Food during the New Nation - History

Food during the New Nation - History

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Most Americans' diets were based on cornmeal and pork or bacon Cornmeal was often made into corn pone, a coarse bread; or hominy, a type of porridge. Because of refrigeration problems, few had access to fresh meat, and many were suspicious of any meat that was not salted and preserved. All over the country, local game, like deer and buffalo, or even raccoon and squirrel, made their way to the dinner table, to supplement the pork, poultry and beef from the farm. Food was cooked over an open fire; the stoves that appeared around 1815 did not catch on for cooking purposes. Small farmers in New England grew vegetables in their gardens; while New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania produced fruits like apples, peaches, pears and figs. Fruits were generally dried for preservation.
Homemakers found it hard to keep food fresh, because of the lack of refrigeration. In the country, some people had "spring houses," which were rooms or houses built into the ground with cold springs of water running through them. These "spring houses" kept even butter and milk fresh. Most people, however, had to go to the market every day to obtain fresh food. Tuesdays and Fridays were usually the major market days.
Cider was a popular drink in New England. In addition, whiskey and other forms of liquor were consumed in large quantities all over the nation, but especially in the South and West. Farmers who raised rye often converted it to whiskey, for ease of transportation.
Most Americans had diets relatively high in fat, high in salt, high in sugar and low in nutrients. Nevertheless, those living outside the cities were probably the best fed people in the world at the time. Americans, at least white American men, were on average taller than their European counterparts, largely because they were better nourished.

According to historical records, over than 5000 years ago, China already had grill, grilled fish and other foods. During Zhou dynasty in China, food was mainly grains such as beans, millet, barley and brown rice, though they were not the same as what we have today cultivated in modern agriculture industry. It was in late Zhou dynasty that people started to have white rice/pealed rice and that was very rare and highly cost food for rich class. Similar to any other nations, salt was a crucial element in cooking and people&rsquos daily life, by then salt was commonly used already. In Zhou Dynasty, there was a famous cuisine called &ldquoBa Zheng&rdquo (Eight Treasures), which was very influential for future generations.

Food Insecurity In The U.S. By The Numbers

Food Bank For New York City hosts a pop-up food pantry during Hunger Action Month at Lincoln Center on September 24, 2020.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank for New York City

With COVID-19 continuing to spread, and millions of Americans still out of work, one of the nation's most urgent problems has only grown worse: hunger.

In communities across the country, the lines at food pantries are stretching longer and longer, and there's no clear end in sight. Before the pandemic, the number of families experiencing food insecurity — defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life — had been steadily falling. But now, as economic instability and a health crisis takes over, new estimates point to some of the worst rates of food insecurity in the United States in years.

"COVID has just wreaked havoc on so many things: on public health, on economic stability and obviously on food insecurity," said Luis Guardia, the president of the Food, Research and Action Center.

It's a crisis that's testing families, communities and the social safety net in ways that may have seemed unthinkable before the pandemic began. Here's a closer look at the landscape:

Nearly 1 in 4 households have experienced food insecurity this year

Even before the pandemic hit, some 13.7 million households, or 10.5% of all U.S. households, experienced food insecurity at some point during 2019, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That works out to more than 35 million Americans who were either unable to acquire enough food to meet their needs, or uncertain of where their next meal might come from, last year.

For about a third of these households, access to food was so limited that their eating patterns were disrupted and food intake was reduced. The rest were able to obtain enough food to avoid completely disrupting their eating patterns, but had to cope by eating less varied diets or utilizing food assistance programs.

The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the problem. According to one estimate by researchers at Northwestern University, food insecurity more than doubled as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the outbreak, hitting as many as 23% of households earlier this year.

Millions more children are experiencing food insecurity

In non-pandemic times, households with children were nearly 1.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity than households without children, according to the USDA, which reported that 13.6% of households with children experienced food insecurity last year. More than 5 million children lived in these homes.

Then came the coronavirus. An analysis by the Brookings Institution conducted earlier this summer found that in late June, 27.5% of households with children were food insecure — meaning some 13.9 million children lived in a household characterized by child food insecurity. A separate analysis by researchers at Northwestern found insecurity has more than tripled among households with children to 29.5%.

