I found Jane Bush’s “Using Cookbooks as Research Documents” to be an interesting read, and so I did some searching for info on old cookbooks to try to find some insight on how these books reflected their time. I found a blog entry by E.H. Kern on bookriot.com that points out this very thing by focusing on an old 1886 cookbook (Cookbook for Housekeepers: A Manual to the Current Practices of Fine Cooking and Everything That They Include). Through exploration of this cookbook, Kern points out the structure of the nineteenth century European kitchen. While this is not American, it is interesting how the cookbook serves as an artifact that reveals the social structure of a certain period, and not merely the food choices of that period. On that note, I also found another blog by Gaye Levy on backdoorsurvival.com that listed out the her reasons for why old cookbooks were important, an endeavor prompted by her discovery of her old cookbooks. In her case, the old cookbooks existed as a remnant of a time before processed foods were common. Much like how Kern’s discovery revealed how food was prepared in the nineteenth century, Levy’s rediscovery shed light on the ways in which food was prepared in the late twentieth century. But also like the cookbook Kern found, Levy’s cookbooks provided insight into the culture of the time. This was a culture that didn’t depend on food remaining on shelves for weeks, or one that needed microwaves for quickly preparing  food. By being presented on a site focused on survival, the cookbook becomes more than just a resource for preparing meals. It becomes a source for survival, for life. The blog ends with a link to The Feeding America project at Michigan State University, which, much like this course, looks at the cookbook as an influential part of American culture.

On this episode of ASAP Thought, Greg and Mitch try Soylent for the first time and reflect on the product. Although their videos on this channel aren’t as polished and prepared as the episodes on their main channel, ASAPScience, the fundamental question of “Could you just stop eating food” provides insight to the structure of food culture.

From a surface level the soylent lacks interesting culinary elements. It’s remarkably unflattering, partially unmixed, yet highly nutritious. Although the decades old miracle solution for providing fast and complete nutrition has finally arrived, the product is still facing challenges when integrating into any food culture. While we’ve talked about experiencing clashes between well-defined and established cultures, the soylent exists outside all of these. We’ve explored this property in Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption, but it’s interesting to see a physical solution that can currently be bought online instead of a theoretical food substitute. Although these properties build the foundation for the rejection of soylent, other factors contribute to this pariah of a food.

Although it’s easy to argue that the basic nutritional levels in soylent are its fundamental flaw, Greg and Mitch draw parallels to the social aspects when eating the food. It’s easy to say that an oatmeal-consistency shake provides a lackluster dining experience, yet I feel that scarfing down a burrito by myself in the dining hall provides the same low level experience. When comparing this property to what we’ve discussed in class, analyzing Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative by the context of her meals creates an additional dimension to her story. I often found myself hyper-focusing on the strange (to me) foods that Rowlandson was eating, but the context of her meals is now a subject of interest. While it’s easy to focus on the pancake that King Phillip offers Rowlandson, it’s difficult to gain an idea of the context surrounding that dinner. In addition, the shock value of Rowlandson eating the horse liver half cooked obscures the blatant fact that she’s shoving food in her mouth to quickly nourish herself without being noticed.

All in all, the soylent provides an interesting combination of these two aspects. The substance is minimal and bland by design. On top of the bland taste, the purpose as a quick solution to a full day’s meal clashes with our global understanding of a food culture. Despite these flaws, Greg and Mitch show the future potential for this food provided that society adapts to it.

I found this old New York Times article from 1900 that discusses American food culture and the importance of cookbooks.  It is very interesting to see how ideas about food in America haven’t truly change in the past 115 years.  In the article, the author contrasts how rich Americans eat versus how average Americans eat.  Rich Americans can afford the finest culinary luxuries whereas poorer Americans consume low qualities foods.  Today, fast food is seen as bad food, and it is also seen as food for lower income Americans.  The author goes on to say that poor American eat unappetizing foods because Americans simply don’t know how to cook properly.  Then, in a very American fashion, he compares how bad American food is to how good French food is.  French food is better, he states, because an average French person instinctively knows how to cook, whereas the average American does not.  In our own class, we have pretty much only compared French food culture to that of American food culture (or lack thereof).   The concept that “French food is of high quality” seems to be a greater part of American culture than any actual American food.  So, the author lays out these problems, but does he offer a solution? Yes, the cookbook.  He actually begins the article explaining how ‘modern’ cookbooks are more important than novels.  He gives the notion that the cookbook can shrink the gap between classes; that with a good cookbook, even poor could be able to eat fine culinary crafts.  And this parallels a notion that Prof. Klein has mention many times in class.  A cookbook is much more than just a group of recipes bound together; it can act as a form of communication, it can unify a culture, or it can even blur the lines between classes.


