All posts tagged: food history

The Dietary Innovation & Disease Conference: A Debrief

Last week, I presented at a history of nutrition conference that took place on San Servolo, a small island about a ten minute boat ride off of Venice that for more than two hundred years housed an asylum. San Servolo proved a most fitting and inspiring setting for the Dietary Innovation and Disease in the 19th and 20th Centuries conference. We heard the lapping waters of the Venice lagoon, felt its cool breezes, and even saw a cruise ship or two pass by, all while listening to thought-provoking paper presentations at an academic conference. Co-organized by David Gentilcore and Matthew Smith, the well-executed event brought together thirty scholars from across the world, all working to unpack today’s nutrition issues through the study of dietary innovation and health in the past. As for me, I presented some of my new work on Fairlife milk, an “ultra-filtered” lactose-free milk with more protein and calcium and less sugar than “ordinary milk,” that just so happens to be distributed by Coca-Cola. Fairlife is a textbook example of what Gyorgy Scrinis calls “functional nutritionism,” in which the food industry seeks …

Teaching Food Studies, Cookbooks & Writing

How do cookbooks speak? What stories do they tell—and whose? What do cookbooks reveal about power and how it operates? How do cookbooks communicate and construct gender? These are some of the questions my students and I have pondered lately in our course “Food and Gender in U.S. Popular Culture” at Brown University. For our first assignment, students analyzed how cookbooks prescribe and transgress conventional gender roles. A uniquely interdisciplinary field, food studies scholarship often employs various methods, but the close reading of cookbooks is one method that approaches universality. Perhaps that’s part of why I’ve written on them so often (like here, here, and here). I’m working with a thoughtful and engaged group of 20 mostly first- and second-year students. While most had read and used cookbooks for cooking, few had previously considered them as elements of popular culture, as valuable historical evidence, as prescriptive literature that shape notions of gender, or as sources in which the so-often-silenced voices of women and people of color can be heard. In an effort to fully scaffold and support our work with cookbooks, we first did some reading. …

Post #100: Advice for Vegemite Virgins on Australia Day

My latest Zester piece encourages Americans to try Vegemite today, on Australia Day,  the country’s national holiday celebrating the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet of eleven convict ships from Great Britain arrived at Sydney Cove. If you try it, you’ll be joining a venerated group of non-Aussies who have taken the challenge: Oprah tried it during her shows in Sydney, on the steps of the Opera House, no less, and claimed to like it. Brad Pitt also tried it, sticking his finger boldly into the jar and tasting it from his fingertip, with diplomatic consideration for its flavor.  President Barack Obama confessed in 2011 to then-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard that he found the spread “horrible,” disappointing Vegemite lovers—including me. Niall Horan of One Direction echoed this sentiment in 2012 when he tasted Vegemite toast live on Australian television only to spit it out and later share on Twitter, ”Can clearly say vegemite is horrible!” Ten American children tasted Vegemite for the first time in a popular video that circulated last year. Vegemite failed to …

Trader Vic: The Man, The Legend, The Gastronomic Enigma

When I first acquired a copy of Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink (1946), I knew it wouldn’t be long before I wrote something about it. There’s a tangible excitement to owning a first edition of something, anything. In an age of inescapable planned obsolescence, it’s mildly thrilling to own something, anything from before 1950. As I flipped through the book’s pages, I couldn’t help but be interested in its recipes for mai tais and mojitos—drinks now so unquestionably commonplace that it’s hard to imagine a time when they once cast an allure of intriguing exoticism. Drinks aside, however, it was Trader Vic himself—San Francisco native, Victor Bergeron Jr.—who enthralled and beguiled me. My most recent piece for Zester Daily, “Trader Vic: The Apostle of Rum and Ready-Prepared Foods,” explores the fact and myth, truth and legend of the man who purportedly invented the mai tai, popularized the margarita and nachos, and introduced American diners to morel mushrooms, sunflower seeds and green peppercorns before most restaurants included them on the menu. Adored by diners and well-respected by food writers and restaurant critics, Bergeron did all this …

5 Posts to Celebrate National Coffee Day

It’s National Coffee Day, which means you can pick up freebies to sip that will pair perfectly with these coffee themed posts: 1. American Coffee Culture in 1872: So Different from Today? Start off with a taste of coffee history and ponder how coffee transformed into the United States’ national beverage and a potent patriotic symbol. 2. Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee: A Site and Source of Bostonian Identity Even During a Lockdown. During the manhunt and city-wide lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombing, Dunkin’ Donuts remained open to serve police officers and first responders. This piece, published in The Inquisitive Eater, considers the deep meaning of the coffee chain in New England. 3. The Dunkin’ Donuts Origin Story: A Meaningful Beginning. This piece covers a brief history of one of New England’s favorite chains. 4. When Theory Actually Applies: Starbucks is to Bourdieu as Dunkin’ Donuts is to Foucault. This post conducts a comparative cultural analysis of the two chains, which are I argue align with opposing theoretical frameworks. 5. Imagining the Dunkin’ Donuts Identity Outside of New England. Considering coffee consumption as an expression of identity, …

