5 Fast Facts About Ruth Asawa

Google
Google

May 1 kicks off Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Google is marking the occasion with a doodle honoring Ruth Asawa, a Japanese-American artist who shook the art world with her wire sculpture techniques. Here are some facts about the influential sculptor, who died in 2013 at age 87.

1. Ruth Asawa learned art in an internment camp.

Ruth Asawa was born in Southern California in 1926 to a family of farmers. Life changed drastically for the Asawas during World War II, as it did for the 120,000 Japanese Americans living in the western U.S. In 1942, Ruth was interned at the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia, California, along with her mother and siblings. Animators from Walt Disney Studios were also kept at the camp, and they gave her art lessons during the five months she lived there. After her family was transferred to an interment camp in Arkansas, she continued to work on her painting and drawing.

2. Ruth Asawa studied at Black Mountain College.

Her struggles didn't end with World War II. Asawa received a scholarship to study to become an art teacher at the Milwaukee State Teachers College, only to be barred from student-teaching due to her ethnicity. She continued her studies at the the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The experimental school was known for welcoming students from persecuted groups: It was a sanctuary for Jewish academics fleeing Nazi Europe, and it enrolled its first African-American student a decade prior to Brown v. Board of Education.

3. Ruth Asawa's wire sculpture technique made her famous.

Asawa found her artistic niche in wire sculpture. Borrowing techniques from basket weavers in Mexico, she used wires to create abstract, 3D structures. According to Google's blog, she cited such inspirations as "plants, the spiral shell of a snail, seeing light through insect wings, watching spiders repair their webs in the early morning, and seeing the sun through the droplets of water suspended from the tips of pine needles while watering my garden."

4. Ruth Asawa designed memorials for Japanese internees.

The artist overcame adversity, both as a Japanese American and a woman derided for doing "feminine handiwork," to leave a lasting impact on the art world. She designed two memorials to Japanese internment: the Internment Memorial Sculpture in San Jose and SF State University's Garden of Remembrance.

5. Ruth Asawa founded an art school.

Asawa stayed committed to arts education throughout her life, and founded a public arts high school called the San Francisco School of the Arts in 1982. It's since been renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts.

8 Summertime Treats We Should Bring Back

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Certain snacks are synonymous with summer. A waffle cone piled high with creamy ice cream. A sizzling hot dog fresh off the grill. A tall, cool glass of water buffalo milk. OK, maybe that last one hasn't gotten much play in our lifetimes—but in the centuries before refrigeration came about, anyone baking in the summer sun had to get creative. While many historic summertime treats have stuck around in one form or another, others, like the ones we've gathered here, have mostly melted away like a dropped Popsicle on a sidewalk in August.

1. Flavored Snow and Ice

The snow cones of eras past were a lot more literal than the neon kind we slurp at the carnival these days. In ancient Rome, slaves scoured nearby mountains for blocks of ice which were then crushed and topped with spiced syrups and fruit for their masters. Mesopotamian nobles, too, had icehouses built along the banks of the Euphrates River to beat the heat. Snow was even sold in the streets of ancient Athens, likely to cool wine. Flavored ices have remained popular around the world (Thomas Jefferson was known to serve freezes at Monticello), even as they've largely moved away from the straight-up snow-based variety. So popular, in fact, that in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson knew he was onto something when he accidentally left a glass of water, powdered soda mix, and a wooden stirring stick on his porch overnight. The concoction froze solid and the Popsicle was born.

2. Flowerpot Sundaes

Lady Bird Johnson, a dedicated environmentalist, had White House chef Henry Haller serve flowerpot sundaes at her daughters' engagement parties in the 1960s. The seasonal sweet consisted of layers of ice cream, meringue, and sponge cake served in clay flowerpots and topped with fresh blossoms—the perfect combination of the First Lady's wildflower beautification measures and dessert duties. With her love of gardening, we're a little surprised Michelle Obama didn't bring this tradition back to Pennsylvania Avenue during her time as First Lady, though an entire flowerpot full of sugar probably wouldn't pass her healthy eating initiatives.