The Coronavirus Crisis

'Children Are Going Hungry': Why Schools Are Struggling To Feed Students

School lunch programs were already struggling to meet rising demand before the pandemic. With COVID-19 now keeping children out of school, many don't have access to school lunches at all.

"The other thing that COVID has done is it's really affected kids a lot in terms of food insecurity," Guardia said. "One of the things we've noticed across the board is that households with children are more food insecure. And we believe that also has to do with school closures. So a lot of kids get their nutrition from school meals, and that's been disrupted."

Black families are twice as likely as whites to face food insecurity

The data shows that food insecurity is more likely to wreak havoc on some communities than others.

Black and Hispanic Americans are particularly disproportionately affected. According to USDA data, 19.1% of Black households and 15.6% of Hispanic households experienced food insecurity in 2019. White Americans fell below the national average, with 7.9% experiencing food insecurity.

College graduates experienced food insecurity at a rate of just 5% last year. For those without a high school degree, the rate skyrocketed to 27%. Adults who have a disability — in particular adults who have a disability and are not in the work force — also experience more than two times the rate of food insecurity as adults who do not have a disability.

19 million Americans live in food deserts

Location is another factor at play. People who live in food deserts are often more likely to experience food insecurity because food is harder to obtain where they live. About 19 million people, or roughly 6% of the population, lived in a food desert and 2.1 million households both lived in a food desert and lacked access to a vehicle in 2015, according to the USDA.

Food can also be costlier where they live. A 2010 estimate from the USDA found that groceries sold in food deserts can cost significantly more than groceries sold in suburban markets, meaning people in low-income communities impacted by food insecurity often pay more money for their food. Milk prices, for example, were about 5% more in some spots while prices for cereal were sometimes 25% higher.

The definition of food desert can change depending on where you live. In urban settings, you need to live more than a mile away from a supermarket to be considered inside a food desert. For rural areas, it's greater than 10 miles. Rural areas are slightly more likely to be food deserts than urban areas and, according to Feeding America, and while they make up just 63% of counties in the country, they make up 87% of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.

The Coronavirus Crisis

In Rural Nebraska, Combating Hunger From The Pandemic Is A Community Effort

The Coronavirus Crisis

For One Food Insecure Family, The Pandemic Leaves 'No Wiggle Room'

38 million people used SNAP in 2019

One in nine people in the U.S. used SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) — in 2019, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SNAP benefits vary depending on the need of the participant, but the average SNAP benefit for each member of a household was $129 per month in fiscal year 2019.

SNAP is the largest food assistance program for low-income Americans in the nation, and because of COVID-19, demand for the program has been growing. In March, when the Families First Act passed as part of the government's emergency response to the pandemic, the maximum benefit for SNAP recipients was temporarily expanded by an estimated 40%. An analysis from the New York Times shows that SNAP grew by 17% from February 2020 to May 2020, three times faster than in any previous three-month period.

Yet even with that expanded food aid, the program hasn't managed to meet the nation's food security needs. Congressional Democrats have sought to increase funding for SNAP and other nutrition assistance benefits, but prospects appear uncertain.

COVID-19 could double the number of people experiencing food insecurity globally

The problem is hardly unique to the U.S. According to the United Nations World Food Program, the global pandemic has the chance to double the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity, from 135 million in 2019 to 265 million in 2020.

"COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread," the program's chief economist, Arif Husain said in a statement published this spring. "It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock — like COVID-19 — to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe."

New Nation, New Cuisine: The First Cookbook To Tackle 'American Food'

A recent version of Indian Slapjacks, a recipe featured in American Cookery, the first cookbook of American food.

In 1776, the American colonies declared independence from Britain.

But it wasn't until 1796 that someone dared to tackle a question that would plague every generation of Americans to come: "What is American food?"

Cover of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. First edition: Hartford, 1796. Printed by Hudson & Goodwin via Wikimedia hide caption

Cover of American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. First edition: Hartford, 1796. Printed by Hudson & Goodwin

American Cookery, the very first American cookbook, was written by Amelia Simmons (more on this mysterious woman later). In it, she promised local food and a kind of socioculinary equality. The title page stated that the recipes were "adapted to this country and all grades of life."

