Who Are the Gerber Baby's Parents?

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Nina Katchadourian’s piece of visual intrigue, Genealogy of the Supermarket, makes for a very different “shopping” experience. The artist has created a sort of food-label lineage from the familiar faces that look out from products on grocery store shelves.

In Katchadourian’s version of the family tree, the Sun-Maid raisin girl is a sister to the Saint Pauli Girl… who happens to be married to another beer icon, Samuel Adams… and they’re the parents of two rugged Brawny Paper Towel men… one of which is the partner of Mr. Clean… and together, they’re the adoptive fathers to none other than the Gerber baby. Bet you never knew, right?

Cory Bernat offers up some interesting analysis of the project in the fall 2008 issue of Gastronomica. He feels the advertising ancestry is “hardly burdened by the hard facts of science, the history of food manufacturing, or the politics of nutritional policy.” Rather, the icons are presented in such humorous and thought-provoking pairings that they beg the reader to pose larger questions about the reasons behind each icon’s particular placement. Bernat wonders:

Is the Native Indian icon found on Land O’Lakes butter the Corn Maiden’s mother because Native peoples are more connected to the earth? Or because they were treated for a long time as less than human, making the half-vegetable reference more pointed?

Is the marriage of the smiling Quaker of Quaker Oats fame to Aunt Jemima a reference to the business-trivia fact that his parent company purchased hers? Is it, perhaps, a commentary on marriage as ownership? Or on slave-holding whites? Or, as one historian friend has suggested, perhaps the interracial union is a reference to the Quakers as early abolitionists?

Ultimately, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions about the intricate reasons and motives behind the connections. You can check out close-ups of the iconic food labels on Katchadourian’s website. I also recommend poking around her other projects, which include more family trees, maps, interactive public art, these delicately mended spiderwebs, and amusing collections of sorted books.


Image courtesy of Nina Katchadourian, Sara Meltzer gallery, and Catharine Clark gallery.

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