Boomers Accepted Normal … At Least for Body Temperature

The Boomer Generation was known for creating its own way and not accepting the norms that had existed in earlier generations. That, of course, is a generalization that is not entirely true, as boomer opinions on what was “normal” was as diverse as boomers themselves. However, one thing people agreed on without argument was that a “normal” body temperature was 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Some things were just accepted at face value.

The idea that we had a common normal body temperature came from Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich, a German doctor, in 1851. Taking the armpit temperature of 25,000 patients, he deduced that 98.6 was the average. The world has been deferring to his results ever since; well, until recently, anyway. At least since the 1970s it has been known by the medical profession that a normal, resting body temperature varies from person to person. They also had long discovered that body temperatures are different for men and women. Therefore, normal body temperature should be interpreted as a range rather than an absolute … sort of like the Boomer Generation.

Now comes word from a study by Stanford University that since the 19th Century, our body temperature has been decreasing to the point that a person registering a normal 98.6 degrees one hundred and fifty years ago would now have a normal temperature shift of about a degree and a half less today. Their study took records of more than 89,000 Civil War soldiers as a base line. In a 2014 study, researchers had previously found that our body temperature has decreased since 1970. The Stanford research suggests that data from the 2014 study was consistent with their findings.

Many factors may have to contributed this change in body temperature, and boomers benefited from all of them. Most notably among these factors are that we have vastly changed our environment with heat and air conditioning, as well as developing warmer clothing — and, perhaps key among possible reasons, modern medicine has decreased incidents of common infections and inflammations, the chief cause of fevers. Others point to a more sedentary lifestyle, diet and weight gain as contributing factors.

Conversely, a fever was, and still is, by much of the medical profession, considered to occur when body temperature has topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This, too, has been updated to a range today. The importance of establishing a fever threshold is that an increase in body temperature has long been held as an indicator of health. That is why every doctor visit begins with a check of temperature.

None of any possible controversies over temperature ranges mattered in the days of boomers. As such, the “normal” body temperature “fact” made its way into pop culture. From the 1950s to the 1970s, boomers heard songs make reference to body temperature.

98.6, Keith, 1967
In 1967, Tony Powers and George Fischoff wrote the song, 98.6. It was performed by Barry James Keefer — known as Keith on record. The Tokens provided backup vocals, and the single reached number seven on the Billboard charts. It became Keith’s biggest hit. Later, Keith became the vocalist for Frank Zappa’s band for a couple of years. How is that for baby-boomer normal?

The song uses 98.6 to make a statement on normalcy. The lyrics state, Hey 98.6 it’s good to have you back again. In other words, things are back to normal in his relationship. The temperature norm is a given.

Fever, Peggy Lee, 1958
Written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell in 1956, the first recording of the song that year was by Little Willie John. It peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Peggy Lee released her version in 1958, reaching number eight on Billboard’s Hot 100. It became her signature song.

Now you’ve listened to my story
Here’s the point that I have made
Chicks were born to give you fever
Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade

The song, sung from a female point of view by Peggy Lee, has her speaking to a man about the effect he has on her body temperature, but concludes with telling him he can catch the fever from her as well.

Burning Love, Elvis Presley, 1972
Written by Dennis Linde, the original recording was released by Arthur Alexander in 1972. That same year, Elvis picked it up at the urging of his manager, with Linde playing the opening guitar riffs himself. It became Elvis’ last Top 10 hit.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
I feel my temperature rising
Help me, I’m flaming
I must be a hundred and nine

The song, like Fever, uses an increase in temperature as an indicator of a flaming-hot love. This time, though, a specific temperature — and a high one at that — is mentioned.

Hot Blooded, Foreigner, 1978
Written by Lou Gramm and Mick Jones of the band, Foreigner, it was released in 1972.

Well, I’m hot blooded, check it and see
I got a fever of a hundred and three

Again, a song cites body temperature, and again, in a fever mode. Like the songs before it, this increase in fever-level temperature is discussed as a good thing, an indicator not of ill health but of high passion. It was a big hit for them, though of little interest to Mister Boomer.

When Mister Boomer was six years old, body temperature became a serious matter when he ran an extraordinarily high fever. By nightfall, his parents were so concerned that he was rushed to a hospital emergency room. There, his young body was literally packed with ice to lower his body temperature. Once he had returned to an acceptable level, he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with tonsillitis. The next morning, he had his tonsils removed. For Mister Boomer, this episode of abnormal body temperature marked the first time he would spend the night without his parents. He remembers staying awake most of the night, staring out his hospital window, as wild rabbits hopped in and out of the hospital lights at the far edge of the parking lot. The next afternoon, tonsils removed and body temperature restored, he was taken home.

How about you, boomers? Do you have a person connection story to normal body temperature in your past history?

Boomers Loved Italian-American Food

Chances are, the vast majority of Baby Boomers grew up eating a variety of ethnic-based foods. To a large degree, this depended on the background of their families, and how long their families had resided in the United States. Regardless, many traditional cultural dishes made their way across the oceans, along with immigrants in the nineteenth century, to become ingrained in the American diet … most notably, Italian cuisine.

