History of American Food

Summer 2019 • HIST 413
info | readings

For all readings

Be prepared to answer the following in class:

  • What did you take away from the reading?
  • What is the author’s argument or point to the chapter?
  • What kind of evidence do they use to support their argument?
  • Do they have appropriate sources? Sufficient evidence for their claims?
  • How do these chapters overlap with previous readings?

Course Books

  • Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats: A Social History of U.S. Food and Culture, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014). online

  • Keith W. F Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald, America’s Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004). online

  • Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Que Vivan Los Tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998). Several copies available at CSWR.

  • Marcie Cohen Ferris, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014. online

  • Ruth Reichl, Best American Food Writing 2018.

Notes about access

If you are on campus, the above [online] links take you to the library catalog page for that book with a “View eBook” link. This link brings you to the EBSCOhost site where you can read the chapters online. Click the “PDF Full Text” link on the left, then use the left nav to find the chapter or pages you’re looking for. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to reliably link directly to specific pages.

If you are not on campus, you’ll notice a small blue box with a “Remote Access” link on the library catalog page. Click that link to sign into the UNM Main Campus Library Network, which will ensure you can access the online version as described above.

How to survive the readings

If you peek at the reading schedule page, you might think there is a lot of reading. You’re right! As a compressed, intensive course, there is a lot of reading. This is unavoidable because I respect the challenges and demands of a four-week course that ostensibly provides comparable intellectual rigor as a full-semester course.

Obviously we can’t just quadruple the reading load for each day. So, it’s roughly double that of a typical upper-level history course. You cannot possibly read every word, or every page, or master all the ideas, and that’s just fine. I expect you to come to class with a familiarity of all the assignments so that you can answer the questions noted at the top of the page. Because we’re covering so much ground so quickly, broad familiarity is far more important than specific details (although hopefully some historical detail will stick with you).

Learning to reading quickly and effectively is one of the key skills we’re developing in this course. You don’t have to read every word carefully to absorb the key features of the assignment. You simply need to read enough to form an opinion on how they approach the topic, what kind of argument they make, what kinds of sources they use, how interesting it is, how they differ from each other, why you do or don’t like it, etc. That’s what we’ll be talking about during our discussions, and you’ll learn from everyone else’s interpretations (or at least past students have reported that to be true).

Almost all readings are meant for a broad (largely non-academic) audience and therefore are relatively quick and engaging reads. At the same time, they are smart, articulate, and give us plenty to talk about, especially as we put them in conversation with each other, and how they tell very different stories of American Food.

Week 1

Jun 3


  • Review the syllabus, course aims, assignments, and general plan for the semester.
  • Why are you here?
  • Why study food?

Why Care About Taste?

  • Andrew P. Haley, “The Nation before Taste: The Challenges of American Culinary History,” The Public Historian, 34.2 (2012): 53–78.
  • G. J. Fitzgerald and G. M. Petrick, “In Good Taste: Rethinking American History with Our Palates,” 392–404. PDF

Looking Ahead

Jun 4

The Idea of National Cuisine

  • HAE, xi-xv.
  • Sidney Mintz, “Eating American”. PDF
  • Pick an essay from here, and find one interesting point you agree with and one you don’t. There are no right answers in any of the essays, but many great points we need to keep in mind throughout the course.

What do you think?

  • What are our conceptions of American Food? Where do they come from?



For reference

Jun 5

Colonial Roots

  • HAE, 1-31 (1: Cuisine of Contact).


  • Founding Food, 4-48.
  • Tamales, 7-24 (1: The People of Corn).

For reference

Jun 6

  • Founding Food, 49-70 (2: Beans and Pumpkins)
  • Founding Food, 71-119 (3: Fish and Shellfish).

Week 2

Jun 10

Revolutionary Food

  • HAE, 33-55 (2: Food and the Founding).
  • Edible South, 9-22 (1: Outsiders).
  • Edible South, 23-33 (2: Insiders).
  • SKIM: James E. McWilliams, A Revolution in Eating, 279-321 (8: A Culinary Declaration of Independence), via ugly PDF or ProQuest Ebook

Jun 11

Early Cookbooks as Historical Sources

  • Tamales, 25-43 (2: The Conquest of Wheat).
  • Founding Food, 120-147 (4: Cookbooks and Commerce).
  • Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook, 29-51 (2: Culinary Tradition).

