July 27, 2008
Some inspiration is impossible to trace back to its source. Neither Jeni or I can recall how we originally stumbled upon the idea of a party exploring the American icon, Tupperware. Was it a side-long glance from that other icon of the 50s so beloved by me—Nancy Drew? Did one of us stumble upon a Jell-o mold at an ol’ fashioned Midwestern potluck? Or perhaps it was the invitation to a Pampered Chef party that sparked the imagination of a cultural anthropologist and a creative writer. The muse is now lost beneath the settled dust of memory, but that didn’t stop the event from finally becoming a reality.
Fact: every 2.5 seconds, a Tupperware party is being hosted somewhere in the world. But not at our house! We’re slipping between the temporal cracks. Part homage, part performance art, part potluck—our event seeks not to sell, but simply to entertain and inspire.
Everyone is encouraged to bring a dish: something with Jello or something served in the world’s most iconic plastic container or something you submitted to the Ultimate Lutheran cookbook (or would have if you’d paid attention to Aimee’s deadline) or any favorite dish, really. No hard and fast rules here.
That applies to gender as well—this is not a ladies only event though we will certainly be paying tribute to our foremothers.
Jeni’s Jell-O mold
A cardinal rule of Tupperware parties: warm your guests up; give them time to get to know each other, to socialize. It should also go without saying that a good “sell” should never happen on an empty stomach.
Fortunately, our guests brought more than just Jell-O dishes, and we all managed to have a well-balanced meal.
my nontraditional use of a Tupperware mold—cous-cous salad
Dinner was followed by our performance. We began with a piece of found drama, an excerpt from Know How! The Guide to Making Money with Tupperware… (Fifth Edition). Tupperware Home Parties, Inc., 1958. (We found it courtesy of the PBS website—they’ve got a great documentary on Tupperware that I heartily endorse: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/tupperware/).
Jeni followed with her anthropological musings and her own personal party story.
I want to start in the near present and weave my way back to Tupperware traditions. It was one of the first times I left the house without Emmett in tow during his first year of life, and it was a big deal. I was trying to find something to wear, something I liked, that fit my still settling body, trying to double check that Andy had what he needed (mostly Zo and Milk), and most importantly I still had to pump so that I could both miss a feeding and have some wine. Like generations before me I was going to a Home Party. Not a Tupperware party and not even the yuppie version we are all familiar with, Pampered Chef, this home party was featuring body pampering products with a tinge of social justice—the body shop. The Hostess was a woman from my new mom’s group and out of the group of roughly 12 that met biweekly to hang out, she was one of 4 doing some kind of home party selling. For Andrea it was a way to make a little bit of money while staying at home with her one year old, for the rest of us it was a chance to get out of the house and be, literally un-tethered, for a few hours. This is also the Tupperware story. Women sold, and sell, Tupperware as a way to make a little money, for those little extras for the house because working outside the house didn’t fit the ideology of the time. And women went because it was fun, a girl’s night out away from the responsibilities of home and family.
an excerpt from Jeni’s “Cultured Containers: ethnographic notes on Tupperware“
I then shared some crafted “found” poetry and prose that commented a bit on the founders of the Tupperware empire and explored some of the gender dynamics that arose within the culture of the company. I couldn’t help but end with a passionate plea for the better understanding of plastic as the fabulous medium it is.
excerpt from “Plastics in the ’80s“
Afterwards, we gave prizes to those who guessed the proper or most creative uses for the mysterious pieces of Tupperware Mr. Hoffman found on his intrepid thrift store excursion in Decatur, Illinois (good way to spend time at the in-laws), before opening the party up to testimonials and general merrymaking.
The PBS website supplied a fabulous time line of important Tupperware events in the context of women’s history, American history and plastic’s history. Here’s our clothesline version.
close-ups of the time line
the mystery pieces
kitty and Tupperware grater
some of Jeni’s pieces
our version of a sign women made at one of the Tupperware Jubilees, an annual event held in Florida to train and inspire Tupperware dealers
walking my poodle
detail of the poodle on my pencil skirt
All in all, I think Brownie Wise would have been proud.
Bonus: check out the merit badge I made for Jeni and I.