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The “Curse” In Jell-O’s Legacy That Affected Its Family And City

A series of psychogenic episodes in the “town that Jell-O built” took the media by storm a few years ago. It was described as “mass hysteria,” “mysterious tics,” “Tourettes symptoms,” and “mystery illnesses.” But not once did any description of it come close to the truth of what happened and what the cause was — until now.

Between 2011 and 2012, a group of girls in LeRoy, New York made headlines when they all began experiencing “Tourette’s syndrome-like symptoms” with an unknown cause. LeRoy is the birthplace of Jell-O, and where the original factory once stood. But it’s the once-beloved snack brand’s attachment to the whole ordeal that makes this story particularly infamous.

The symptoms these girls experienced included uncontrollable spasm-like movements, uttering repeatedly strange noises, convulsive fits, and anxiety attacks. Officially, the diagnoses came in as “mass psychogenic illness” and “conversion disorder,” but the source of it was still unknown. There were loads of explanations offered up by the media, including mold in the walls, toxic spills, and other theories.

Allie Rowbottom, one of the surviving members of the family that owns Jell-O’s patent, has a more vivid and intricate understanding of the real causes. She partially blames her family, who lived in LeRoy, as well as Jell-O itself, for why those girls experienced the symptoms they did. She speaks from experience, as herself, her mother, and her grandmother all went through the exact same thing: something they call “The Jell-O Curse.”

That curse spawned from oppressive patriarchy and misogyny, and to Rowbottom, that’s what those girls experienced.

Rowbottom’s new book, Jell-O Girls, explicitly details how femininity was skirted and diminished by her family and by Jell-O over the course of both of their histories, and how that has translated into what happened with the LeRoy girls a few years ago. The patriarchal shadow cast by those involved with Jell-O is one that just wasn’t exclusive to the town’s culture. As through its passively sexist marketing strategy, it had woven itself into the fabric of American history.

Photo courtesy of Allie Rowbottom

Within the “Jell-O family,” there is a clear history of the women being physically and mentally abused by the men, including instances of sexual assault and rape. This was how the “Jell-O Curse” manifested itself, but while the men attributed it to money and lust, the women discovered misogyny to be the real reason. Rowbottom utilizes her grandmother, Midge, her mother, Mary, and herself as examples to convey this misogynistic and sometimes graphic timeline.

Among those three, Mary’s story is the most disturbing, especially when her own experiences in life and with Jell-O became deeply intertwined, and even more so once she became sick with cancer at a later age. “For my mother, Jell-O was more loaded,” Rowbottom told Foodbeast, “and when she was well, she avoided Jell-O, seeing it as a signifier of trauma she wanted to put behind her. Later, though, when she could eat nothing else, she accepted Jell-O glumly, like a past she couldn’t outrun.”

While the “Jell-O Curse” has affected all three of the women Rowbottom talks about, Mary was the one who suffered under it the most. This was partially because of how she learned about it at a young age. The men in her family attributed the “curse” to money and the “women that were drawn to it.” For Mary, though, it was the opposite: it was the men she was involved with inside and outside of the Jell-O family that were responsible for the rougher parts of her life, including trauma due to sexual assault and harassment from a very young age.

The roles she was defined into, whether it be as used for physical pleasure by a cousin or as housekeeper and caretaker by her company, led to her own psychiatric snaps and episodes. For Mary, these ranged from panic attacks to the symptoms the girls in LeRoy experienced a few years ago. It happened over multiple stages of her life, as well, ranging from her time in college to when Rowbottom was a young girl. It was these similar symptoms that made her recognize what was happening with the LeRoy girls, and why she wanted to get her story out.

Rowbottom shares the experiences from her and her grandmother that were also traumatizing and at the fault of the men of the Jell-O empire. But none exemplified more what happened with the so-called “curse” of patriarchal oppression and manipulation than what Mary went through.

It wasn’t just the family that owned Jell-O’s patent that had to deal with the traditional patriarchal ways of the men in it. Throughout the company’s history, its marketing campaign was oft targeted towards women, as Jell-O’s team saw them as the “housekeepers” and with very limited freedom. Rowbottom details several of these ads in her book, which included recipe books and advertisements all targeted to the women’s role as a host with limited independence.

For her, the commercials and marketing depict Jell-O as “a means of speaking about the history of women in America, the ways in which we’ve been silenced, the ways in which that silence has hurt us, hurt everyone, of every gender, race, class and orientation.” From their directions that relegate women to the role of housekeeper and party host to the inability to keep up with the changing desires of the modern women, Jell-O’s strategy in advertising has been a clear show of chauvinism in the past.

