A Square Meal
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A Square Meal : A Culinary History of the Great Depression

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James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner

From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced--the Great Depression--and how it transformed America's culinary culture.

The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country's political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America's relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse of the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished--shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder.

In 1933, as women struggled to feed their families, President Roosevelt reversed long-standing biases toward government-sponsored "food charity." For the first time in American history, the federal government assumed, for a while, responsibility for feeding its citizens. The effects were widespread. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, "home economists" who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen rose to national stature.

Tapping into America's long-standing ambivalence toward culinary enjoyment, they imposed their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine on the American dinner table. Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to instill dietary recommendations, the forerunners of today's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

At the same time, rising food conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods that gave rise to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national cuisine sparked a revival of American regional cooking. In the ensuing decades, the tension between local traditions and culinary science has defined our national cuisine--a battle that continues today.

A Square Meal examines the impact of economic contraction and environmental disaster on how Americans ate then--and the lessons and insights those experiences may hold for us today.

A Square Meal features 25 black-and-white photographs.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 314 pages
  • 132 x 201 x 23mm | 249g
  • HarperCollins Publishers Inc
  • HarperCollins
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0062216422
  • 9780062216427
  • 474,606

Review quote

-one of those rare books which deliver more than they promise.---Washington Times
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Back cover copy

The idea of America as a place of abundance is enshrined in our culture, from Jefferson's agrarian democracy to the immensity of our supermarkets. The Great Depression, which left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished, tested our belief in this land's unlimited bounty, and in the process changed the way America eats.

In 1933, after four years of deprivation and national debate, President Roosevelt reversed long-standing biases toward government-sponsored "food charity" and assumed responsibility for feeding the hungry. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, "home economists," who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen, rose to national stature. Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to impose their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine and instill nutritional recommendations, the forerunners of today's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At the same time, expanding conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods, which led to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national diet sparked a revival of American regional cooking that continues to this day.

A Square Meal examines how economic contraction and environmental disaster shaped the way Americans ate during the Great Depression, and shares the lessons and insights we may learn from those experiences today.
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Rating details

936 ratings
3.68 out of 5 stars
5 17% (161)
4 43% (398)
3 33% (311)
2 6% (57)
1 1% (9)
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