Are You a Food Person?

Probably not. I’m not talking about a lover of food, I mean a food person.  Like the Coffee Bean Lady pictured above. She’s a ripe, pre-roasted coffee bean. She’s in the marketing tradition of using anthropomorphic viddles to sell products.

Mr. Product

My artist daughter Anna ( gave me a wonderful little book called Meet Mr. Product. It highlights twentieth century ads featuring food, medicine, drinks, spark plugs, tires, cam shafts, cleaning supplies, and more, in the guise of a human spokesperson/mascot. The art is often second tier quality, but always whimsical, fun, and sometimes just plain weird.

These “food people” amuse me because they have such goofy characteristics. Danny Donut, drumming for Mayflower Hot Donuts, wears a red generalissimo style uniform, brandishing a sword. He winks with a smile, so I’m sure we’re safe with Danny Donut, sword aside.

Danny Donut

Anna, who knew I would love this book, shares my fascination with peculiar ads and signage. We especially note the oddity of restaurants using a happy animal to serve up the signature dish, which is made of the same animal. Mr. Product is filled with these weird ads: Sizzler Steak Houses features a living beef steer serving dead beef. And is he enjoying it! Hoof on hip, wearing a smile, and giving us a wink, he happily raises a platter bearing his former comrade.


Same for a 1970 Chicken Delight ad. A hen, doffed with chef’s hat and a bib, carries in a plate with a leg and a thigh. WHO IS IT? I don’t mean to be macabre, and I’m certainly not opposed to eating meat, but the idea of a creature serving up its own kind for dinner is a bit disturbing.

Near our home was a local BBQ joint that used this motif on its outdoor sign: A chef-hatted pig serving a platter of pork. Anna and I referred to it as the “Pig Serving Pig” restaurant. Again, let the record show, I eat meat. I enjoy meat. But I prefer my meat prepared by others than their own.

Less Disturbing Food Folks

Spearmint Kid

Since this is a whimsy focused blog, I’ll get off that subject and move on to less troubling food characters. As I peruse the book, I see The Spearmint Kid. As you can see, his body is a stick of gum, and he’s walking through the gates of Wrigley Zoo. The pink sign on the wrought iron gate reads: Please Feed the Animals. Feed them what? Gum? Wait, that’s troubling too. Gum isn’t “eaten”, it’s chewed, and then discarded (properly, in the tin foil wrapper you kept in your pocket). Animals don’t eat or chew gum. Maybe chimpanzees can chew gum. I don’t know, let’s ask Mr. Moke.

I’ve written before about Mr. Softee, the ice cream truck cone head. His head is made of a traditional cake cone, with a swirl of vanilla soft serve for his hair. He’s simply the human-like mascot who offers cones that look like him, but without faces, so they are safe. He’s semi-human; the cones he sells are not. We hope.

“Little Foster” is an ice cream person from 1965. Foster is clearly a cone, but he wears a chef’s hat and is raising a platter with a hamburger and soda. Little Foster must have been a rancher. At least he is serving something other than his own kind, but what does an ice cream cone know about grilling burgers?

Speaking of burgers, and this is a bit off-subject, I notice Meet Mr. Product has a large number of hamburger establishments that were represented by a happy, usually portly, young boy. The “boys” included Big Boy, Hi Boy, Bun Boy, and Happy Boy. I would liked to have seen one cut to the chase and simply call their place Cow Boy.

Speaking of cowboys.

I’m looking at Twinkie the Kid, a cowboy twinkie circa 1981. Hat, boots, bandana, the works. Twinkie the Kid is sending a mixed message. He has a bandit style name. Nobody in the Wild West called themselves “The Kid” unless they were up to no good. He doesn’t look like trouble. He has a pleasant smile, wears no six shooter, and seems only interested in filling you with sugary, cream centered, sponge cake goodness.

Across the page is Captain Cup Cake. Captain of what, you ask? Cup Cakery. He too is from 1981 and hails from the same bakery as Twinkie the Kid. He seems to be a Naval Captain. Finally they are joined by the orange flavored King Ding Dong, replete with crown and scepter reigning over CakeLand, inviting you to bask in his sucrose benevolence.

Show Me A Sign

This has simply been a fun look at quirky food folks who helped us make wise culinary choices. The art was usually simple, always whimsical, and often strange. If you’re out and about town, try to notice some signage that makes you giggle, wince, wonder, or, if the sign works, buy. Please share your comments with me about ads that tickle you. I look forward to your whimsy. Thanks for reading.

Except for the  Mascott Coffee lady, which I photographed at the Missouri Historical Society, all other images are from Meet Mr. Product, The Art of the Advertising Character, written by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain and published by Chronicle Books San Francisco, ©2003 Warren Dotz.