How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century

How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century

How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century

How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, working-class Americans had eating habits that were distinctly shaped by jobs, families, neighborhoods, and the tools, utilities, and size of their kitchens--along with their cultural heritage. How the Other Half Ate is a deep exploration by historian and lecturer Katherine Turner that delivers an unprecedented and thoroughly researched study of the changing food landscape in American working-class families from industrialization through the 1950s.

Relevant to readers across a range of disciplines--history, economics, sociology, urban studies, women's studies, and food studies--this work fills an important gap in historical literature by illustrating how families experienced food and cooking during the so-called age of abundance. Turner delivers an engaging portrait that shows how America's working class, in a multitude of ways, has shaped the foods we eat today.


Imagine spending half of your income on food. If you were a member of the American working class in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, food would have been the largest item in your budget, more expensive than rent or the mortgage, than heating fuel, than clothes or schoolbooks or anything else your family needed. About fifty cents of each dollar went toward food. Imagine how carefully you would buy and cook your food if you spent so much on it: looking for bargains on wilted vegetables and stale bread, walking an extra mile to buy meat at a lower price, fastidiously saving left overs to make soup. Would you try growing your own vegetables or raising chickens, or would you use that time to work longer hours and earn more money? Would you spend the time to bake your own bread from cheap flour, or would you look for a good price on day-old bread? If eggs were only affordable for a few weeks in the summer, would you buy several dozen and try to preserve them for the winter, or would you just go without eggs for much of the year? How would you cook and eat if you could barely afford enough food for your family? Millions of poor and working-class Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries faced this problem—the problem of food—every day.

Like us, they lived in a time of massive social and economic changes. Many were migrants or immigrants who had traveled hundreds or thousands of miles from their birthplace in search of work or to follow kin. the kind of work they did, their homes, their neighborhoods, and their household tools were all likely to be very different from those of their parents. the traditional ways of living, working, and supporting a family weren’t always useful to them; they had to find new ways to live.

Amid all these transformations, they had to face the following important questions every day: What will I eat? What will my family eat? Working-class . . .

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