Throughout history white bread has implied purity, with flour white as snow. Until industrialization and the introduction of the roller mill in the nineteenth century, white flour was extremely hard to come by, inherently wasteful, and associated only with the upper echelons of society. Look at paintings throughout history and a peasant will be holding a brown loaf of bread, the nobility white bread.
Today as a whole, all social classes have achieved what has so long been sought after, the illustrious white bread. Yet with the rise and fall of Wonderbread, there has been a paradigm shift in how we perceive (white) bread as a food and social marker.
The rise of Wonderbread came about at a time when corner bakeries were cutting their flour with wood pulp and other non-food additives as a way to cheapen costs. Although not a novel idea (wood pulp and other flour alternatives were cut into flour in Europe during grain shortages, although bakeries were typically very strictly regulated) it created a consumerist desire for a trustworthy bread, which Wonderbread was able to deliver.
Unfortunately, these highly processed white breads offer very little nutrition, as the vitamin, mineral and fiber containing bran and germ are sifted out. As white bread became the staple grain source, deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals became common in the American diet, and poor Americans were essentially starving from a lack of vitamins. Rather than work towards introducing more whole grains into the diet, they resorted to “restoring” the bread by enrichment, adding back iron and B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, folic acid).