U. S. One, Maine to Florida

By Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration | Go to book overview
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While traveling speed and comfort have reached heights undreamed of a century ago, meals available to travelers have declined steadily in quality because the American is no longer the gourmet he once was. Nowhere are the democratic processes more evident than in the food-catering business; the restaurant keeper is up for reelection three times a day and must continually respond to the will of the majority if he is to avoid bankruptcy. If his constituents demand elaborate dining room furnishings and pantalets on the chop-bones rather than high-priced cuts of meat, if they prefer quick service in place of cooked-to-order dishes, or if they order a limited range of foods and ignore new ones, the restaurant keeper must fill the demands.

America has native foodstuffs in variety and of qualities unsurpassed in any other country, and American colonists early devised a large number of savory dishes. Delegates to the first Continental Congress were offered meals Lucullus would not have scorned. Even the austere John Adams, deeply engrossed in the affairs of the Colonies, found time to comment in detail on them. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century no account of an entertainment or meeting was complete without some mention of the menu.

There are many reasons for the decline in food standards. The sedentary occupations of city-dwellers have lessened the keenness of their appetites, and the tempo of modern life has left little time for them to test the quality of individual dishes, and even less time to wait for the preparation of special orders. More important in the decline has been the domestic revolution. Women have seldom had as great an interest in food as men have had, but when housekeeping was the only career open to them and compliments on satisfying meals were the chief rewards for service, they spent much of their time in shopping for choice foodstuffs, mixing, beating, paring, boiling, and baking. When new careers were opened to women and they were no longer dependent on cooking for their living, they and the manufacturers united to make the preparation of meals a short process. Today a pre-cooked dinner, from soup to nuts, can be bought and placed on the table in half an hour. The difference between a dinner created by mass-production processes and one prepared at home is as great as the difference between a ready-made


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U. S. One, Maine to Florida


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