Up to that point, colonial housewives had access to cookbooks, but they were mostly reprints of popular British works, like Eliza Smith's The Complete Housewife. No homegrown cookbook included the innovations, local ingredients and emerging patois of the newly liberated colonies.

"So many firsts and milestones of American cooking appear in this small volume," says Jan Longone, who oversees the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan's libraries.

Take, for example, bacon smoked with the cobs of Native American corn or maize, and baking with a powder called pearlash — essentially, an "impure potassium carbonate obtained from wood ashes." It made the fluffy American muffin the answer to an airy French cream puff or a yeasty loaf of Italian bread.

But American Cookery's real contribution was the way it showed off indigenous foods, like "the makings for a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner," says Longone. You guessed it: turkey, cranberry sauce, squash and pumpkin pie.

Even in using more familiar ingredients, American Cookery sometimes reads like a guide to new American idioms: molasses rather than British treacle, and emptins [emptyings] instead of ale yeast. It includes an early sighting of "shortening" and the "Indian slapjack" that became the flapjack of today.

The Salt

Fake Food George Washington Could've Sunk His Fake Teeth Into

But for all this, the book was still deeply British. At a time when cookbook writers often plagiarized one another, it co-opted recipes popular in the motherland. The inclusion of dishes like "Shrewsbury Cake," "Marlborough Pudding," and "Royal Paste" showed there was still a place for tradition in this new American cookery.

But it also showcased the very American value of self-improvement as both civic duty and national pastime — and that we could change our lives if we could change what we eat. The author, Amelia Simmons, claimed to be an orphan of the war who longed to make women, she wrote, "useful members of society." She dedicated herself to "the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America" by teaching them to cook according to the book.

But this is where the book's promise to school the new republic in the ways of its national cuisine starts to look like an exercise in branding.

The Salt

Slavery, Famine And The Politics Of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal

Andrew Smith, the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and others wonder if there ever was an Amelia Simmons. "There's no evidence that any person by the name of Amelia Simmons ever lived," he tells The Salt. "My personal suspicion is that it's a pseudonym for somebody else."

Smith also sees the "American" cooking of the book as largely a "terse, Spartan" cuisine specific to New England. "That's very different from Middle States, very different from New York City," he says, "very different from Southern cooking."

He points to 1863 as the defining moment for American food. Prior to that, "American cooking was regional cooking," not national. But the Civil War "destroyed Southern cooking," and as newly freed slaves migrated North, the nation's cuisine "only becomes American because many of the cooks from Southern plantations are African-American, and they end up in New York City cooking in restaurants." And those changes stick with us today.

The Salt

Fried Chicken And Waffles: The Dish The South Denied As Its Own?

And yet some American food has truly been lost forever. Take the long-lost Illinois prairie hens — just one of the quintessentially American foods that writer Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, longed for while in Europe. Andrew Beahrs, author of Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens, says that the hens were once "eaten coast to coast," and even served in New York's Delmonico's restaurant. In Clemens' youth, the hens numbered in the millions. "Now there are only 300 left in the state, and those have been brought in from Minnesota," says Beahrs.

What has persisted? Social media. The formal Americanization of food that started in American Cookery soon evolved into newspaper recipe contests, women's magazines, and eventually, radio and television to help Americans think they are what they eat.

Food manufacturers, like Campbell's, also played an important role in refining the sense of what it means to eat American. "Many of the recipes that were developed by food processors end up in American cookbooks," says Smith.

And today? Smith admits, "I don't know if there ever was a real American food, but there are foods that Americans consume that other people didn't."

Longone, who has devoted her life to American food in print, concedes, "there's no such thing as a perfect answer" about what American cooking is.

Research Sources

Bremner, Robert H. Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1970. Print.

Gunderson, Gordon W. “National School Lunch Program.” United States Department of Agriculture: Food and Nutrition Services., 17 June 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.

Jakle, John A., and Keith A. Sculle. Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999. Print.

Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Padma Lakshmi’s New Show Tries To Decolonize American Food History

By centering the cuisines of immigrants and Black people, Taste the Nation feels like a direct response to the overwhelming whiteness of American food media.