Why can Jell-O’s advertising and business be described this way? It’s because Jell-O’s marketing strategy had its hand in defining the roles of women that the patriarchy called them “crazy” to step out of. Women leaving the home, becoming more independent, and becoming more active in society was against that trend, and why Jell-O struggled so mightily to retain that key group of consumers in the long run.

In a way, this is how Mary revealed what the “Jell-O curse” really was to Rowbottom. “‘Growing up I learned it was money,’ she recalls her mother saying in the book. “Now I think it’s silence, and the sickness silence plants, like seeds, inside women. Jell-O made people silent,” Mary continued, “‘by convincing us we’re less powerful than we really are.’”

jell-o girlsPhoto: Science History Institute // Wikimedia Commons

Jell-O’s inability to keep up with the times and patriarchal ideals is what eventually did the city of LeRoy in. Heavily steeped in that culture, the city chose to keep the Jell-O factory running instead of preserving the nearby college of Ingham University, the country’s first for women. As a result, the factory eventually shut down as the company’s sales waned and Jell-O became a product of the past. The town’s economy then greatly suffered, and over time, the community reverted into a tiny village that relied on archaic takes on family values to survive. This, of course, included the restrictive constructsof patriarchy that women, especially in today’s day and age, have since outgrown and defied.

The girls of LeRoy who had “mass psychogenic illness” back in 2011 experienced the same symptoms that the Rowbottoms had over the years, and their experiences were just as unexplainable to doctors as the Jell-O family members’ symptoms were. Rowbottom describes it as a need to act out when there’s been so much oppression of independence just to satisfy roles that women were defined into but never had a say in.

“To express and exorcise one’s trauma, the myriad emotions that trauma entails, will never be a sign of weakness (despite what cultural forces may try to tell us),” she says, “but rather, a sign of strength.”

Packaged Food Products Sweets

Jell-O Just Launched DIY Edible Building Blocks For Kids

My mother always told me never to play with my food. Unfortunately, that’s something I never quite grew out of. Part of me knew that if I waited it out, playing with my meals would one day become socially acceptable. Well it seems that day has finally come.

Jell-O announced the debut of their first-ever line of edible toys.

Called Jell-O Play Build and Eat Kits, children can use plastic molds to create Jell-O building blocks that they can stack together and build pretty much anything with.

Also debuting are Jell-O Play Cutter Kits which lets kids cut out whimsical shapes from Jell-O molds and Jell-O edible stickers. Bring them all together and the sky’s the limit.

The new Jell-O toys are available for pre-order on Amazon and, and will be available nationwide this summer.

I have to wonder though, despite the age 4-12 recommendation, if I could build a Millennium Falcon with these blocks? Curious.

Culture Tastemade/Snapchat

15 Foods You Either Loved or Hated Growing Up

Growing up, everyone had drastic opinions about food — maybe all things, if we’re being honest here. As kids, we’d take one bite of a meal and declare it to be the only food worth eating ever again, or we’d sniff something on our plate and knew it to be non-edible slop that had been served to us for reasons beyond our understanding. We weren’t exactly known for our nuanced palates.

But it’s not like kids agreed on what those foods were. We didn’t have nationwide or global meetings deciding which pizza toppings were good or bad. Weirdest of all were the foods that offered no middle ground whatsoever. They were the foods that no one was simply “meh” about. Throughout our childhood, these were foods that we either super absolutely loved or very much absolutely hated. Let’s look at those top contenders of what drove us wild, whether good or bad. Let’s celebrate that divide!


A meal that could arguably drum up suspicion from the get-go, casserole has a history of being a thick, creamy jungle of who knows what. However, sometimes it could just be a savory cascade of all your favorite goodies inside a deliciously layered festival of flavor.

Brussels Sprouts

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Well, well, well… look what food’s become the big ticket item in hip gastropubs these days, the food that was steamy, bland nonsense back in the day. This is a food that sincerely, wholly depends on who’s at the kitchen’s helm. It could either be crispy Heaven or boiled Hell.


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A loaf of meat? Incredible. A loaf of meat? Gross. Yes, this truly drove a wedge between families, as some would consider it a mysterious piece of meat combo that could get you insanely sick or a wonderful combination of all things savory.

Banana Pudding

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A relic leftover from the era when suburbia exploded, this recipe features a crazy amount of cream (just as a lot of things did back then). Not everyone was into that as youths. In fact, some kids hate biting into such floofy nonsense, only to get a bite of a Nilla Wafer, which wasn’t exactly Oreo. But then there were those who adored banana pudding. It was unique! It was carefree sugary mania! It tasted like a season that didn’t exist! In short, it was paradise found.


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This one definitely carries over into adulthood, with some of the kids who hated mushrooms turning into fungi lovers. Growing up, this could make or break pizza. They could be tolerated or savored in soups. It was sibling against sibling, spouse against spouse; rare was it for an entire household to agree if mushrooms were good.

