Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century

Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century

Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century

Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century

Synopsis

American eating changed dramatically in the early twentieth century. As food production became more industrialized, nutritionists, home economists, and so-called racial scientists were all pointing Americans toward a newly scientific approach to diet. Food faddists were rewriting the most basic rules surrounding eating, while reformers were working to reshape the diets of immigrants and the poor. And by the time of World War I, the country's first international aid program was bringing moral advice about food conservation into kitchens around the country. In Modern Food, Moral Food, Helen Zoe Veit argues that the twentieth-century food revolution was fueled by a powerful conviction that Americans had a moral obligation to use self-discipline and reason, rather than taste and tradition, in choosing what to eat.
Veit weaves together cultural history and the history of science to bring readers into the strange and complex world of the American Progressive Era. The era's emphasis on science and self-control left a profound mark on American eating, one that remains today in everything from the ubiquity of science-based dietary advice to the tenacious idealization of thinness.

Excerpt

Now is the hour of our testing.
Let us make it the hour of our victory—victory over ourselves.
—United States Food Administration slogan, 1918

In the 1890s, when a poor African American sharecropper in Mississippi ate a plate of beans, greens, gravy, and corn bread, her dinner seemed a world removed from a Gilded Age restaurant meal of steak, asparagus, béarnaise sauce, and white rolls. Just two decades later, however, by the 1910s, chemical analyses of these foods would reveal disconcerting similarities in their nutritive content. in fact, the poor southern meal—lower in fat and higher in vitamins—would increasingly look like the healthier of the two. By breaking food down into units like vitamins, calories, proteins, and carbohydrates, nutritionists by the 1910s were able to argue convincingly that foods that had long seemed completely different could in fact be nutritionally equivalent. in so doing, they exposed striking similarities in foods from different classes and cultures and regions. It seems commonsensical in hindsight, but at the time this way of thinking about food was revolutionary.

Nutrition science sparked the modernization of American diets, but it was really only the beginning: the ways Americans bought, produced, ate, and thought about their food and their bodies all changed dramatically. and the most radical changes happened during the first two decades of the twentieth century, an extraordinarily short period of time. During these years, modern food science, Progressive impulses, and U.S. involvement in . . .

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