Posted on June 17, 2020, at 10:48 a.m. ET

Chef Emiliano Marentes and Padma Lakshmi in Taste the Nation.

The important thing first: Padma Lakshmi’s new show, Taste the Nation, which starts streaming on Hulu on Thursday, will make you so hungry. Every episode has something for the insatiable eater in you: melty, crunchy cheese in a taco, the crisp crack of a dosa that’s just been bitten, a hunk of juicy crab sucked from its shell, the beauty of a big old sausage. In that way, this show is no different than a host of other shows about food that you might watch on, say, the Food Network. It’s good, wholesome food porn.

What makes Taste the Nation distinct from many other programs, however, is the context it provides. An episode about Gullah Geechee food in South Carolina is actually about jazz, hip-hop, Black ingenuity, and the history of how enslaved people from West Africa developed a unique cuisine in the United States that eventually influenced so many other cuisines in the South. “The culture happens between the healing and the hurt,” food writer and historian Michael W. Twitty says in conversation with Lakshmi. It’s not a sentence you might expect in an episode that’s essentially about how great rice is, but it fits: It’s impossible to talk about food without addressing its history.

That’s largely what Taste the Nation is trying to accomplish, a 10-episode series about what “American” food actually is. Instead of profiling cooks who make burgers, sandwiches, and barbecue, the show centers immigrants (and the descendants of enslaved Black people), highlighting the difficult, often thankless work they do to make room for themselves and their families in the US. It’s part No Reservations, part Salt Fat Acid Heat, with an even more explicit political aim to give a much-needed history lesson. “I was getting pissed off with everybody else trying to tell the immigrant experience except the immigrant,” Lakshmi told the Washington Post in an interview from earlier this week. “I wanted to know what life was like for them. I wanted them to tell us what they thought and what their life experience was.”

Such a goal is a tall order for any program, but is more necessary than ever considering the current food media climate. In the weeks leading up to Taste the Nation’s premiere, there has been a kind of reckoning in food media. Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport recently resigned after a photo of him wearing an offensive Puerto Rican outfit resurfaced. Sohla El-Waylly, one of the few nonwhite faces on Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel, went public with her complaints, which included not being compensated for her video appearances while her white colleagues were. (A Business Insider report delved deeper into the magazine’s “toxic history of microaggressions.”)

Last month, Alison Roman, the It kid over at the New York Times cooking section, also got in trouble for calling Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo sellouts. “We are living in the age of the global pantry,” Navneet Alang wrote in an essay for Eater about Roman and her ilk, “when a succession of food media-approved, often white figures have made an array of international ingredients approachable and even desirable to the North American mainstream — the same mainstream that, a decade ago, would have labeled these foods as obscure at best and off-putting at worst.” The problem is that the people who are introducing this “ethnic” food to the masses are almost always overwhelmingly white. Why do they get to be the experts?

Even if Taste the Nation isn’t a direct response to the unbearable whiteness of food media, arriving at this moment it certainly feels like one. Each episode focuses on a particular cuisine in the US., but also on the ethnic groups who created these cuisines — Mexican, German, Indian, Gullah Geechee, Chinese, Indigenous, and Thai people, just to name a few. Lakshmi, a former model and current Top Chef host, might be the narrator of Taste the Nation, but with the exception of a few comments about her own immigrant background, the narratives that actually matter in the show are of the people who developed each cuisine and made it popular (and delicious) stateside.

Food stills from Taste the Nation.

It’s almost like a way to force viewers to take their medicine if you want to watch Lakshmi eat fry bread, you have to learn about what settlers did — and are still doing — to Indigenous people’s access to fresh food. The episode about Chinese food (“What Is Chop Suey Anyway?”) doesn’t showcase American Chinese food, but instead follows comedian Ali Wong and Lakshmi around as they go to the restaurant where Wong had her wedding banquet, ordering wood mushroom, gooey duck, and beef with turnips as Wong explains how Chinese food gradually morphed into something more palatable for non-Chinese Americans. “They won’t show you the feet,” Wong says about the photos Chinese restaurants put up of their food.

What begins as an episode about how chop suey is a specifically Chinese American invention delves into the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese migration into the US for more than six decades. Learning about this kind of historical context in food programming isn’t a punishment — the show’s a lot of fun, and, again, I am starving just thinking about the food — but how can you care about food if you don’t care about the people who made it, or how it got here to begin with?

