Tag Archives: history

Very Specific Book Recs: Food History by Glory

I like both food and history, so I’ve read quite a few books about food history. Since food is part of our lives in many ways, there are many approaches to the history of food. How we eat, what we eat, and our philosophy of eating have all changed over time. The books in this post explore those changes. I’ve picked books that I think are accessible to a non-academic audience, which look at the history of food from several angles.

belasco_blogMeals to Come: A History of the Future of Food by Warren Belasco

What is it about? This book discusses how people have viewed the future of food, and how those visions have shaped arguments about population and feeding the hungry. Belasco starts with Malthus and includes futures from speculative fiction, amusement parks, and world’s fairs.

Read If: All of the above sounds fascinating, and you want a better understanding of the arguments people are making about how to feed the world.

Don’t read if: You really want a book about strange sci-fi food, not about more general ideas about the future of food.

shapiro_blogSomething from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro

What is it about? This book is a history of cooking in the 1950’s in the US. It’s not all strange casseroles made from canned soup. Shapiro looks at changes in cooking in the US within the context of women’s social history. She explains how “modern cooking” using convenience products was prestigious, but also explores the movement away from cooking starting with packages and cans. One thing I found especially interesting is the story of Poppy Cannon, a cookbook writer who took part in both extremes of 50’s cooking.

Read if: You want a nuanced understanding of American cooking in the 1950’s.

Don’t Read if: You just aren’t interested.

wilson_blogConsider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

What is it about? This history focus on the implements we use to cook and eat: pots for cooking, knifes for cutting, forks and chopsticks for eating, and more. The book is organized by technology, not chronologically.

Read if: You take a wide view of what technology is. You’d like general survey of the history of cooking and eating written in a chatty style.

Don’t read if: You want something very in depth. The book tends to skim along history, often lumping decades and even centuries together. Also, the author is from the UK and writes from that perspective. If you are not one of “we fork users,” the book might feel as though it is excluding you.

bobrow_blogWhite Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

What is it about? Like it says on the tin, this book is a history of white bread in the US. Bobrow-Strain uses bread to talk about ideas of purity and what “good food” has meant over time. I really love how this book uses the past to better understand the present and critique current food movements.

Read if: You are interested in the history of food-based reform movements and what current reformers should be learning form the past.

Don’t read if: I can’t think of any reason why not. (Yes, ok, you might think the whole idea of food history isn’t for you, but if you think it is maybe even a little bit for you, this is a great book!)

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planning. She also spends too much time reading and loves science fiction and fantasy.

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The Changing Social History of the Photograph

I’m sure we’ve all heard it all before. This generation will be the lost generation, because so many of its photographs are treated differently, shared instantly through avenues such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, email, text message, Pinterest (and other avenues I can’t even name, let alone use) – and, if printed at all, are often printed on budget paper with cheap ink. A generation or two from now, who will be able to find grandma’s university graduation photos or aunty’s first birthday party pictures? Should we be thinking about these things?

Recently I’ve been finding myself thinking about the social history shown in collections of photographs. I’ve been trawling through the well-organised photo album collection of one of my aunts, ostensibly to locate photos of some of the family who celebrate ‘0’ birthdays this year, but finding myself thinking about everything in the background instead. With little money and plenty of ingenuity and inventiveness, the legends on the back of Christmas photos show how proud my grandfather was of his young family, and their joy and happiness is evident in their grins as they pose with their trinket shelves and books and tea sets on a sunny Christmas morning. 

Brothers and sisters pose alongside the birthday girl, with a homemade cake in pride of place on a small stool. The whole family lines up along the back of the house, dressed in school uniform, clutching suitcases and schoolbooks. An older sibling comes home from university, and the whole family gets together for a photo. A younger sibling marries, and there’s a photo of each older sibling’s family group with the bride or groom. The passport sized school photograph is distributed among the family, captured forever in the family album. Baby’s first photos are printed multiple times, mailed out to everyone in the family, preserved in albums with the appropriate age handwritten on the back.

When it came to my generation, there are photos of my brothers and me on the first day of school, or blowing out birthday candles, or dressed in cub or scout or guide uniforms. An anniversary means an endless parade of family group photos, each of them getting larger as the years go by. The weddings of my generation include the siblings (my aunts and uncles), or the mixture of cousins who attended.

And then, once we get to the age of the digital cameras, the collections I have access to both grow and shrink. In five years I think we have managed two photos with my siblings and I, one of them less than a month ago. In ten years – well, you might be able to add a couple more. 

Even the background of the photos tells you something. Fashions, in clothing, in food, in cars, in toys, even in advertisements, and road signs, and shop names and sign writing. The wedding or birthday cakes, the candles, the gifts, the buffet menu. The size of the photo, and the shape – whether square or oblong, or rounded corners. 3.5 by 5 inches, or 4 x 6. Even the fading of the colours and the albums they’re so proudly mounted in – all of it tells a story about a place and a time and a way of life.

Why did we stop posing as family groups, and move towards a parade of selfies and candid photos, and group shots with hidden faces and bunny ear fingers? Do we think we’re now invincible, or so completely documented that another photo isn’t necessary? I might remember the family weekend at the beach – but will my niece and nephew? Do we spend too much time in the here and now to look at and learn from our past, or provide a record for our future? Or do we simply not take the time to celebrate who we are and what we’re doing, moving on to the next big thing?

In fifty years, in a hundred years, what evidence will there be of our existence?

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Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.

 

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