If you haven’t heard of Soylent yet, it’s a food supplement that contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals for a healthy person’s diet. It’s a powder that when mixed with water creates a smoothie of sorts that you drink 3 times a day giving you all the nutrients you need. It’s composed of soy protein, algal oil, isomaltulose, vitamins, and minerals. The idea behind Soylent is that our lives are becoming so busy that we need a quick way to eat so we can move onto the next more important task. This directly relates to our reading of Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption, where Roland Barthes talks about food losing its purpose as a social event and becoming only important for the function of nutrition and ultimately your survival.

The Article from the Washington post goes in-depth about the pros and cons of using a food supplement like Soylent in your diet.One of the main cons from the article is the the lack of pleasure found in a substance like Soylent. “Food selection and preparation and the act of eating are woven into the fabric of our culture, traditions, celebrations and self-expression… Soylent is missing a critical feature of the food experience: pleasure! Drinking the same shake meal after meal is unlikely to be sustainable or enjoyable for most people.” The idea that using something like this to get your daily nutrients reduces the social and pleasurable aspect of eating food is interesting and is something that will probably become more prevalent as more things like Soylent hit the market. While substances like Soylent may be more convenient then preparing, setting-up, and eating a whole meal, it dehumanizes the act of eating into a chore that everyone just does three times a day to survive. As we move forward, we will see if people start using supplements like Soylent every day, and if the act of eating as we traditionally see it will start to get phased out.

So there are a few things that I’m noticing with the Preface to American Cookery.

I found it particularly funny how it seems back then that a woman’s life should revolve around cooking and being domestic. This preface is basically saying that a woman’s life should be a pipeline to becoming a good cook and/or housewife and there are absolutely no alternatives to that or you’re pretty much damned to hell. It makes it seem as if it’s a sad thing if a woman doesn’t want to stay couped up in a house everyday and raise children, that you’ve basically failed as a mother if your daughter wants to do more. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with this desire in particular; I know plenty of girls who actually want to be housewives and if you want that, more power to you. However, it’s just funny to me that women actually had no other options back then and you were ridiculed (even by other women) if you wanted anything more.

Like could you imagine someone calling your daughter unruly simply because she wants to be anything other than a housewife. Just imagine hearing some old person say “You have failed as a parent because your daughter can’t cook.” tmHow wild would that be in today’s society. (Quick side note: I personally do feel like you’ve failed slightly in parenting if your child can’t cook because you can’t eat out every night. Everyone, not just girls, but EVERYONE should know how to cook because it actually makes life a lot easier. That’s just my personal opinion though.)

Another smaller thing I noticed: why are there so many s’s being replaced with f’s? Was that how the language of the time was spoken or did this person have a lisp so bad that it had to be typed out? Let’s discuss more on Thursday!

Archeologists have found historic fossils of ancient creatures and majestic civilizations. Each time the fossil has been a physical object that has told them a story about how the creature or civilization must have thrived during its time. Along the same line, one could view a cookbook as a fossil of a period, an era or an entire epoch. A cookbook comes stamped with all the information about a certain period of time. As mentioned in Using Cookbooks as a Research Document by Jane Busch, “cookbooks tell us about many aspects of our history and culture.” The humble cookbook is not just a few pieces of paper fused together but rather a piece of frozen time.

When reading through a cookbook, we are enlightened with many different pieces of information. The political, social and economic views of a particular era are all infused in the writing of a cookbook. For example, in Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, the author very clearly depicts the social expectations for a women in 1790s. “The female character [must] conform to the ruling taste of the age in cookery, dress, language, manners etc.” Basically, a woman was expected to be the living embodiment of poise and etiquette. It almost feels like a woman’s entire character was dependent on how well she could prepare a meal. This information clearly shows us that the 1790s was a very patriarchal society. It can further be deduced that maybe the reason for writing a cookbook back in the 1790s was to aid young women become good cooks. As becoming better cooks could better improve their chances of finding a suitable husband, the main life goal for any young lady back in the 1790s. Finding a good husband, therefore, must have been linked with a woman’s ability to obtain a stable economic and political status. The cookbook is an object that implies almost all of its information. Most of the time, we have to end up playing the detective, using the cookbook to look for clues, in order to figure out how people of a certain era lived.

