On a day-to-day basis, the multiple critics and sources of food make it difficult for one to even decide what they want for dinner.  Food blogs, television shows, phone applications, magazines, and cookbooks take the complex issue of flavor and nutrition and turn it into a plethora of critiques, opinions, and information.  When looking through a historical lens, the task of tracing our nation’s history with food becomes indeterminate.  Andrew Haley’s The Nation Before Taste: The Challenges of American Culinary History looks at all of the social, political, and cultural issues that have developed America’s taste in food.

The contemporary the kitchen is nothing like it was 50 years ago, let alone during 18th century.  Foods’ flavor and preparation techniques are equally different to the 1800’s.  Food produced in small kitchens filled with bacteria, inaccurate measurements, inefficient tools, and tainted ingredients contrast greatly to those cooked in a modern city with innovative technology, gas ovens, and measuring equipment.  Where today food is eaten, criticized, and praised for its flavors, food in the 18th century was prepared for pedigree, nutritional, and social means.  Traditionally, when going to cook a meal today, cookbooks are followed word-by-word with little creativity or deviation, or Yelp and Urbanspoon point us in the direction of top-rated cuisines nearby.  These affordances were not readily available in the colonial era, thus food would alter and change with each preparation. Thus, tracing foods of that time period can be described within a primary source, but it is difficult to imagine the flavors and experience of each dish.

Gender, class, and popular culture also developed tastes and flavors sporadically within American Culture.  In the 19th and 20th century women being suggested to consume foods with high levels of oils, fats, starches, and sugars and middle-class Americans were visiting slums for its unique foods and experiences.  Food became a driver in experimentation, but International food was not within that realm. Though the native French Food was considered prestigious, German, Mexican, and other national cuisines were lost to a racial divide. Restaurants could only be afforded by the rich, creating further divides, even though their diets were very similar.

The develop of food culture in America has been a long and twisting path, but its many cultural influences lead to a difficult history to trace without a first-hand.  Though the information of food blogs, television, magazines, and cookbooks can appear overwhelming, they provide a way to document through a personal,  professional, and critical lens.

If former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson had a dietary expert counterpart, this morning’s news would—and does—qualify as nothing short of a bombshell. The World Health Organization published “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat” based on findings from a recent meeting of 22 scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France. It seems that the common unrequited love for fatty, smoked pork strips has been clandestinely overrun with known carcinogens including N-nitroso compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heterocyclic aromatic amines—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen at the most basic level. Sound familiar? It should not surprise anyone that these compounds exist in fully cooked foods…and have most likely been present in human diets since the first human roasted the day’s kill over a smoky fire.

“Does this mean my bacon-and-egg breakfast is completely ruined?” Your call. Will your bacon (or pork loin or filet mignon) suddenly taste worse since you could possibly develop colorectal ailments later in life? Today’s news, like most epidemiological studies concerning popular foods, will precipitate fairly fascinating developments in consumption habits as additional information comes to light. Much like Haley’s dyspepsia discussion in “The Nation before Taste,” the general public could suddenly shun processed meats to the dismay of livestock farmers the world over, or the hype could subside in two weeks as prominent scientists debunk the original report and sustain existing recommendations for a balanced diet. The bottom line here is that yet again, taste, which we have collectively qualified as a complicated conglomeration of physical, psychological, chemical, & social responses, continues to be confounded by factors almost entirely external to the gustatory experience associated with consumption.


In class we looked at Martha Stewart’s horrific looking food and how it was unappealing, badly photographed, and unappetizing. Today many people decide were or not they like a food solely on the appearance. At someone point or another everyone has had that moment when a friend or they themselves got served a meal and wouldn’t even try it because you could tell just by looking at it you wouldn’t like it. There has been a shift from focusing on the taste food to focusing on the appearance of food. This shift takes away from one of the most important things about food that is how it tastes. Dishes today are garnished with an assortment of different food items in order to make the dish more aesthetically pleasing, but those decorative foods do little to enhance the flavor of the dish. Instead of focusing on the appearance of food there should be a larger focus on how it taste. People shouldn’t be so quick to judge a dish before simply trying it for themselves. There are many food that do not look tasty, but are in fact delicious if their appearance is ignored. So why is it today that the appearance of food has become so important? Is it because of the focus on the appearance of people that has this triggered this focus on the appearance of food or something entirely different?

569: Put a Bow on It

This NPR program discusses the process that Hardee’s goes through in order to create new burgers. It turns out that this process is very complicated and involves a group of executives. The program discusses the larger implications of the creation of a new fast food item. The taste of a new burger is far from the most important determining factor as to whether or not it should be added as a menu item. The executives strive to make a product that will be attractive to their target audience and lead to repeat customers. The executives note how the most successful new burgers are simply “mash-ups” of already well known products. A customer is likely to buy and enjoy something familiar presented in a new way rather than taking a risk on something completely new. The program discusses the successes and failures of such “mash-ups” in the fast food industry. The KFC sandwich “double down” is noted on being an initial success because of its ability to be sold to new customers, but an ultimate failure because of a lack of repeat purchasers. TacoBell’s “Dorito Locos Tacos” are mentioned as an overwhelming success because they never stopped selling.

