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

by Jane Ziegelman

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The subtitle of this book is a little misleading. Ziegelman and Coe reach all the way back to the World War I era to lead into a culinary history of the Great Depression. With the U.S. entry into World War I came a rapid industrialization of the nation's food supply and the rise of expert professions such as nutritionists, dietitians, and home economists. The authors explore the effects of the Depression and food relief programs in different states and regions, from New York to California. The audio version is a more challenging listening experience than the average nonfiction audiobook because of the number of menus and recipes included in the text. Fortunately, the narrator was up for the challenge. Her expression and clear enunciation made it a pleasure to listen.

This review is based on a complimentary audio CD provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. ( )
  cbl_tn | Feb 23, 2018 |
Absolutely not does not match the marketing or book flap. When I first heard about this book it sounded like a good read. How have our eating habits changed? How did we go from eating foods that were grown locally and seasonally to processed convenience items? Where and when did this change? Was there a catalyst? 
 
'A Square Meal' purported to look at the eating habits of people in the US and how they especially changed by the Great Depression. How the economics changed, how people had to adjust their eating habits, what it meant for food farms/suppliers/industries, and how that affects us today. I had been especially interested in how the US got our food guidelines and how the eating habits shifted to items that are pre-packaged and aimed towards convenience.
 
Sadly, that is not what this book is about at all. Initially it starts really well in discussing the eating habits of people. How labor intensive it could be for women (who typically did the food preparation). The rise and tracing of the path of food charities. How the sandwich used to be an item limited to picnics, saloons and afternoon tea but became a menu item of convenience and easier preparation.
 
Then, as other reviewers note, the book suddenly can't decide what it wants to be. We get less about the food habits (or about food in general) and instead look at the Great Depression. Some of it was very interesting: the psychological effect of the breadlines and the message it sent. But unfortunately it took away from what the book was supposed to be about (I had expected we'd be looking more at the eating habits themselves and the nutritional guidelines as mentioned above), plus the really awful writing.
 
I've read another book by Coe's before that looked at Chinese food in the US. The writing there was just excruciating and sometimes the text here is not that much better. My interest in the subject kept me going for awhile, but the interesting parts were few and far in between.
 
As others said, it's not really a "culinary history" of sorts, at least not in the way the book flap and marketing make it out out to be. It does have some information that I didn't know about and can be highly relevant (for example, the book talks about out of work coal miners and how that poverty/lack of work/unrest affected the coal miners, their families, and what Hoover did to get that segment back up to speed (highly relevant lessons that perhaps certain parties should learn) even if the effort only helped a small number of people and didn't fix the overall problems.
 
I was sad to find that I eagerly awaited this book but it really didn't match my expectations. Some people may really find it useful or more to their liking but they should be aware it's not quite what the cover/book flap says it is. Borrow from the library unless it's a resource you need. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
The subject matter of this book is intriguing--the culinary history of the Great Depression--though in the end, it wasn't quite what I hoped it would be. The book starts out strong, detailing how World War I changed American's outlooks on food, and how that continued to evolve through the 1920s with major shifts to delis and cafeterias and corporation-driven food trends. Unfortunately, I found that where the food faltered was on the Depression itself. It became much more of a social history, emphasizing the growth of public school lunches to keep children alive and focused, and how Hoover and Roosevelt handled (and didn't handle) the crisis. I wanted to see more examples of foods and recipes of the period, and how different regions adapted in specific ways. Major emphases is on the starvation and malnutrition of people who were without work, but I wanted to see more of how employed people adapted to these tough times. This feels like a time and subject that still has a wealth of material to be explored. ( )
  ladycato | Jul 30, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
At first I wanted to call the audio stilted but then I realized Susan Ericksen was aptly portraying the audio tone (or monotone, if you will) of the era.

Through the sieve of American history, I was able to get a proper view of the culture and the culinary outlook of the era.

Library Thing Early Readers Audio Copy
(Thank You)
  pennsylady | Jun 29, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A lively story of the Great Depression, a time with which I am largely unfamiliar. Forays into some kind of nutrition science occurred in and around this time, and are discussed, along with their relationship to relief efforts during the depression. Like the potato famine in Ireland, there was no scarcity of food, just a scarcity of money to buy the available food. This was a tricky problem politically, as presumably it was in Ireland. The authors do not inject an overt viewpoint into their narrative. They quote from a number of original sources. The persons who administered the various relief programs were concerned and stated so very clearly, that too much relief over too long a period would make a person permanently dependent. A very reasonable fear, but it would probably be political suicide to state this so clearly now.

It's hard not to think that Hoover was right, and that Roosevelt was just lucky to get a war. ( )
  themulhern | Jun 26, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062216414, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 16 Jun 2016 02:56:13 -0400)

"Jane Ziegelman, author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard, and her husband, Andrew Coe, team up for an in-depth exploration of America's greatest food crisis"--"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"--… (more)

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