Wendy McClure is a Chicago-based author of two books, I'm Not the New Me and The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan: Classic Diet Recipe Cards from the 1970s. We spoke recently about her amazing collection of vintage Weight Watcher cards.
ephemera: What possessed you to start collecting Weight Watcher's cards?
McClure: I found a set of 1974-era cards in the basement of my parents' house around 1999 or so. I was doing Weight Watchers at the time, so of course I was curious to see what sort of food the program had in the 1970s. I was just fascinated with the kinds of food trends the cards depicted (aspic salads, clumsy white-bread interpretations of ethnic dishes, etc.), the way the props really capture the era, things like that. I should say here that I don't know to what extent you can call the cards a "collection." After I found that first set, I bought a couple of duplicate sets on eBay that were in better condition, but I'm not really looking to find more cards or recipes to collect. Occasionally people will give me other cookbooks from the 60s and 70s, and they're funny, but I'm not planning on putting them online or writing about them the way I did with the '74 cards.
ephemera: They say if you have more than three of something you're a collector, and that definition seems reasonable to me. Tell me more about the cards and your involvement with them.
McClure: Some people seem to think I have every bit of Weight Watchers material ever published, and they'll email me hoping I'll magically have some diet tuna casserole recipe that their sister made back in 1982. Er, no. I've had to really explicitly state on my website that I do NOT have anything other than the cards.
ephemera: Yeah, I feel your pain; I get some wacky requests, too. What are your favorite Weight Watcher's items?
McClure: I love the Snappy Mackerel Casserole card. It makes no sense but visually it's so much fun. And I have a pack of the cards still in their original shrink-wrap, with a sticker on them that says "$1.99." Aren't collectors supposed to love stuff that's still shrink-wrapped?
ephemera: Yes, shrink-wrapped is good, boxed is good. Anything in the original packaging is beloved stuff. What's your advice for achieving success as a collector?
McClure: For vintage recipe cards? Just keep your eye out, I guess. They're not hard to find. I think recipe card sets are like fondue pots--the sort of thing that people buy and then never use. In my experience it's not unusual to come across a 20-year old set of cards that are in great condition.
ephemera: Any other passing thoughts for those curious about Weight Watcher cards?
McClure: If you like making fun of vintage recipes you can always check out my book, The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan, or James Lilek's book, The Gallery of Regrettable Food.
ephemera: The books sound like great fun. And the cards themselves are a delight. Thanks for your participation, Wendy.
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.