I felt that this program was relevant to class because it examines the nuances associated with making a new product. Communication through food is very complex and this fact is made very obvious in this program. It takes weeks for executives to decide which burgers can be put to trial, and even after that has been determined they need to figure out how to sell the new product to a customer. Additionally, their concern with making a narrative through food explores the complex role food fills in American culture.

This chart documents the average sugar consumption by US citizens since 1820. As one can see the passage of time has been very good for the sugar industry in the United States. This is due in part to the industrial revolution and how it has affected society’s ability to have access to cheap and plentiful sugar. However, coinciding with the increased accessibility of sugar to the general populace a shift in the food culture of The United States has taken place. The food culture of America over the past couple hundred years has steadily shifted towards favoring sugar and sweetness over most else. What does this have to say about America over this time period? It is my opinion that this shift reflects a change in the mindset and economic means of much of the country. First off the growth of sugar consumption seems to directly correlate between the economic growth of the country. For example sugar consumption has a temporary peak during the Roaring 20’s but then falls during the great depression and WWII. While part of this shift is economics another side of it is the indulgent attitude of much of America’s population. In the 1800’s the options of sweet things to eat were limited, but now they are almost endless. America’s “sweet” food culture has changed drastically since the 1800’s into something that everyone can indulge in whenever they want. It is partly this constant accessibility and affordability of sweet things that has lead America to have the obesity problem it does, and this trend does not seem to be going away any time soon.

Throughout our course, we’ve picked apart a multitude of sources in order to form an understanding of food in the past and present. While we’ve discussed the conclusions brought about from the sources, the reasoning and methodology behind our pursuit of the past is usually overlooked to an extent. After reading Rachel Laudon’s “Getting Started in Food History,” I’ve found new perspectives on how and why our class has torn into the past concerning America’s food culture, as well as food as a whole.

When studying colonial era food culture, chronological study was our primary research structure. Beginning with pre-revolutionary accounts and moving forward, we used historical stories and recipes to generate a narrative of early American culture. Mixed into the narrative however, was another one of Rachel’s ways of approaching the past: legend. Despite potential clichés, we did discuss the story of the first Thanksgiving. We also formed a general American mythos, from the ideals and lifestyles of founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to the general agreements and outliers to traditional post-revolutionary values. Using the historical documents as a backbone, we argued for and against these legends, and in doing so gained a deeper understanding of our own past.

Perhaps most helpful to our search was our better following of Rachel’s question-asking guidelines for food research. Rather than ask which European explorer first tasted pineapple and attempted to bring it back, we dove into Richard Ligon’s account of the fruit and asked why the pineapple was so revolutionary in its flavor, as well as why that flavor was so difficult to get across to the Europeans who had not journeyed over. Throughout the course, we have used these research techniques to understand food in a way never thought possible, even as those techniques are aimed toward times other than the past.

As we have been reading and discussing the variety of materials in class, we have been creating our own study of food history and becoming food historians in our own sense. Although our research and interests are not as focused or in depth as would be a scholar working on a book or thesis, it can still be classified according to how Laudan breaks down the process of becoming a food historian.

Each of the members of our class came into the class with a unique perspective and individual food history that inspires different interests within the topics of the course. For mostly everyone involved in our process of becoming a food historian, the starting point was the start of our class. All it takes to begin is an interest which we all expressed when registering for this course.

The structure of our class forces us to constantly be doing research, thinking and writing all at the same time which Laudan emphasizes as being essential to being a good food historian. We are doing research by reading the assigned materials. We are thinking by analyzing the reading materials and discussing them in class. We are writing weekly in our blog posts and in our projects. Our reading and discussion is intertwined and then we use our blog posts to consolidate the two and expand on our ideas.

The next step or piece of advice that Laudan gives us is less obvious than the previous two. “What is Your Question About Food History?” Although creating a clear and specific question to analyze is one of the most difficult parts of the process. As one focuses and finishes their research, the concise question they wish to ask becomes more apparent. At the start of our class, our question was simply, “What did food and eating look like in early America?” As the class has progressed, we’ve gotten more focused and now are asking, “How can we translate the food culture of early America into our modern day food culture, while maintaining the original purpose and integrity of the recipes and cookbooks?”

In the exploration of our class, we have been writing a food history. Most of what we have been focused on could be classified as culinary literature because of our emphasis on the cookbook’s multifaceted properties. A cookbook can be taken at face value. A series of recipes that were popular and accessible in the time period it was published. However, it is also a window into the culture and lives of the people represented. Along with culinary literature, we have also looked at the history of foodstuffs when we discussed the history and importance of sugar.

Although our final product will not be a paper in a journal or published book, we will be creating a source that makes food history more accessible to those who have not spent much time studying the topic, but who are interested in exploring and learning more about the subject.

