What Would Walt Eat?

A new book points out his love for hotdogs, chili, and the mundane.


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A new large-format book offers a look at the food of Disneyland and its creator.

© Disney Enterprises Inc.

There are more ways to experience Disneyland than even Walt Disney himself foresaw on July 17, 1955, the opening day for the “Happiest Place on Earth.” In addition to single- or multiday tickets and special hotel, VIP, tour, and event packages, there are other options, plus 3D virtual visiting via Google Street View. Here in the Bay Area, The Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio provides staycation access to the amusement park’s art, artifacts, and history.

A new, large-format book by Santa Rosa food and wine author Marcy Carriker Smothers, Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food, allows line-avoidant, armchair visitors an opportunity to celebrate the iconic American location’s cuisine. Filled with archival photographs, menus, and well-researched profiles of six parklands, the book also includes period-specific recipes from Disney’s home and favorite restaurants beyond the theme park. Extra chapters reveal his home life, eating habits (hotdogs, chili, and what some would call “boring” cuisine, according to Smothers), along with studio innovations: on-site, subsidized restaurants for employees that added convenience but also aimed at higher productivity; the exclusive, men’s-only Penthouse Club that in retrospect lays bare the era’s ugly, patriarchal, white-man-in-power slant but at the time was accepted and built morale among high-ranking executives and animators.

The attraction’s history may not be as spic-and-span as the park itself, but Smothers’ tales shine with joy and enthusiasm largely due to her delight sparked by personal memories. Smothers notes historic details that include Disney’s fastidious, early planning for things like garbage receptacles that were designed with swing tops to hide contents from view and precluded the need to lift the lid and other examples. She also draws connections between parkland restaurant design and menus and social, political, and cultural themes of the mid-20th century. Despite her obvious appetite for research and accuracy, she displays an exuberant writing style and humor when it’s needed, which means the food and fun facts are never overshadowed by long-winded observations. Did you know Doritos were invented in Disneyland?

Perhaps most admirable is this balanced delivery that is much like Disneyland: Everyday, mainstream interests (food, gossip, entertainment, the need to understand ourselves and the cosmos) mixes with dreamy aspirations to feed our desires with otherworldly foods, places, and people.

 

Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food by Marcy Carriker Smothers (Disney Editions, September 2017, 176 pp., $23.79).

 

This report was originally published by our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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