein and built by a real estate developer who had a very young William Safire doing PR, and who convinced the State Department that it would make a terrific model home. But according to Justin Davidson in New York Magazine,

Since Klein’s original design was too cramped for the crowds expected at the exhibition, the developer—at the behest of the State Department—hired the designer Raymond Loewy and his architect, Andrew Geller, to pry the building apart along a central corridor (hence the name “Splitnik”).

Geller is known to TreeHugger as the Architect of Happiness; A kitchen that has been touched by Loewy, Safire and Geller isn't typical at all.

Betty Crocker at work

© General Mills/ Betty Crocker at work

Betty Crocker was there too, demonstrating cake mixes and pizzas, sometimes baking 40 cakes per day. According to the General Mills website,

Many Russians would stand for hours to watch the kitchen team whip up beautiful cakes and pastries. During the fun-filled “pizza pie” demonstrations, some people walked away with tomato sauce-stained faces because they got too close to the product.

Not much has changed in suburban kitchens since.