The Food Heritage, Hybridity & Locality Conference

The Food Heritage, Hybridity, and Locality Conference, which was held here at Brown University, October 23-25, 2014. This exciting event brought together presenters from throughout the United States and across the globe, whose work explores the intersection of tradition, place, and the dynamic processes of fusion, melding, and hybridization that create new food phenomena. Providence, Rhode Island proved a unique host for this conference—and not just because it has earned top rankings among Travel and Leisure’s America’s favorite food cities. As the conference call for papers states so well, waves of immigration have fashioned Rhode Island food culture into a unique hybrid, marked by such gastronomic wonders as Rhode Island chowder, whose clear broth defies both cream and tomato-based conventions, and Johnnycakes, cornmeal cakes whose origins are a complex combination of worlds both old and new. Even local, homegrown favorites fuse the conference’s themes of heritage, hybridity, and locality, like Del’s lemonade, a lemon flavored Italian ice sold from distinctive mobile units that first set up shop in Cranston, Rhode Island in 1948, and coffee milk, a beverage very deservedly Rhode Island’s state drink. Rhode Island provides additional examples, including the chow …

Archive Adventures #2: Wartime, Memorial Day … & Kraft American Cheese?

With the tagline, “Hanker No More!” this advertisement from my archive adventures at the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University celebrates the return of not only America’s World War II heros, but of Kraft cheese products, like Kraft American cheese, Velveeta, and “Old English” Pasteurized Process Cheese, which were rationed on the home front. Ad copy commiserates with America’s housewives: “For a long time during the war, you couldn’t get an ounce of this mellow, smooth-melting cheese; since then a single package has been ‘a find.’” Now, however, the “cheddar goodness you’ve missed so long” has not only returned to supermarket shelves, but “is plentiful.” Furthermore, while an ounce was once impossible to procure, Kraft American cheese could now be purchased in a five-pound loaf or by the half pound (packaged in blue) if preferred. Such linguistic comparisons of weights and measures reveal some evidence of the food industry’s post-war aim to not only find domestic markets for wartime goods, but to increase consumption more generally. Finally, nearly all of the other advertisements that I collected for Kraft cheeses during the …

Archive Adventures #1: The Oh-So-Glamorous World of Velveeta & Cheez Whiz

Telling the story of how the food industry won over (albeit not immediately) the hearts and kitchens of America’s housewives, Laura Shapiro‘s Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America (2004) is hands down one of my favorite food history texts. I very truly geeked out when she signed my copy at the Siting Julia symposium in 2012. As “deliciously readable” as The New York Times Book Review claims it to be, this delightful book demonstrates how in the years following World War II, the food industry, women’s magazines, and the press alike attempted to sell housewives on convenience food products, emphasizing the technological wonderment and time saving attributes of frozen vegetables, canned meats, and complete frozen meals. I got a taste of this myself when I was researching the marketing of Kraft food products in the archives at the Hartman Center at Duke University last month. But first, let’s talk a little history. Despite the industry’s best efforts, food technology at first failed to capture housewives’ hearts or stomachs. Women who had utilized processed foods during wartime rationing did not desire to do so when …

Defining American Food in ‘The Saturday Evening Post All-American Cookbook’

If you ever want to strike up a passionate food debate, just toss out the the question, “What is American food?” While you’ll hear the unenlightened decree with disdain that the United States has no food culture, the answer is far more nuanced. Like jazz and blues music, some argue that barbecue is a unique American cultural food product, one that loudly communicates a multiethnic history and both local and regional identity. Others will insist that the food traditions of New England form the culinary roots of American cuisine.[1] Others will point to McDonalds and other fast food joints known for selling burgers and fries as quintessentially American in taste, presentation, and capitalistic expansionism.[2] Still others will argue that the continually simmering melting pot[3] of American citizens ensures that all food served within U.S. borders in some way represents, absorbs, and communicates American food culture. These disparate points of view are portrayed in different ways in The Saturday Evening Post All-American Cookbook. Published in 1976, filled with reproductions of the Post’s covers and advertisements, and made up …

Forecasting a Bright Future from the 2013 Future of Food and Nutrition Graduate Conference

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the 7th annual Future of Food and Nutrition Graduate Research Conference at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Organized and run by Friedman graduate students, the conference was as engaging and polished as any put on by a professional organization. Graduate student research dealt with a host of topics both international and domestic, ranging from food access, food prices, and property values near grocery stores to behavior change and breastfeeding. Presentations that I attended also explored childhood obesity in Indonesia, regional U.S. food systems, and the latest in molecular nutrition. Students came from diverse backgrounds, including not only nutrition policy, biochemical and molecular nutrition, public health, and medicine, but also environmental science, agriculture, economics, urban and environmental planning; not to mention food studies and gastronomy as well. Collectively, presenters brought valuable multidisciplinary perspectives to the topics of food, nutrition, and food systems. Beyond attending thought provoking panels, I participated in the poster presentation, giving two-minute power pitches on the paper I …

Curating an Online Food Exhibit: “Making the Modern American Food System”

After studying the food views of second-wave feminists, the cuisines of the counterculture and the 1950s, and the foodways of turn-of-the century immigrants, Dr. Warren Belasco’s U.S. Food History course turned to specific histories of the industrial food system—from the Dust Bowl to the industrialization of milk production to the rise and triumph of refrigeration. At each stage, we pondered how these events, people, and institutions contributed to both America’s abundant, cheap food supply and the distancing of Americans from traditional food knowledge. The course culminated in our final project assignment: creating an online food exhibit dedicated to the creation of the modern American food system. And so I invite you to visit my online exhibit, “Making the Modern American Food System.”