History of American Food Cultures

Summer 2019 • HIST 413
info | readings

Course Readings

  • Donna R. Gabaccia, We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans, Revised edition (Harvard University Press, 2000)
  • Roger Horowitz, Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)
  • Jonathan Kauffman, Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat (William Morrow, 2018)
  • Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South (Amistad, 2017)
  • Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats: A Social History of U.S. Food and Culture, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014).

Jun 4


  • Review the syllabus, course aims, assignments, and general plan for the semester.
  • Key aspects of food studies and food history
  • Why are you here?

What do you think?

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

Warm ups

Jun 5

National Cuisine

  • Wallach, xi-xv.
  • Gabaccia, 1-10.
  • Mintz, “Eating American”. PDF
  • G. J. Fitzgerald and G. M. Petrick, “In Good Taste: Rethinking American History with Our Palates,” 392–404. PDF


Jun 6

Colonial Roots

Jun 7

  • Wallach, 33-55 (Food and the Founding).
  • Gabaccia, 10-35 (Colonial Creoles).
  • Heather Trigg, “Food Choice and Social Identity in Early Colonial New Mexico,” 223–252. JSTOR

Food Myths

Jun 11

Cookbooks as Historical Sources

The following two articles provide VERY useful ways of thinking about using cookbooks as historical sources. Read them carefully enough that you can apply their techniques to other cookbooks.

  • Arjun Appadurai, “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India,” 3–24. JSTOR
  • Colleen Cotter, “Claiming a Piece of the Pie,” 51–68. PDF

Early Cookbooks

  • Read the little blurbs about more cookbooks here

  • Amelia Simmons, American Cookery. Read the introduction by Karen Hess (ix-xv), and skim through the recipes. What stands out to you?

  • For the following (all mentioned on the Early American Cookbooks page), 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.

Discussion (in class)

  • Using the What strikes you as most surprising or bizarre about the cookbooks? How did they affirm or complicate your ideas of American food?

Impromptu Group Research Reports (in class)

  • Compare two from here
    • Hint: spend some time finding a good pair!

Note assignment due MONDAY!

Jun 12


  • Wallach, 57-87 (Expansion and Immigration). Read this for basic historical background and culinary changes underway.
  • Gabbacia, 36-63 (Immigration, Isolation, Industry). Don’t worry about the details in the stories, but think about what Gabaccia is trying to say in the chapter as a whole.


  • Our Twitty reading for this week is a fair number of pages, but as you’ve already seen, they go by quick. Read quickly over parts that aren’t interesting to you–but be ready to talk about WHY Twitty is describing what he does.
    • Twitty, Chapters 5 (Missing Pieces), 81-89; 8 (0.01 Percent), 119-139; 9 (Sweet Tooth), 141-159.

Jun 13

Boundaries of Taste

  • Gabaccia, 93-121 (Crossing the Boundaries of Taste).
  • Horowitz, 1-41 (Intro, Beef). There is more detail in here than we need, but try to formulate a overview of beef in the U.S. What are the major drivers of change with respect to beef production and consumption?

Jun 14

Moral Eating


  • Charlotte Biltekoff, Eating Right in America, 1-11 (Cultural Politics) PDF; 13-44 (Scientific Moralization) PDF.
  • Wilbur Atwater, “Chemistry, Foods, Nutrition” (1887), 59-74. PDF.


  • Wallach, 143-67 (Pious and Patriotic Stomach).
  • Gabaccia, 122-48 (American Values).

Regardless of which you read, 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?

Jun 18

  • DUE: Cookbook comparisons (to be presented in class; 500-word summary to turn in): Compare approaches of any two modern cookbooks.

Cookbook Assignment Goals

  • The main objective: Describe what your 2-4 cookbooks tell us about American Culture/Food/Cuisine
  • As a graded assignment, you should apply the readings and our discussion to your analysis of the cookbooks
  • Although your cookbooks will be vastly different from the early American ones we discussed in class, you should ask the same kinds of questions:
    • What kind of assumptions does the author(s) make about cooking/cuisine/food?
    • Who is the intended audience? What should they know? What should they care about?
    • What does the intended audience want?
    • What kind of language (commands, narrative, etc) does the cookbook use?
    • What kind of larger themes do the cookbooks appeal to (exotic, health, comfort, regional, national, hipster, classic, etc)
    • What are the various “national” or “ethnic” influences?
    • What do the cookbooks say about “American Food”?
    • Use the fact that you’re COMPARING/CONTRASTING a few different sources to help you answer these questions.
    • You are being evaluated on the quality/depth of your analysis (based on class readings and discussion), not description.