Having read Rachel Laudan’s “Getting Started in Food History”, I now understand a bit more about what it means to be a food historian, how to get there, and what lies in wait in that journey. Some points were more interesting to me personally than others, but what caught me the most was the large territory covered within the article itself. I finished reading the post within approximately twenty-five minutes, and in that short time I was able to glean and comprehend a very broad field of topics. The self-proclaimed “Dummies Guide to getting started” in food history proved itself to be very true – I became more educated because of what she posted, and furthermore, had the opportunity to increase that knowledge that by re-visiting the article.

I soon thought about this guide and its relation to internet culture as a whole, especially with regard to forums. Typically within each forum, there are topics, and then threads within that topic. A “sticky” at the top indicates a thread that’s so valuable that it appears at the top of each page of threads for continuous reference. It can be a great tool to the novice, and provide them with direction they need to pursue their perhaps complicated interest with relative ease. What this environment creates is a host of people that start out with little to no information but a desire to do more, and they leave with the possibility of creating something that could then help others. In essence, I saw Rachel Laudan’s article as being a sticky in the food historian world.

With that comparison made, I now more fully realize that the type of article provided by Luadan is another fantastic reason why the internet is so useful to progression as a whole. It provides knowledge to the masses that can further the education of society. There is always the possibility of the keyboard cowboy – a brave behind the screen know-it-all who gets their fuel from short snippets on the internet, but this small road block is drowned out by the vast majority of well-meaning people with a sincere desire to learn and grow. I think this will be a basis for not only future food historians, but for others who will want and learn how to provide real world help and guidance.

The History channel runs a food blog called Hungry History devoted to the history of foods. Andrew P. Haley wrote about the difficulties in discussing historical food in that the words used to describe the food in earlier times were different than those we use to describe them today. In the History Channel’s food blog article “Grilling Tips from the Ancient Greeks”, author Stephanie Butler discusses her research in figuring out how ancient Greeks used trays to cook an early version of souvlaki. However, Butler’s article is an example of how writing about the history of food can create, as Haley puts it, a “deceptively ahistorical space” in how the author describes the process of and social aspect of creating ancient souvlaki with a modern outlook.

As noted in the Haley piece, it is impossible to completely recreate a historical dish because of the convenience of modern day tools. This is shown in the recreation of ancient Greek souvlaki in that the author could only use American clay to imitate Mycenaean clay. In addition, in the picture posted on the blog, the author shows the souvlaki on modern day skewers, which the ancient Greeks certainly did not have. Moreover, Butler highlighted the cooking method (putting coals onto trays and the skewers right above) that the Mycenaeans probably used as “a tastier result” and how the cooking method allowed the rocks to serve “as a primitive nonstick pan” instead of highlighting the fact that the meat was fully cooked and edible. To the Mycenaean people, the fact that the meat was cooked and could be taken off the stones was more than enough of a reason to use such a cooking method. They probably did not think about the taste as much as we would today. In addition, since Butler describes the ancient Greeks having “Mycenaean picnics” using the souvlaki trays, Butler paints the Greeks as having, as Haley puts it, “sentimentalized, imagined lives”. The word picnic brings the reader to imagine a meal outside with family or friends to relax, have fun, eat great food, and to get away from commercial life. The reason for Greeks to cook outside and eat outside probably did not have the novelty that comes with a modern day picnic. Rather, the reason for cooking outside was probably for more practical reasons, such as keeping smoke out of the house.


Link to “Grilling Tips from the Ancient Greeks”:


Haley’s article “The Nation before Taste: The Challenges of American Culinary History” covers a wide variety of topics from attempting to cook recipes from the past to how the idea of taste is more prevalent now than it has been a few centuries ago.

For anyone who’s cooked a recipe before, you know that it’s quite difficult to get the recipe exactly how it should be. Haley mentions “I do not think we can cook up the past” and I don’t entirely agree with this. She goes on to mention how ingredients have changed and so have the experiences of eating a recipe. Having recreated a recipe for this class, it definitely showed how difficult it was to fully recreate it if that was your intention. For people who do want to follow a recipe down to a T, it’s hard to make a dish that resembles one from a few centuries ago. However, I think these days, even as we’re recreating old dishes, we don’t go in with the mindset of recreating it perfectly. We realize that ingredients have changed and that any old recipe will require some sort of modification – I think now we focus more on the experience of creating it and attempting to give it a modern twist than simply replicating it. I know that when I cook a new recipe, I’m constantly tasting it because like Haley said, we focus more on taste now than we did before.

With the taste part of the article, Haley talks about how they thought more about “pedigree” whereas we “think about taste” when it comes to food. I think it’s true to an extent – Haley near the end goes on to talk about how class affects the kinds of food you eat and class definitely plays a bigger role in all of this. If you’re someone who is middle or upper-class, it’s easier to have access to a more variety of food so, you can “consult Yelp and Urbanspoon on our cell phones”. You’re also more likely to be exposed to other cultures and their food; it’s an adventure to try something new every time. However, even today, if you’re in the lower-class, then food is not a priority for you; it doesn’t matter if the pasta you’re eating is whole-wheat or not as long as you’re eating something. Taste quickly diminishes in terms of value for you if you don’t have the time to care for getting a proper meal.