Cover image for A square meal : a culinary history of the Great Depression
Title:
A square meal : a culinary history of the Great Depression
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2016]

©2016
ISBN:
9780062216410
Physical Description:
x, 314 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Abstract:
"From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced -- the Great Depression -- and how it transformed America's culinary culture. The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country's political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America's relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse of the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished -- shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder. In 1933, as women struggled to feed their families, President Roosevelt reversed long-standing biases toward government-sponsored 'food charity.' For the first time in American history, the federal government assumed, for a while, responsibility for feeding its citizens. The effects were widespread. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, 'home economists' who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen rose to national stature. Tapping into America's long-standing ambivalence toward culinary enjoyment, they imposed their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine on the American dinner table. Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to instill dietary recommendations, the forerunners of today's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At the same time, rising food conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods that gave rise to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national cuisine sparked a revival of American regional cooking. In the ensuing decades, the tension between local traditions and culinary science has defined our national cuisine -- a battle that continues today. A Square Meal examines the impact of economic contraction and environmental disaster on how Americans ate then--and the lessons and insights those experiences may hold for us today. A Square Meal features 25 black-and-white photographs" -- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner

From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced--the Great Depression--and how it transformed America's culinary culture.

The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country's political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America's relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse of the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished--shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder.

In 1933, as women struggled to feed their families, President Roosevelt reversed long-standing biases toward government-sponsored "food charity." For the first time in American history, the federal government assumed, for a while, responsibility for feeding its citizens. The effects were widespread. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, "home economists" who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen rose to national stature.

Tapping into America's long-standing ambivalence toward culinary enjoyment, they imposed their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine on the American dinner table. Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to instill dietary recommendations, the forerunners of today's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

At the same time, rising food conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods that gave rise to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national cuisine sparked a revival of American regional cooking. In the ensuing decades, the tension between local traditions and culinary science has defined our national cuisine--a battle that continues today.

A Square Meal examines the impact of economic contraction and environmental disaster on how Americans ate then--and the lessons and insights those experiences may hold for us today.

A Square Meal features 25 black-and-white photographs.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

This absorbing history explores what American's ate-and, even more, didn't eat-during the Great Depression, an economic upheaval that devastated agriculture and food budgets. Husband-and-wife food historians Coe (Chop Suey) and Ziegelman (97 Orchard) revisit an era when dire poverty and widespread hunger prompted a raft of food innovations. As bread lines lengthened, political leaders vacillated over the provisioning of food to destitute families while dodging accusations of fostering dependency and laziness. Welfare supports such as food stamps and the school lunch program inaugurated the enduring bureaucratization of food. The period also witnessed a sea change in how Americans thought about food, shifting the focus from taste and abundance to nutrition as scientists and home economists sought to prescribe adequately nutritious diets from the cheapest possible foods-after Eleanor Roosevelt adopted a scientifically engineered economy menu devised at Cornell University, the White House was generally thought to serve the worst fare in Washington-and new convenience inventions such as frozen vegetables revolutionized cooking. Coe and Ziegelman have written an engaging social history illustrated throughout with historically authentic recipes. Even if the period cuisine doesn't make the reader's mouth water, the vivid recreation of American eating at a historical crossroads is engrossing. Photos. Agent: Jason Yarn, Jason Yarn Literary. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

SUBSTITUTE: Going to School With a Thousand Kids, by Nicholson Baker. (Blue Rider Press, $20.) Baker, a novelist, joined the corps of substitute teachers in a public school district in Maine. With each day of teaching a chapter, he offers modest policy proposals (less homework) and an ear attuned to the mundane rhythms of a school, resulting in what our reviewer, Garret Keizer, said "may be the most revealing depiction of the contemporary American classroom that we have to date." TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, by Eowyn Ivey. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $16.99.) It's 1885 and Col. Henry T. Allen is leading an expedition into Alaska's uncharted, sublime wilderness. As our reviewer, Amy Greene, put it, "We often count on our artists to see the wild beauty our civilized eyes no longer can, to remind us, as Ivey does in her remarkable new book." MUSLIM GIRL: A Coming of Age, by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. (Simon & Schuster, $15.) Growing up in New Jersey, the author was 9 years old at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and recounts in her memoir the racism and Islamophobia she and her family subsequently experienced: "It was like a curtain had been pulled back on my family, casting them into the spotlight, and revealing to them a world that seemed to have always been festering behind a thin veil." BLACK WATER, by Louise Doughty. (Picador, $16.) Hidden away in a Balinese town, John Harper, a contractor for a faceless European corporation, is waiting to be murdered. When he falls in love with Rita, a local woman, more of his story comes to light. Doughty's excellent thriller examines how early childhood traumas - and a personal history that echoes Indonesia's - help to explain how Harper became an instrument of Western economic and political power. A SQUARE MEAL: A Culinary History of the Great Depression, by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe. (Harper, $15.99.) This evocative cultural history investigates how the experience of widespread hunger - roughly a quarter of Americans were undernourished - affects the United States' relationship to food today, including taste preferences and understanding of nutrition. LUCKY BOY, by Shanthi Sekaram. (Putnam, $16.) At 18, Soli made the journey from Mexico to Northern California as an undocumented immigrant; once she gives birth to her son, Ignacio, motherhood gives her life an organizing principle. But when she faces deportation, Soli and Ignacio's lives intersect with that of a wealthy Indian-American woman - who desperately wants a child - at a critical juncture.


Choice Review

Ziegelman and Coe's work is an engaging history of eating during the Great Depression and how the efforts by government agencies, social workers, and home economists did and did not alleviate widespread hunger. The authors use a wealth of primary sources to tell interesting and, at times, heartbreaking stories of numerous individual and organizational struggles with food during not only the Great Depression, but also the post-World War I era. The early chapters provide a fascinating history of the difference between rural and urban eating cultures in the 1910s and 1920s; they are followed by such topics as early forays into nutritional science, the encouragement by home economists for immigrants to abandon their native cuisines for American food (for both alleged improved health and social cohesion), efforts of social workers to improve the health of their communities, and the divergent tactics of both the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations with federal assistance programs. The book could have benefited from a cohesive structural anchor of the narrative, but that does not detract from a rich and fascinating work. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. --Skye Hardesty, Georgia State University


Library Journal Review

Accomplished culinary historians -Ziegelman (97 Orchard) and Coe (Chop Suey) team up to create a highly digestible food history of the Great Depression. The book begins with the abundance of U.S. provisions before the Depression: those high-calorie, traditional meat and pie meals baked on the farm. The 1930s, however, ushered in a new era of rationing, breadlines, and bare-bones meals. This account reveals the kinds of dishes people prepared. Many recipes are provided throughout. The diverse historical narrative details not only the kitchen table but also the wider politics and social dynamics of the period. It further traces the emerging nutritional studies that guided many New Deal operations. Particularly illuminating are the portions relating to the sudden growth of breadlines in 1930, and the ways in which many folks scraped together just enough flour and milk to survive the hard times. Excerpts from primary documents give readers a sense of the various and rich voices from the Depression. -VERDICT This thought-provoking work concerning the most important commodity during America's greatest economic crises will have wide appeal.-Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant P.L., IA © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.