The third episode — “Don’t Mind If I Dosa” — is a clear standout for Lakshmi. In it, she explores Indian cuisine (a misnomer if there ever was one, since the country is so goddamn big and the food varies region to region), but it becomes a space for her to think about her biracial daughter’s upbringing, to talk to her mother about how she left a bad marriage to go to the US, and to reflect on her decision to briefly change her name when she was young. “In order to know who we are, it’s important to know where we come from,” Lakshmi says in the episode. “Connecting to that identity is an individual journey.”

Taste the Nation isn’t perfect. Any show where a rich, famous, and beautiful woman is at the center is likely to have some weak spots. This presents itself pretty early on, in the first episode, where we have to waste our time cooing over the old Trump supporter who owns a small, award-winning car wash/diner right on the border between the US and Mexico. Lakshmi sits on a plastic chair next to him and holds his hand, grinning graciously when he calls her “a knockout.” It’s a trap that so many food shows fall into — you have to talk about race and racism if you’re going to talk about the food of immigrants, and yet Lakshmi gives him a pass when she asks how his predominantly Mexican staff might be affected by Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Episodes like the one focusing on Indian food, delightful to me as someone with family from the north, are still kind of myopic. Lakshmi spends time with former US attorney Preet Bharara, who was born in Punjab, and legendary cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, who’s originally from Delhi. Though Lakshmi might eat dosas with Bharara in Washington Square Park, and though she cooks rasam with her South Indian mother, it’s an episode that doesn’t — and can’t — contain the whole of the country’s food history. That isn’t necessarily Lakshmi’s fault, nor the fault of the show generally, but rather just a reminder that food is complicated, fluid, with a long history, and is at this point largely borderless. To attempt to explore the politics of food is to walk directly into failure, most of the time. It’s just too big.

But, despite this, I’ve never seen a food show before that mimics so closely my own relationship with food and with my culture: When Lakshmi’s mother is making the rasam and tells her daughter what she put in, Lakshmi whips her head around confused, asking, “When did you do that?” Indian moms, man. They just won’t give you shit — especially not their recipes.

Most episodes of Taste the Nation are barely about food. But who cares? No one really needs another show about cooking, about how to make an “authentic” burrito, whatever that means, or what goes into pad thai. These are all easily googled questions, and there are a myriad of cookbooks and online recipes to choose from. What the food space actually needs is context: the context of who’s showing you the food (in this case, an Indian immigrant), and the context of where the food is coming from, why it matters, and what it means. ●


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Iroquois, any member of the North American Indian tribes speaking a language of the Iroquoian family—notably the Cayuga, Cherokee, Huron, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The peoples who spoke Iroquoian languages occupied a continuous territory around Lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie in present-day New York state and Pennsylvania (U.S.) and southern Ontario and Quebec (Canada). That larger group should be differentiated from the Five Nations (later Six Nations) better known as the Iroquois Confederacy (self name Haudenosaunee Confederacy).

As was typical of Northeast Indians before colonization, the Iroquois were semisedentary agriculturists who palisaded their villages in time of need. Each village typically comprised several hundred persons. Iroquois people dwelt in large longhouses made of saplings and sheathed with elm bark, each housing many families. The longhouse family was the basic unit of traditional Iroquois society, which used a nested form of social organization: households (each representing a lineage) were divisions of clans, several clans constituted each moiety, and the two moieties combined to create a tribe.

Groups of men built houses and palisades, fished, hunted, and engaged in military activities. Groups of women produced crops of corn (maize), beans, and squash, gathered wild foods, and prepared all clothing and most other residential goods. After the autumn harvest, family deer-hunting parties ranged far into the forests, returning to their villages at midwinter. Spring runs of fish drew families to nearby streams and lake inlets.

Kinship and locality were the bases for traditional Iroquois political life. Iroquois speakers were fond of meetings, spending considerable time in council. Council attendance was determined by locality, sex, age, and the specific question at hand each council had its own protocol and devices for gaining consensus, which was the primary mode of decision-making.

