Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America's Food

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America's Food

Article excerpt

Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America's Food. By Camille Begin. Studies in Sensory History. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 223. Paper, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-252-08170-5; cloth, $95.00, ISBN 978-0-252-04025-2.)

Each year sees the publication of multiple New Deal monographs, yet few promise to be as expansive in their appeal as Camille Begin's Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America's Food. At its narrowest, Begin's subject is America Eats, a project launched by the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) in the late 1930s and revived in 1941. Though the onset of World War II prevented the publication of a volume of regional food essays, workers on the America Eats project documented the nation's culinary traditions at a time when American foodways--like so many folk practices--were being displaced by modern industrial processes. Food scholars will be fascinated by Begin's account of the "expansive body of culinary knowledge, sensory information, and cultural attitudes woven around food" that the FWP staff compiled (p. 3). Writers who locate the origins of American food writing in the 1990s will be pleasantly surprised to learn that such a vast collection of New Deal-era food writing exists.

Scholars of the New Deal, regionalism, and U.S. social and cultural history will also find much to admire in this book's pages. Certainly, food deprivation was central to American politics and culture during the Great Depression--images of breadlines and hungry migrant families populated the Depression-era cultural landscape. Begin argues that New Deal food writers constructed a "counter-narrative ... aimed at boosting morale and nationalist sentiment" that was "filled with reassuring images of traditional regional food" prepared at community picnics, festivals, and suppers (pp. 4-5). Begin's project also adds a rich, sensory perspective to our understanding of the Depression and New Deal policies. While other scholars have addressed the revival of regionalism in this period, the author frames that revival as a dialectic "between regional and national cuisines" (p. 5). Historians of gender and race will also find much to appreciate in Begin's sensory approach to the New Deal. She emphasizes that in embracing traditional foods, New Deal food writers also embraced women's traditional domestic roles, scorning convenient processed foods that wage-earning women relied on. …

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