Food Will Win the War

  • Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant, Cultivating Victory: The Women’s Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement, 131-161. ProQuest Ebook
  • Harvey A. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty (Golden Age of Food Processing), 101-118. PDF

Jun 19

Mainstream and Counter-culture Foods

  • Horowitz, 42-102 (Pork, Hot Dogs). As before, read quickly, but come to class ready to discuss the broad contours of meat consumption and how Horowitz makes his argument about what’s changing and why.
  • Kauffman, 1-18 (Intro); 58-96 (Brown Rice and Macrobiotics); 97-130 (Brown Bread). This book is heavy on microbiography and anecdotal stories. You can skim over these quickly–but read for the big picture and to evaluate the quality of the story/argument.
  • Quiz probability: HIGH


  • Wallach, 124-141 (Gender and American Appetite).
  • Mark Weiner, “Consumer culture and participatory democracy: The story of Coca‐Cola during World War II”, 109-129.

Jun 20

Corporate Food

  • Horowitz, 103-154 (Chicken, Convenient Meat).

Pick one

  • Gabaccia, 149-74 (Big Business). As usual, lots more detail than we need–but read enough to get a sense of the importance of “ethnic” foods in the rise of mass market foods.
  • Harvey A. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty (Fast Foods and Quick Bucks), 227-236. PDF


Economic Analyses

Jun 21

American Meat Review (in class)

What do we make of Horowitz in context of the course? Strengths? Weaknesses? Assumptions? Biases? Omissions?

  • We’ll do this while finishing the quiz from yesterday.
  • This discussion will (hopefully) be VERY useful for your book review assignment due next week!

Finishing some books

  • Review old Kauffman assignment (from June 19).
  • Kauffman, 131-67 (Tofu). (originally for Monday)
  • Skim Gabaccia, 149-74, if you didn’t read it for yesterday.
  • Gabaccia, 175-201 (culinary roots); 225-232 (Conclusion). (originally for today)
    • Pay particular attention to how Gabaccia’s description relates to our earlier discussion of authenticity
    • We will be discussing Gabaccia in its entirely, so please think ahead of time how you would evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of it.

More Book Review Discussion

  • Our discussions of Gabaccia and Horowitz should provide a model for how to proceed with your own reviews

Key Book Review Questions (750-800 words)

  • What kind of story about American food does the author create?
  • What does the author do well? What seems to be less successful?
  • What kind of assumptions does the author make about food/taste/cuisine/etc?
  • What are the kinds of sources used? Are they sufficient for supporting historical claims?
  • What topics that we’ve covered in class are missing from the book (that should be there)?
  • How does the book complement or contradict other readings we’ve done?
    • In other words, how does the book connect with other (kinds of) food writing?

Website Analysis Guide (800-1000 words)

  • We will walk through how to conduct final website analysis summary (now due last day of class)

  • Google “history of X” where X is some food related topic.
  • Write 800-1000 words that analyze the search results through the lenses we used throughout the course.
    • Put your search phrase at the top of your assignment
  • The assignment is to describe the aggregate results; you are trying to create a typology.
    • A typology is a explanation of the KINDS of approaches you find, including their strengths and weaknesses.
  • As you did with cookbooks: You should indicate WHY the sites say what they do (don’t worry about design).
  • What can they tell us about approaches/values/interests related to food in America?

  • Maybe the best way to think of what you’re doing: Imagine that you’re creating a writing guide for the first page of search results. You’re writing for someone interested in the topic, but hasn’t taken this class and therefore might not be aware of the many assumptions/biases/omissions/etc that can easily infiltrate and entire set of sources. Your job, therefore, is to help guide your curious but naive reader through the minefield of food history on the web.

  • FOR BOTH: You now have, however rushed, expertise in the history of American Food. Use that expertise to write a critical and informed review. You are being evaluated on the extent to which your expertise shines through your reviews.

All work will be due 6/28 via email!

Jun 25

Food Media

More Food and Gender

The Food Network

Jun 26

  • Twitty, 199-217; 239-264; 265-281; 297-317.

Fad Diets (watch/read IN ORDER):

Modern Dietary Advice


  • As with everything, we want to evaluate the sources in the context of readings/discussions for this course
  • Can Fad Diets help define American Food?
  • Evaluate the idea of “natural” in terms of American food.
  • What do these articles assume (or at least focus on) in terms of definitions of food/diet/taste?

Jun 27

1 Book Review

2 Last Food Writings Bits

Closing Remarks

  • Assignment check-ins
  • HINTS FOR THE FINAL via course retrospective

Jun 28

  • DUE: 750-800 word book review of either Kauffman or Twitty
  • DUE: 800-1000 word website analysis
  • For both assignments, see important questions/goals listed under June 21.