The elaborate religious cosmology of the Iroquois was based on an origin tradition in which a woman fell from the sky other parts of the religious tradition featured deluge and earth-diver motifs, supernatural aggression and cruelty, sorcery, torture, cannibalism, star myths, and journeys to the otherworld. The formal ceremonial cycle consisted of six agricultural festivals featuring long prayers of thanks. There were also rites for sanctioning political activity, such as treaty making.

Warfare was important in Iroquois society, and, for men, self-respect depended upon achieving personal glory in war endeavours. War captives were often enslaved or adopted to replace dead family members. Losses to battle and disease increased the need for captives, who had become a significant population within Iroquois settlements by the late 17th century.

Early 21st-century population estimates indicated some 90,000 individuals of Iroquois-proper descent when including the many Iroquois-speaking tribes, those estimates indicated more than 900,000 individuals.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.



Beilenson, Evelyn L. Early American Cooking: Recipes from America's Historic Sites . White Plains, New York: Peter Pauper Press, Inc., 1985.

Dɺmico, Joan and Karen Eich Drummond. The United States Cookbook . New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.

Jones, Judith and Evan. The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery . New York: Random House, 1987.

Kent, Deborah. How We Lived in Colonial New England . Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2000.

Kirlin, Katherine S. and Thomas M. Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook . London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Klein, Ted. Celebrate the States: Rhode Island . Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1999.

Sherrow, Victoria. Celebrate the States: Connecticut . Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1998.

The History of School Lunches

As a question of national policy, school lunch is at once simple and extraordinarily complicated. Is providing school lunch primarily a question of charity, education, health, or even national security? Such questions matter: Over the last century or so, the precise reasoning behind why America fed its students had a strong influence on how we did it. And the rationale has changed more times than you&aposd think.

The First Free Lunches

By the end of the 19th century, most American states had instituted compulsory education. Boarding schools have always had their own food infrastructure small day-schools drew students from the immediate community, and during lunch break they could go home and eat there. What students ate was not the concern of the school—or of the state. But some early advocates were concerned, because not all children were getting enough to eat. In the 1890s, the settlement-house movement of women-led social services was gearing up, and women&aposs pre-suffrage political participation was taking form. In 1894, in Boston and Philadelphia, two reform organizations started providing nominally priced lunches to schoolchildren, and the school lunch was born.

Feeding Kids to Fight Communists

The Great Depression left millions unemployed and farmers unable to sell all their food, resulting in a lot of hungry folks. School lunches killed three birds with one stone: As part of the New Deal&aposs Works Progress Administration, the government bought up surplus agricultural products and hired women to cook and serve them to school kids. Farmers could depend on the state as a buyer of last resort, and hungry kids would get one sure meal a day. But there was another motivation: Since World War I, the Department of Defense had been concerned about the effect of malnutrition on the populace&aposs readiness for war. And far from seeing school lunches as a big-government intrusion, conservatives like Georgia Congressman Richard Russell thought students who had a good lunch would be "much more able to resist communism or socialism."

An Ethical Imperative

The administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt worked to recruit the best and brightest social scientists to steer the national ship, and, when it came to school lunches, Roosevelt&aposs administration tapped star anthropologist Margaret Mead. Mead believed in an ethical imperative to feed hungry children—recalling the school lunches of her grandmother&aposs day, when privileged kids had apples and the poor had the cores𠅊nd Mead brought that conviction to the executive branch. She reoriented the WPA program toward well-rounded meals, rather than simply depending on farm surplus. So that the food would appeal to everyone, Mead suggested muted colors, bland tastes, and a single seasoning: salt.

Expansion of School Lunches Ends

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.

After World War II𠅊nd more concern about nutrition-related war-readiness𠅌ongress passed the National School Lunch Act, which made the program permanent for the first time. Twenty years later, as a sally in the War on Poverty, Congress passed the Child Nutrition Act, which introduced breakfast programs and put the whole school-food system under the purview of the Department of Agriculture. American school lunches had been continually expanded for nearly a century when, in 1981, the Reagan administration cut school-food spending by $1.5 billion, raised eligibility standards, reduced portions, and, most famously, changed nutritional standards so that items like ketchup and pickle relish would qualify as vegetables. All of a sudden𠅊nd with little cause—money became the central school-lunch concern.

