Food History

Here's Where Cool Whip Was on a 1969 Thanksgiving Table

November 23, 2016

It’s been over seven months since my colleague Sarah Jampel posed a fascinating ontological question that...well, I'll be honest. It flummoxed even me. Is Cool Whip food? Hmmmm. Always been on my mind. Still is. Very interesting. Don't you agree?

Is Cool Whip food?
Question of the day. Man of the hour.

It’s a lovely piece, and I’m not just saying that because Sarah over here can see me typing this thirty feet away. In it, Sarah thoughtfully navigates this product's fraught consumer history in observance of its 50th anniversary. Sarah looks at the advertising of Cool Whip through the years, noting that there are still those who suspect that Cool Whip may, in fact, be a tub of chemicals wearing the innocuous mask of lily white fluff.

As for me? Well, I like Cool Whip. And so, I must “poke some holes” in Sarah's piece, because there’s one ad she didn't look at. I've embedded below a Thanksgiving ad for Cool Whip from 1969, merely three years after the product's conception. Let’s take a look.

“They’re ready for dessert,” a preteen intones. She waltzes into the kitchen carrying a mightily big plate of turkey that's been "gobbled up" by some voracious guests. Now, the young girl decides, it's time for dessert. An older apron-clad woman, presumably her mother, demurs to the child's demands. The girl outlines where the Cool Whip must go on the dessert table. To wit: Just ten pumpkin pies, nine with Cool Whip; five plum puddings, all with Cool Whip; six cherry tarts, five with Cool Whip; and eight minced pies, seven with Cool Whip. "And no pie for Uncle Harry," she ribs. "Just Cool Whip!" (I'd like to know more abut this Uncle Harry character.)

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Why bother with a beater, a man asks narrating over the video? Cool Whip, he claims, suffices, as we see the girl sneak a taste of the Cool Whip when ma's not looking. Silly!

There's a lot to chew on here. (Actually, there isn't.) But I'll keep it brief. The reason we're here today is because of Thanksgiving, which is happening tomorrow. You're probably thinking about all of these dishes little Ramona over here lists. Pumpkin pies, cherry tarts, plum pudding, minced meat pies. The gamut. Those are some Thanksgiving staples. Perhaps you're even cooking them.

So, recall the question I posed at the beginning of this piece: Is Cool Whip food? I’ll offer you a more tantalizing question: Would you put Cool Whip on any of the dishes above? Will you be doing so this Thanksgiving? Will you be using whipped cream instead? I posed this very question to a number of my colleagues, and the chorus of revulsion was so violent that I nearly fell off my chair. No, Cool Whip is bad, was the tenor of their response, summarized. (I'd post screengrabs from Slack, our office's messaging tool, but they're too vulgar and crass for this holiday content.)

But my question stands. Will you be using Cool Whip this Thanksgiving? Please let me know.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


mary-ellen November 23, 2016
I don't consider cool whip a food. A chemistry set, yes, but a food no. SO EASY to whip cream I cannot imagine why anyone would serve this chemical compost.
Fredrik B. November 23, 2016
I have never eaten cool whip, to be honest. Nor twinkies. I'm pretty sure I've never eaten hydrogenated-oil-turned-creamy-white-topping of any kind so now that we're on the topic: What does it taste like? I'm really curious.
Tonya R. November 23, 2016
I'll eat Cool Whip if someone is serving it but if I'm in charge of bringing the creamy stuff, which I am tomorrow, it's the real stuff! It only takes a few minutes, is so much more delicious and I know (and can pronounce) exactly what's in it!