Fictional Food Folk

Mr. Peanut, Chef Boyardee, Betty Crocker, Ronald McDonald, who are these strangers and where did they come from anyway?

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

They're grocery store institutions, roadside icons, and TV commercial stalwarts, but sometimes when you see things so often you stop seeing them. You've probably been to McDonald's a 100 times, seen Ronald on those special edition glasses from the '80s, know every iteration of the company's advertising campaigns. But have you ever asked yourself where that freaky clown came from? Where did some of the world's iconic food personalities originate? Was Uncle Ben a real guy? Chef Boyardee? Read on to find out if your favorite iconic food folks are fictional or not

Aunt Jemima

You've seen her on the front of pancake mix and syrup bottles — Aunt Jemima, the cherubic African-American woman whose face immediately summons one word: breakfast. Was she a real person? According to the eponymous company and the African American Registry, yes. Here's the deal, there was once a struggling outfit called Pearl Milling Company. One of its owners went to a vaudeville show and heard Aunt Jemima, a tune sung by a performer in blackface wearing an apron and bandanna. He decided to call the pancake flour Aunt Jemima, and the next year sold it to the R.T. Davis Milling Company. Davis tapped Nancy Green, a 56-year old storyteller and former slave, to be his spokesperson.


Ronald McDonald

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. Got it. But how did a clown hitch up with a burger chain? Willard Scott is generally credited for Ronald's genesis. He played Bozo the Clown on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. in the early '60s. According to his book Joy of Living: "At the time, Bozo was the hottest children's show on the air. ... There was something about the combination of hamburgers and Bozo that was irresistible to kids ... That's why when Bozo went off the air a few years later, the local McDonald's people asked me to come up with a new character to take Bozo's place. So, I sat down and created Ronald McDonald." Willard Scott made three disturbing TV commercials as Ronald in 1963 and was replaced by a circus clown who gave the icon his recognizable visage. A far cry from this sexy contemporary version of Ronald from Japan. I'm lovin' it, indeed.