3. Kool-Aid

vintage Kool-Aid ad from 1950
Wandering Magpie, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The sugary summer drink dates back far further than the plastic jugs parents of the '80s and '90s had waiting after their kids' soccer games. A Nebraska businessman and amateur chemist added the powdered product to his existing lineup of goods like Nix-O-Tine (to help with tobacco dependency) and Motor-Vigor (a gasoline additive) in the late 1920s. Originally called "Fruit Smack," it came in six flavors (raspberry, grape, lemon, orange, cherry, and root beer) and debuted right around the time Coca-Cola was catching on nationally. Business was good but things really took off when the Great Depression hit and consumers realized they could stretch one little packet into a pitcher to cool down the whole family. Kool-Aid's still around, despite its 1970s association with the Jonestown mass suicide (though the evidence indicates they actually mostly drank a Kool-Aid competitor, Flavor-Aid) and today's health-conscious parents, but that smiling pitcher with limbs doesn't seem to hold the same wall-breaking power he once did.

4. Iced Water Buffalo Milk

There's some debate as to where ice cream officially originated, with various people (with varying amounts of accuracy and evidence) ascribing it to Marco Polo or Catherine de Medici, and even some attributions to King Solomon and Alexander the Great. China's Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) has a pretty solid claim on the feat, though. Emperors from that time were known to have enjoyed a frozen "milk-like" treat made from buffalo, goat, or cow's milk heated with flour and spiced with camphor. Refreshing!

5. Ice Cream Carts

An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
Elizabeth R. Hibbs/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before the tinny melody of "Pop Goes The Weasel" brought swarms of sweaty kids to the streets for a Chipwich, mobile ice cream vendors used more primitive—and less sanitary—means. In the late 19th century, vendors sold dishes of ice cream from carts cooled with ice blocks, which meant customers would lick their dish clean and then return it to the seller to use for his next customer. Not exactly a model of hygiene.

Before widespread milk pasteurization, ice cream also came topped with the threat of bacteria that could cause scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and other extreme ailments. The frozen treat became safer to order after studies of typhoid in New York implicated raw milk, causing most cities to require pasteurization, and inventions like the ice cream cone made that whole sharing dishes issue disappear. Technological advances around the same time made refrigeration easier and scoopers traded in their carts for cars. Ice cream trucks, which first appeared in the 1920s, have seen something of a resurgence in recent years as other food trucks have flourished and anything vintage has become hipster cool, but the once-ubiquitous carts tend to remain relegated to zoos, amusement parks, and other touristy areas.

6. Easy Cheese

Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow famously said she'd prefer crack to cheese from a can, but for the rest of us, spray cheese remains the stuff of nostalgic summer roadtrip memories. Easy Cheese first propelled its way into America's hearts—and arteries—in 1966, when it was known as Snack Mate. Like TV dinners and Campbell's soup casseroles, the nitrogen-pressurized product was right in line with the era's obsession with speed and efficiency. The name change came about in 1984 when Kraft took over and embraced its portability and ease over the quality it had been peddling in its early years. If you can get past the processed foods stigma and the wrath of judgy celebrities, you can still find the cheesy can on grocery store shelves and, of course, on YouTube.

7. Shoulder Clod

Two butchers, circa 1965.
Keystone/Getty Images

Once a standard cut for summer BBQs, shoulder clod rarely makes modern appearances in America's grilling pits anymore. Southern meat markets used to buy entire forequarters of beef, divide out the roasts, and smoke whatever was left over, but in the 1960s, wholesalers started shipping individual, vacuum-sealed cuts, making the fattier brisket the barbecue favorite. The unfortunately named "clod," a leaner piece of meat with beefier flavor that comes from the cow's shoulder, was all but forgotten. But, if you can find a chunk of clod at a local butcher shop, know that it will cook faster because of its leanness—a bonus if you don't have all day to spend minding the grill. And they tend to be larger, which is also a bonus.