Enter the Corporate Suppliers

The cuts under President Ronald Reagan pushed districts to look for ways to economize, and corporate contractors saw a new market. Large multinational food service companies took over cafeterias to provide bland, colorless Mead meals—which happened to be a specialty of giant catering firms. Similarly, national fast food and soda brands offered districts lucrative deals for access to captive kids, returning the nation to what public-health researchers called a two-tiered school-food system, with the generic, free/cheap/subsidized pizza and pricey, name-brand premium pizza all in the same lunchroom. "For American agriculture," Susan Levine writes in her comprehensive history School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America&aposs Favorite Welfare Program, "the significance of the National School Lunch Program by the 1990s had shifted from surplus commodity outlets to major markets for the food and food-service industries."

Solving Lunch Debt

The midday scholastic meal hit the news most recently when writer Ashley C. Ford brought national attention to the issue of lunch debt. Many districts have overdue accounts a 2016 survey of school nutrition directors found that schools have a median student-meal debt of $2,000. Students who can&apost pay are at the mercy of school authorities, who are at the mercy of budget constraints. In a reversion to the very beginning of the American school lunch, charitable individuals and groups raised many tens of thousands of dollars to pay off lunch debts around the country𠅊ll in two months. In just over a century, we have seen school lunch come full circle: from the women of the settlement houses to the settlement birdhouse of Twitter fundraising. If we regress any further𠅊nd I fear we might—there won&apost be any lunch at all.

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.

Scotch Woodcock

The Daughters of the Confederacy get creative (Andrew P. Haley, University of Southern Mississippi)

The Scotch woodcock is probably not Scottish. It’s arguably not even a sandwich. A favorite of Oxford students and members of Parliament until the mid-20th century, the dish is generally prepared by layering anchovy paste and eggs on toast.

Like its cheesier cousin, the Welsh rabbit (better known as rarebit), its name is fanciful. Perhaps there was something about the name, if not the ingredients, that sparked the imagination of Miss Frances Lusk of Jackson, Mississippi.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy cookbook features a take on the Scotch woodcock. (McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi, CC BY-SA)

Inspired to add a little British sophistication to her entertaining, she crafted her own version of the Scotch woodcock for a 1911 United Daughters of the Confederacy fundraising cookbook. Miss Lusk’s woodcock sandwich mixed strained tomatoes and melted cheese, added raw eggs, and slathered the paste between layers of bread (or biscuits).

As food historian Bee Wilson argues in her history of the sandwich, American sandwiches distinguished themselves from their British counterparts by the scale of their ambition. Imitating the rising skylines of American cities, many were towering affairs that celebrated abundance.

But those sandwiches were the sandwiches of urban lunchrooms and, later, diners. In the homes of southern clubwomen, the sandwich was a way to marry British sophistication to American creativity.

For example, the United Daughters of the Confederacy cookbook included “sweetbread sandwiches,” made by heating canned offal (animal trimmings) and slathering the mashed mixture between two pieces of toast. There’s also a “green pepper sandwich,” crafted from “very thin” slices of bread and “very thin” slices of green pepper.

Such creative combinations weren’t limited to the elites of Mississippi’s capital city. In the plantation homes of the Mississippi Delta, members of the Coahoma Woman’s Club served sandwiches of English walnuts, black walnuts and stuffed olives ground into a colorful paste. They also assembled “Friendship Sandwiches” from grated cucumbers, onions, celery and green peppers mixed with cottage cheese and mayonnaise. Meanwhile, the industrial elite of Laurel, Mississippi, served mashed bacon and eggs sandwiches and creamed sardine sandwiches.

Not all of these amalgamations were capped by a slice of bread, so purists might balk at calling them sandwiches. But these ladies did – and they proudly tied up their original creations with ribbons.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Paul Freedman, Chester D. Tripp Professor of History, Yale University

Andrew P. Haley, Associate Professor of American Cultural History, The University of Southern Mississippi

Imogene L. Lim, Professor of Anthropology, Vancouver Island University

Ken Albala, Professor of History, Director of Food Studies, University of the Pacific

Megan Elias, Associate Professor of the Practice of Gastronomy, Boston University

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