All posts tagged: history

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. …

CHAViC 2015: An Insane Asylum, on a Dinner Plate?

Five glorious days musing over fascinating eighteenth and nineteenth-century objects and texts, multiple delectable meals (including one cooked over the hearth at Old Sturbridge Village!), stimulating conversation, and umpteen new friendships and professional food studies connections. All this was the result of my incredible experience at the American Antiquarian Society in the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) seminar, “Culinary Culture: The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900,” which was organized and orchestrated by Nan Wolverton, CHAViC Director, and led by Nancy Siegel, Professor of Art History, Towson University. The week’s lectures, material, and discussions were oriented around a case study assignment, in which each student chose one of seven artifacts/objects/ephemera (pictured below) to discuss in greater detail. With such exciting options, we all agonized over which object to choose and spent the week working through questions grounded in the lives of the objects themselves, like: Where did it come from? Who held it, used it, or owned it? Where did it live? Was it meant to be private or public? Why was it made? What is its message? What does it tell …

‘Graduate School Will Kill You’ and Other 18th Century Health Advice for the Studious

Before I began my doctoral studies, I worked for five years in the field of worksite wellness, an experience that made me painfully aware of the growing evidence that sedentarism—spending too many hours sitting on one’s glorious behind—has deleterious health effects. Unfortunately, as a striving academic, I often find myself seated squarely on my rear for what sometimes feels like endless amounts of time. While many a modern day inforgraphic can summarize how sitting may be killing us, William Buchan, MD’s domestic medicine manual, Domestic Medicine Or, a Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases By Regimen and Simple Medicines (1772, second edition) provides period recommendations for the studious, which I found entertaining, enlightening, affirming, and worrisome in equal measure.[1] Many of Buchan’s recommendations ring as true today as they did nearly 250 years ago. Buchan writes: Intense thinking is so destructive to health, that few instances can be produced of studious persons who are strong and healthy, or live to an extremely old age. Hard study always implies a sedentary life; and, when intense thinking is joined to …

Hippo: It’s What’s For Dinner

While the global food news often tells of meat shortages in China and India, as middle class demand for meat increases in these extremely populated countries, the United States faced its own meat crisis in the early twentieth century—and believe it or not, hippopotamus ranching emerged as a proposed solution. This is the remarkable story told in American Hippopotamus (2013) by Jon Mooallem, a product of significant archival research, which you can purchase at Atavist or on Kindle for your own reading pleasure. Mooallem’s account orients itself around 1910, when a combination of increasing immigrant populations, growing cities, and overgrazed rangeland caused meat prices to soar, as producers struggled to keep up with domestic meat demands. Christened “the Meat Question” in the newspapers, Louisiana Congressman Robert Broussard proposed importing hippopotamuses from Africa and settling them in the bayous of Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana to assuage America’s carnivorous ills, as well as to tackle the invasive water hyacinth plants, which clog southern waterways and impact fish populations to this day. The bulk of the American Hippopotamus narrative presents dueling biographies of the …

Presidential Obesity: Taft, Bathtubs, and the Medicalization of Corpulence

Ask your average citizen what he or she knows about President William Howard Taft and you’ll most likely hear recanted the rumor that due to his girth, Taft once became stuck in the White House bathtub. In the article, “Corpulence and Correspondence: President William H. Taft and the Medical Management of Obesity,” Providence College’s Deborah Levine analyzes fascinating primary sources from the Library of Congress—letters in which the 27th president of the United States corresponded with Dr. Nathaniel E. Yorke-Davies, an English diet expert—that chronicle Taft’s efforts to lose weight while in the harsh spotlight of American politics and popular culture. [If you haven’t read Monday’s New York Times coverage or the original article in the most recent issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, they’re marvelous. Go read them now!] As Levine demonstrates, this correspondence reveals Taft’s own views of the relationship between obesity and personal character, as he aspired to lose weight not only “to combat uncomfortable symptoms” (565), but also to “become a better civil servant” (565), revealing the assumption that one’s weight informs both objectives. This perspective is reinforced …