Cookbooks is a rather active type of fossil. That is to say that it plays a very active role in unravelling history. Cookbooks that have been passed down from generations, for example the Ashfield recipe book, contain many stains and splashes on them. They show evidence of wear and tear, which would imply cooking a recipe was a real process rather than just reading a few words on a page. By looking at the stains and splodges, we can decipher how the preparation of a meal might have taken place. For example, if a certain page of the cookbook contained the a large tomato paste stain, we could assume that that particular dish required a large amount of tomato. If there are notes scribbled on one of the pages, we could also see how a particular change in the recipe could reflect so many factors that were present in day to day life. For example, if a recipe asked for the use of honey and someone scribbled in something along the lines of using sugar instead, one thing that we could deduce could be that honey might have been more expensive than sugar or that it was more common to use sugar to prepare a dish than it was to use honey. Running your hand through the stains, you can almost imagine exactly how the scene from a kitchen might have looked. The cookbook has a unique way to evoke the past.It provides the reader with the ability to interact with the past almost directly. It provides you with a more holistic understanding of what life might have been all those years ago.

In reading Eliza Smith’s “The Compleat Housewife: Or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion“, I find it interesting that even through something as simple as a cookbook, Eliza has managed to lace biblical references and eloquent language into the preface. As she explains the evolution of cooking from a science to an art to a trade in great detail, it is clear that English culture at the time of publishing this cookbook really emphasized the importance of religion in the home. Along with various biblical references, Eliza explicitly acknowledges her target audience as “generous, charitable, and Christian Gentlewomen”.

Taking note on a more surface level, it is interesting to see the evolution of cookbooks to what they were in 1793 to what they are now. The biggest difference is the formatting. Where current cookbooks are typically in list form with precise numerical measurements and explicit sequential steps, Eliza seemed to employ a more liberal delivery method. Her use of paragraph form and descriptive language seem to enforce her claim of cooking being more than just a science — but an art. The literature does get monotonous, though, as you read through the various recipes. Her language changes from the preface, to adopt a more methodical tone of listing instructions.  

As I continued to read, I also assumed that this culture was one to emphasize patriarchal tendencies and gender roles, with a woman’s place being “in the kitchen”. Eliza mentioned cooking as being a trade. It is humorous to think that, as implied by the title, all it takes to become an “Accomplish’d Gentlewoman” is a wealth of knowledge of dishes and ointments. The title also implies, from the list of food recipes for which it contains, that the English culture in the late 1700s seems to have been posh enough to enjoy delicacies, such as pastries, cakes, creams, jellies, and wines. Assuming that English people had the luxury of enjoying these tasty treats, it is understandable how their lifestyle is relaxed enough to allow for them to have a patriarchal society in which women are solely expected to tend to the home and health of their families, opposed to pursuing careers of their own. This lifestyle can be tied to strong religious beliefs that are reinforced by Smith’s mention of maintaining a strong, Christian way of life, during this time. 

One thing that has plagued me during the current reading is the portrayal of preindustrial civilizations being too primitive and simple to have seasoned their foods with the seasonings and spices mentioned in these cookbooks. In between page A2 and A3 of the preface, Eliza states, “in the Infant Age of the World, when the new Inhabitants contented themselves with the simple Provision of Nature,” implying that those before her did not know the “art” of cooking. In my mind, considering my knowledge of the Spice Trade and its impact on the world, this notion seems backwards. I could be wrong, but it presents the question in a form similar to the chicken and the egg: who seasoned their foods first?

There is no dispute that food is a large part of human life. However when one seeks to research a particular culture, they seldom turn to a cookbook. Before reading Learning by Pinches and Dashes: Using Cookbooks as Research Documents, I would have never thought that a cookbook would be the perfect way to understand one of the fundamental parts of society. More than just the simple material such as nutrition and popular tastes, cookbooks also give insight to how kitchens function, how dining rooms are decorated, and how people present themselves while consuming a meal.

According to the article, 1,500 new cookbooks are published each year. In addition to that, there are millions of manuscript cookbooks kept in American households, which chronicle the family recipes, typically more complex dishes. Each cookbook is unique and represents a different person’s appetite and taste.

What do today’s most popular cookbooks have about our society? What would a researcher in the future deduce from studying our cookbooks? According to Amazon, the number one selling book is The Whole30. This book is a 30 day guide to transforming their lives with food, making them healthier, more energetic, and happier. Four of the top five cookbooks are about eating healthier and easier. In my opinion, todays cookbooks show that less people are willing to spend time in the kitchen. Also with the rise of convenient food, obesity rates and health issues are plaguing us. What do you think todays cookbooks have to say about modern American society?