8. Fromage (Not the Cheese Kind)

In the late 1600s, right around the time the Italians were experimenting with gelato, the French were mixing up a fluffier frozen treat they called fromage, even though it had nothing to do with cheese. Various recipes called for fruit-flavored ice, but some included cream and sugar as well—a combination that became a hit as the new century began. Can you imagine if your evening meal could be followed by a fromage plate and then a bowl of fromage? Heaven.

This story was updated in 2019.

8 Things You Might Not Know About Annie's Homegrown

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1989, Annie's Homegrown makes natural and organic macaroni and cheese in the shape of rabbits and shells. Although the company's mac and cheese is super successful—only Kraft sells more of the cheesy comfort food—Annie's also produces other foods, like yogurt, crackers, pretzels, cookies, frozen pizza, condiments, and fruit snacks.

1. Annie is a real person, and Annie's Homegrown is her second major success story.

Annie Withey founded Smartfood popcorn in 1984 with her then-husband Andrew Martin, and after its sale five years later to Frito-Lay for $15 million, she got to thinking about the white cheddar cheese she'd created to coat that product. Instead of retiring young (Withey was 21 when she first concocted the powdered cheddar with no artificial preservatives or coloring), she experimented with putting that cheese on pasta instead of popcorn. It worked.

2. Withey and Martin sold Annie's Mac and Cheese at New England food co-ops and markets.

Withey and Martin loved the taste of the cheesy pasta, so they co-founded Annie's Homegrown in 1989. Hoping to give families healthy, organic foods, they sold their macaroni and cheese, free of preservatives and artificial colors, at food co-ops and grocery stores around New England.

3. A rabbit named Bernie is Annie's official mascot.

A cartoon version of Bernie, Withey's pet rabbit, appears on boxes of Annie's products. Bernie the Bunny gives Annie's products his "Rabbit of Approval" seal, indicating that the food is healthy, nutritious, and environmentally friendly. Sadly, the real-life Bernie died in the early '90s.

4. Withey sold her company in 1999, but still serves as Annie's "Inspirational President."

In 1999, a natural foods entrepreneur named John Foraker invested in Annie's and then bought Withey and Martin's stake in the company. Until 2017, Foraker served as Annie's CEO and president, with Withey taking the title of "Inspirational President," a figurehead role that allows the company to follow her philosophy on organic food and sustainable agriculture.

5. Annie's Homegrown bought a natural food line started by, coincidentally, another Annie.

In 2005, Annie's acquired a smaller company called Annie's Naturals, a Vermont-based company which produced bottles of organic salad dressing, pasta sauce, barbecue sauce, and condiments. Started by husband-and-wife team Peter Backman and Annie Christopher, Annie's Naturals made GMO-free dressings with flavors like Shiitake & Sesame and Garlic Parmesan Tofu. Annie's Homegrown incorporated some of Annie's Naturals dressings and condiments into their own product line after the acquisition.

6. Consumers debate whether Annie's is really healthy or not.

Although Annie's products are organic and free of GMOs, trans fats, and added sugar, some critics argue that Annie's is not as healthy as it purports to be. These critics point out that a serving of Annie's mac and cheese has a similar amount of calories, sodium, and saturated fat as Kraft mac and cheese, and Annie's uses refined flour as opposed to whole grain flour. In response, Annie's has reiterated that its goal is to make cleaner, more natural versions of convenience foods.

7. General Mills purchased Annie's Homegrown for almost a billion dollars.

In 2014, General Mills bought Annie's for $820 million. Some customers expressed concern that Annie's was "selling out" and would add artificial ingredients to their food to cut costs, but Foraker, Annie's CEO, reassured customers that Annie's would remain committed to GMO-free products and stressed that the acquisition would help Annie's get into the homes of more people. Annie's was incorporated into GM's Small Planet Foods, the company's organic/natural foods branch.

8. Annie's once had a line of pasta shaped like Arthur, the aardvark.

Offering more than just bunny shaped pasta, Annie's once had a line of pasta shaped like Arthur, the aardvark from the children's books. And through Bernie's Book Club, which offers reading suggestions for babies up to adults, Annie's joined forces with the PBS show Arthur to help promote reading.

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