Goat Cheese

When it comes to tang, goat cheese would basically slap around your tastebuds. You were just trying to enjoy your pizza, sandwich, or what have you, and in came this flavor that was super tangy aggressive and entirely without chill. But for others, it was such a weird, unique flavor you couldn’t help but love it. Goat cheese took otherwise predictable meals and gave them a tangy, cheesy twist. It was always just the right amount too, so it never got to be too wild.

Black Licorice

To you, this was either a lie posing as candy or a very unique sweet treat that not enough folk appreciated. Some argued it was for old people; some argued that most people’s mouths are just broken. It was either a pungent funk or a pleasant surprise. No one will ever agree and we’ll fight about black licorice until we’re all dead.


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These remain insanely divisive, but everything was magnified when we were kids. For the most part, these were too weird to add to anything and even stranger to add little fish to the most sacred of all kid’s meals — pizza. But to those craving salty meat, what delivered like anchovies? Plus, they always came in a bunch, so it felt like a relentlessly giving snack.

Nilla Wafers

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These always seemed like adult cookies, like the kind of sweets people who never lived enjoyed. They’d eat these for some reason, even though ice cream sundaes and every kind of candy bar existed. But, on the other hand, these were still cookies and cookies are chill and can always be dunked in milk and make your day right.


Ah yes, the coconut wars of our youth, where it could ruin Halloween or save a birthday cake. If you were anti, you’d take a bite of something and a slow realization would sweep over you as you spit out everything in your mouth. It wasn’t ever sudden. If you were pro, then you licked your lips and would accidentally eat, like, five helpings of anything with coconut. That was like consuming summer and feeling the sunshine course through you.

Blue Cheese

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Sure, the idea of eating moldy cheese outright sounded unappetizing for some (insane even), but for others, blue cheese brought with it a pure, scrumptious, wild tang. There was no taming it and no one who loved it would’ve want to anyway. But the naysayers wouldn’t come near it.


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Not everyone loved the jiggly sensation of whatever alien life form Jell-O counted as. Some found it unnerving at best and just a waste of time and energy otherwise. And yet, the other half of youngins were crazy all about it. Any flavor ruled; all of it was good. Somehow it felt like a health food you could play with?

Cream of Literally Anything Soup

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You’re born with the cream-of-soup gene or you aren’t. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. What may feel like eating soapy sewage to one individual may seem like devouring a warm sweater for your stomach on a cold day. And so on and so on.


This one can be blamed on simple science. According to SciShow, for an estimated 4-14% of the population, cilantro can taste like soap, due to a group of olfactory-receptor genes called OR6A2. It picks up on aldehyde chemicals, which are found in both cilantro and soap. However, to everyone else, cilantro is an amazing addition to anything from tacos to soups to pastas and it should be celebrated accordingly.


With strange foods, polarizing opinions seemed inevitable. But a raging debate over bananas never made sense to me, and yet I saw it happen time and time again in my youth. I would watch someone bite into the long, yellow fruit like a monster and laugh about how good it was and then I’d behold a livid other person wanting to watch a world of banana-lovers burn to the ground. One day, there will be a war. Which side will you be on?


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#foodbeast Recipes

Sour Patch Kid Grapes Are The Crazy Hybrid Snack You Need Right Now

We’ve published numerous homemade recipe videos recreating our favorite name brand foods right in the comfort of our own kitchen. However, Sour Patch Kids grapes are by far the easiest.

Made by using water and a few different flavors of Jell-O or other gelatin powder, our re-work of this snack can transform a bunch of ordinary grapes into some naturally sweet and simple Sour Patch Kids flavored grapes.

All you need to do is grab a toothpick, dip a grape in water, then roll it, dunk it, or coat it in your choice of Jell-O mix. This process is very safe, quick and affordable. Not to mention, the final product is absolutely delicious.


I Can’t Stop Watching My Favorite Drinks In Gummy Form, Getting Sliced Up


Earlier today, we talked about a YouTuber who recreated an entire Milk Jug with Jell-O ingredients and it looked eerily identical to the real thing. After a bit more digging, I realized there’s a beautiful archive of culinary and artistic geniuses recreating their favorite bottled drinks in Jell-O or gummy form.

Here are some highlights of pure gummy bear wizardry with accompanying instructional recipes:

Orange Fanta Gummy:

Blue Powerade Gummy:

Mountain Dew Code Red:

Regular Mountain Dew:

Rainbow Soda Bottle:

Nutella Jar…which could be a drink if you want it bad enough:


This Girl Cuts Into A Milk Jug And Reveals It’s Eerily All Jell-O [WATCH]

Ever seen a gallon of Jell-O? No? How about a gallon of milk? Probably. Now you can say you’ve seen a gallon of milk, made out of a gallon of Jell-O.