This video is one of four in a Playlist on the “Future of Food”. It begins with some information on food production problems and questions the sustainability of our current methods. A driving subject of the playlist is that “we will have to change the way we think about food”, something that Barthes considered in his paper. The video proceeds to show a novel concept for creating meat developed by Beyond Meat: putting “pea powder on one end of a machine and getting a convincing substitute for seared stake or roasted chicken on the other end”. Beyond Meat’s challenge is the “public’s aversion of meat substitutes”; this relates back to Mary Rowlandson’s story of how for the first two weeks of her captivity she averted herself from consuming any of the Indians’ food. The McWIlliams reading pointed out that the future of food is shaped by the past, and this is certainly one example. We are caught up in the stigma or organic and natural, so considering artificially made meat as an option is quite taboo.


Ethan Brown, the CEO and founder of Beyond Meat, refers to Michael Pollen’s suggestions of “getting people into eating more natural and whole based foods”, but points out how fast food culture and eating meat are highly engraved into our culture. Also, Tim Geistlinger (VP of R&D for Beyond Meat) confirms that there is a cultural aspect to meat such as cooking and preparing the meat (all parts that add to the meaning of meat, as Barthes discussed) that cannot be replicated by what the “meat analog” firms are currently doing, which is selling prepackaged, ready to eat, frozen products. It appears that we have assigned meaning (Barthes) to consuming meat that is beyond, well “just eating a piece of a dead animal”, and that way of thinking about meat may have to change as global population grows and unsustainable practices lead to changes in supply of proteins in our diets (more on that in the remainder of the playlist).


Enter Beyond Meat, a company that creates meat directly from plants, but packages and sell it so that it can still be prepared and cooked like meat so that their consumers will not feel as much of a difference when trying this meat substitute. The VP of R&D points out that this product has to “cook like meat, taste good, and be affordable”; all of these aspects and elements which go into defining what a food item means to a culture such as which social class is most likely to consume this item. As can be seen in the taste test in the video, their products appear to taste as good if not better then real meat, passing the first two objectives of cooking and taste. As far as price goes, Beyond Meat products are still more expensive then real meat, but as they grow their prices will begin to fall due to economies of scale; then we can expect to see it in our supermarket. Speaking of stores, Mr. Brown points out that in the future he expects to see a “Protein” section rather than a “meat or meat alternatives section” in supermarkets, which is a re-conceptualization idea presented by Barthes for future trends of food.

Throughout the entirety of A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Rowlandson recounts the details of her experiences during her 11-week trial with her Native American captors. Through her narrative, we are able to analyze the transition of her inner thoughts and emotions as she struggles to come to terms with her situation and learns to survive in a culture that is foreign to her own. Almost immediately, we can recognize the importance that food plays throughout the work – primarily as a function of survival and later as a representation for the differences between English and Native American ways of life. This shift in Rowlandson’s attitude towards the foods she encounters can be attributed to her intense hunger and will to survive. However, through a closer examination it can also be argued that her time with the Native American tribe forces her not only to attempt to understand the culture in which she is immersed, but also perhaps to shed her preconceived ideas of English superiority, especially as it applies to diet.

The concept of food as a tool for justifying cultural supremacy is one that is also brought forth by Roland Barthes in Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption. Barthes speaks of the ‘spirit’ of food and argues that such a quality can shape the meaning of its consumption. In the same way, Rowlandson initially seems to believe that the foods consumed by the Indians have a spirit of barbarity and are therefore undesirable. This spirit is a quality that is ultimately independent of the food’s physical characteristics such as taste or smell. In other words, Rowlandson may have perceived the Indians’ consumption of raw, bloody liver to be an uncivilized and repulsive practice. However, it is important to note that she is making these judgments through the paradigm of a Puritan colonist who refers to her captors as “merciless enemies”. (Rowlandson 15) Furthermore, it is not necessarily the experience of eating the food which defines its spirit but rather the other way around. Through sheer starvation, Rowlandson’s experience of eating the Native Indian food becomes quite different from what she previously expected and it is through this shattering of judgment that she becomes forever connected to this previously foreign culture. Rowlandson reveals evidence of this connection by admitting her uncertainty that she will ever “be satisfied with bread again”, ultimately proving the powerful and arguably inseparable relationship between food and culture. (Rowlandson 50)