  • For the following, there are no specific pages to read. But skim through the books and read a recipe here and there so you have a sense of their similarities and differences. What strikes you as most surprising or bizarre about the cookbooks? How did they affirm or complicate your ideas of American food? How can we use them as historical courses?

For reference

  • Colleen Cotter, “Claiming a Piece of the Pie,” 51–68. PDF
  • Jane C. Busch, “Using Cookbooks as Research Documents”, 22-25. PDF
  • Blurbs about Early American cookbooks here
  • Review the Cookbook Analysis Guide

Jun 12


  • Janet Siskind, “The Invention of Thanksgiving: A Ritual of American Nationality,” 167–91. PDF
  • First Thanksgiving Menu
  • Founding Food, 148-97 (5: Fresh and Sweet Pasture).
  • Founding Food, 198-231 (6: Of a Fruity Flavor).

Jun 13


  • HAE, 57-87 (3: Expansion and Immigration).
  • HAE, 169-78.
  • Tamales, 45-76.
  • Samantha Barbas, “‘I’ll Take Chop Suey’: Restaurants as Agents of Culinary and Cultural Change,” The Journal of Popular Culture, 36.4 (2003): 669–86.

Week 3

Jun 17: NO CLASS (midterm break!)

Read ahead!

Jun 18

  • HAE, 89-110 (4: Technology and Taste).
  • Edible South, 48-70 (4: Language of Food in Civil War South).
  • Edible South, 71-84 (5: African Americans and the Collective Memory of a 19th c. South).
  • Edible South, 85-93 (6: The Reconstructed Table).

Jun 19

Moral Food

  • Charlotte Biltekoff, Eating Right in America, 13-44 (Scientific Moralization) PDF.
  • Tamales, 77-97 (4: Tortilla Discourse).
  • Donna R. Gabaccia, We Are What We Eat (Food Fights and American Values), 122-48.

For reference

Jun 20

  • Tamales, 143-62 (7: Recipes for Patria).
  • Edible South, 97-122 (7: The Shifting Soil of Southern Agriculture).
  • Edible South, 109-123 (8: Home Economics and Domestic Science).
  • Edible South, 124-135 (9: The Southern “Dietaries”).
  • Edible South, 188-212 (13: Branding the Edible New South).

  • DUE: Cookbook reviews (to be presented in class; Bring printed summary to turn in. Remember to follow the Cookbook Analysis Guide.

Jun 21

Corporate and Counterculture Food

  • Warren J. Bellasco, Appetite for Change, 43-67 (3: Radical Therapy).
  • Warren J. Bellasco, Appetite for Change, 111-31 (5: The Orthodox Defense).
  • Edible South, 301-14 (18: Food Counterculture, Southern-Style).
  • Edible South, 315-32 (19: New Southern Cuisine).

For reference: Convenience

  • Harvey A. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 101-118 (7: Golden Age of Food Processing). PDF
  • Harvey A. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 227-236 (15: Fast Foods and Quick Bucks). PDF

For reference: Corn

Week 4

Jun 24

Gendered Cooking

The Food Network

  • Signe Rousseau, Food Media, xix-xxxiv PDF; 5-20 PDF.
  • Ray Krishnendu, “Domesticating Cuisine: Food and Aesthetics on American Television,” 50–63. PDF

For reference

Jun 25

Fad Diets (watch/read IN ORDER)

American Food can’t be discussed without reference to American dieting. As with previous readings, we’re not reading these because they are “right”, but because they illustrate a collective insanity about the relationship between food and health. How much do Fad Diets help define American Food? How should we understand the idea of “natural” in terms of American food?

Critiquing Dietary Advice

Natural Food

Jun 26

American Food Writing

For reference

  • Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann, “Democracy versus Distinction: A Study of Omnivorousness in Gourmet Food Writing,” American Journal of Sociology 113, no. 1 (2007): 165–204.

Jun 27