YouTuber Karina Garcia made a nifty how-to video for people who want to create giant beverage containers out of Jell-O, you know, for those wild Jell-O parties we keep going to empty-handed.

Her video shows the painstaking process, but of course she includes a money shot, a few key incisions into the Jell-O mold that ends up looking freakishly like the real thing:



Bugs, Butt, and Other Weird Food Additives You’ve Probably Eaten Today


People are willing to eat all kinds of weird stuff, but often we’re eating all kinds of weird stuff when we think we’re eating something totally normal. Like gum. Or Jell-O. But hey, if it tastes delicious, what’s the harm in a little secretion from a pig’s anus? Here are 10 very weird things manufacturers put in very normal-seeming food. Now pass the anus candy.



Artificial Raspberry Flavoring Comes From Beaver Butt Juice


Yes, it’s pretty effin’ weird that one of the things that makes artificial raspberry flavoring in sodas and candy taste raspberry-y is castoreum, something that is exuded from a beaver’s anal glands. What’s even weirder is that this discovery was the result of somebody venturing to taste a beaver’s anal gland secretions.


 Crushed Beetles: Tons of Red Food Products


One of the most commonly used ingredients in red food coloring is flakes of mashed-up beetles, and not the kind of mashed-up Beatles Danger Mouse did when he combined The White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album. Still, we’re willing to bet that Ringo loves him some red velvet cake.



Dog Vagina Pheromones: Beer and Wine


Ever wonder why Spuds McKenzie loved beer so much? Beer and wine often contain a preservative called methylparaben, which, in addition to keeping booze fresh, is also a pheromone found in dog’s vaginas. Does that make us all Eskimo brothers with Spuds?



Sheep Juice: Gumballs


Often referred to as “gum base”, the stuff that makes your favorite gumball so gummy is actually a substance known as lanolin, which is an oil found in sheep’s wool. Interestingly, that makes gum yet another instance of lamb going great with mint.


Shellac: Jellybeans


More bug secretions! This one begs a very important question: would you rather be cool with eating something coated with a resin often used in furniture polish, or would you rather eat not-shiny jellybeans? We know you know the answer to that.


Hair: Bread


Bread, like the glorious mane of one Carrot Top, needs to be bouncy and moist. So it should be no surprise that mass-produced bread products are baked with hair… more specifically, through an amino acid called L-cysteine, which is most commonly extracted from hair, but can also be found in feathers. Carrot cake, anyone?


Polydimethylsiloxane: Chicken Nuggets


This silicone product is pure magic, showing up in everything from Silly Putty to Pamela Anderson’s boobs. It also shows up in chicken nuggets, where it acts as a bonding agent for those chicken parts. Sadly, it fails to explain why you can’t copy newsprint by pressing a McNugget against it.


Sand: Chili


You ever eat a cake made of sand? Hell no, you say!? That’s because sand is an anti-caking agent. It’s also used in mass-produced chili, kind of like the stuff sold by a certain fast-food chain with a red-headed mascot who looks like she’s never set food on a beach in her life.


Bones: Jell-O


Ever see Bill Cosby hanging out with hardcore vegans? Let’s wildly speculate that it’s because the Cos shills a delicious treat that has ground bones and skin as one of its ingredients. So, technically and despite its jiggly nature, Jell-O kinda has a bone structure. Oh, and you might wanna avoid non-vegan sugar, as well.


Beef Fat: Twinkies


Beef: it’s what’s for dinner. And apparently dessert, because one of the things that makes Twinkies one of the most enduring (hell, they even resurrected them) and delicious snacks is beef fat. Which explains why you never see vegans eating Twinkies with Bill Cosby, actually. This conspiracy runs DEEP.


Andy Kryza is Thrillist’s National Eat/Drink Senior Editor, and has proudly lived vegetable-free since 2001. Follow his adventures/slow decline via Twitter at @apkryza.


JELL-O’s Surprise Commercial Announces Free Pudding for San Francisco


Just when you thought all the Super Bowl commercials were over, JELL-O surprised us all with one of the more charming spots that Sunday had to offer: a commercial dedicated to San Francisco’s loss.

Rest assured, it wasn’t a jab at the 49ers’ city, but a notice that on Tuesday, JELL-O will be giving away free pudding to several drop sites throughout the city. The brand is cheerfully congratulating San Francisco…”bringing you the sweet taste of pudding to mask the bitter taste of defeat.” A complete list of locations and how to get an early coupon is available on the micro-site, and the commercial can be seen in its entirety below: