Leave it to parents with eagle eyes to ask the right questions. Take the case of Josh Friedland of The Food Section and American Girl's newest historical character, Jewish Lower East Side-denizen Rebecca Rubin.
Friedland's Rebecca-related inquiry started during an innocent (aren't they all?) visit to the American Girl store in The Grove with his 3 year-old daughter, where he noticed something was fishy, or rather, SHOULD have been fishy with Rebecca's bagel included with her School Set. The thinly sliced orange cheese condiment struck him as being a dubious choice for a product line that claims historical accuracy. “A Shonda!,” he writes. “I mean, really, where's the cream cheese?”
So Friedland contacted bagel historian and author Maria Balinska, who confirmed that the shape of the bagel itself and cheese appeared to be historically inaccurate. More likely condiments would have been cream cheese or smoked fish.
When reached for comment, a PR rep for American Girl offered the following explanation via email:
Our historical researcher for the Rebecca series consulted with food historians about the bagel in Rebecca's School Set. While there is a lack of hard historical data on what toppings were the most common or popular in the 1910s, we found that people developed their own favorites just like today. It's likely people used preserves, cheeses, and other toppings with bagels as they would with other breads. In order to add some color and interest to the bagel in Rebecca's School Set, our Product Development team chose an orange cheddar cheese (not sliced American cheese), which also would have stood up to being in an unrefrigerated school lunch box.
So it's up to you whose word to trust: that of a bagel scholar, or an historical toy research department, whose choices were in part guided by doll accessory aesthetics. But now we still wonder if Balinska's book was consulted during the research process. In the meantime, parents might want to spend a little extra time while talking with their Rebecca-doting kids about the contents of Rebecca's lunchbox.