Italian cuisine is often split into the various regions of Italy’s boot and Sicily, but as a general rule, a division of north and south will suffice for our discussion. Northern Italian became known in the U.S. for polenta, white sauces and risotto, while Southern Italian brought olive oil, pasta and tomato sauce. From the early days of the nineteenth century, Italian immigrants — like all immigrants — had to adjust family recipes to the ingredients they could easily find in their new home country.

In every age, there was always a backlash against immigrants, and food was often a battlefield. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the blending of cuisines into the American diet prompted unscrupulous journalists and powerful politicians to launch a campaign against the foods prepared and sold by immigrants, particularly Italian. The Italians were derided as dirty, uneducated and poor (like the Irish and many other groups before and since), so it stood to reason (in their estimation) that the foods they produced were impure and unsafe to eat. Food was always a class indicator. In turn, this prejudice led to the establishment of the first Federal meat inspections and legislation on the preparation and handling of foods as a way to tamp down the spread of these “lower class” cultural food ideas. Italian foods survived the assault.

Soldiers returning from the War had a taste of the real thing overseas — pizza, baked ziti, lasagna, gelato, cannoli and more. Many of these dishes had been available in the U.S., in cities that had a large population of Italian immigrants, but for most soldiers, this was their first foray into the cuisine. Italian immigrants began opening more restaurants to serve this desire for a taste of Italy as people moved out of larger cities and into new suburbs. Yet post-war American tastes were entering into the picture. Americans ate more meat than Europeans, and expected larger portions of fewer dishes. For example, spaghetti and meatballs was a true Southern Italian dish, but only as one of many dishes in a multi-course dinner, and served in smaller portions. It took the influence of Americans to increase the size to a “dinner portion.”

At the dawn of the Baby Boom, Italian restaurants began their quest to capture the new families as regular patrons by catering to their tastes. In addition to dinner-sized portions of spaghetti and meatballs, they served sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna, stuffed manicotti and baked ziti. By the 1960s, the style of a traditional eggplant parmigiana dish was used to create veal and chicken versions — true Italian-American dishes. Italy did not have a meat version of the dish. Veal and chicken picante, chicken cacciatore, shrimp diavolo and more joined the growing menus of the burgeoning Italian-American restaurant scene. Many boomers gained a love of spumoni and tiramisu desserts during this time period.

However, most families before and during the boomer era ate their meals at home. Restaurants were frequented on special occasions or while traveling. To give the family that ate primarily at home a taste of Italy, companies such as Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (which began selling canned pasta in 1938) expanded their product lines for boomer families. Many boomers will recall with varying degrees of nostalgia the mushy pasta and watery tomato sauce of the canned ravioli and Beef-A-Roni. Likewise Franco-American Spaghetti and Meatballs in a can was available for early boomers. In 1965, the company introduced SpaghettiOs, “the neat, new spaghetti you can eat with a spoon.” Both became a part of the boomer diet. While their origins were from the old country, the tastes were all-American.

Meanwhile after the War, delicatessens expanded their product lines with American-made versions of Italian meats and cheeses, such as mortadella, salami, capocolla, prosciutto-style ham and pepperoni, and ricotta, provolone and mozzarella cheeses.

Commercials on TV and ads in magazines related to the popularity of Italian-American foods in different ways. Some promoted Italian-based food items, while others used the cultural aspect for their own means. In 1969, the Prince Spaghetti Company in Boston, Massachusetts ran an ad that not only wanted to capitalize on the popularity of Italian-American food, but suggested TV viewers eat it more often. The Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day commercial campaign ran for 13 years. To this day, boomers can answer the question of, “What is Wednesday?” Consequently, Mister Boomer still eats pasta on Wednesdays, though his family rarely bought the Prince brand.

Mister Boomer’s father knew an Italian family that owned a restaurant. He often brought the family to the restaurant on occasions such as Mother’s Day or Easter. Truth be told, Mister B has a partial Italian ancestry. As a result, home-cooked spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs, chicken cacciatore and many other Italian dishes were served up at home on a weekly basis, or by his grandmother and aunts when the family visited.

Mister Boomer has written before about his sister’s love of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni and Franco-American SpaghettiOs. Mister B and Brother Boomer preferred the ravioli. They often used the hand can opener to pop the lid on the tall can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli themselves. Though part Italian, the family was much like other boomer families in enjoying Italian-American foods.

Today, according to the National Restaurant Association, Italian cuisine is among the top three preferred in the country. A look in supermarkets will show the variety of Italian-American products available to families across the country, including frozen lasagna, pizza, and parmigiana dishes, plus fresh tortellini or gnocchi, and jars of tomato or Alfredo sauce, to say nothing of real Italian imported cheeses, meats and sausages.

The evolution of Italian-American foods happened during the boomer years, and boomers had a seat at that dinner table. How often did your family enjoy Italian-American restaurants and foods at home, boomers? How does your experience compare to your eating habits today?