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From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced—the Great Depression—and how it transformed America’s culinary culture. The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country’s political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Bef From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced—the Great Depression—and how it transformed America’s culinary culture. The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country’s political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America’s relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished—shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder. In 1933, as women struggled to feed their families, President Roosevelt reversed longstanding biases toward government sponsored “food charity.” For the first time in American history, the federal government assumed, for a while, responsibility for feeding its citizens. The effects were widespread. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, “home economists” who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen rose to national stature. Tapping into America’s longstanding ambivalence toward culinary enjoyment, they imposed their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine on the American dinner table. Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to instill dietary recommendations, the forerunners of today’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At the same time, rising food conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods that gave rise to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national cuisine sparked a revival of American regional cooking. In the ensuing decades, this tension between local traditions and culinary science have defined our national cuisine—a battle that continues today. A Square Meal examines the impact of economic contraction and environmental disaster on how Americans ate then—and the lessons and insights those experiences may hold for us today.


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From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced—the Great Depression—and how it transformed America’s culinary culture. The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country’s political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Bef From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced—the Great Depression—and how it transformed America’s culinary culture. The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country’s political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America’s relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished—shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder. In 1933, as women struggled to feed their families, President Roosevelt reversed longstanding biases toward government sponsored “food charity.” For the first time in American history, the federal government assumed, for a while, responsibility for feeding its citizens. The effects were widespread. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, “home economists” who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen rose to national stature. Tapping into America’s longstanding ambivalence toward culinary enjoyment, they imposed their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine on the American dinner table. Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to instill dietary recommendations, the forerunners of today’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At the same time, rising food conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods that gave rise to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national cuisine sparked a revival of American regional cooking. In the ensuing decades, this tension between local traditions and culinary science have defined our national cuisine—a battle that continues today. A Square Meal examines the impact of economic contraction and environmental disaster on how Americans ate then—and the lessons and insights those experiences may hold for us today.

30 review for A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression

  1. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    You might imagine a culinary history of the Great Depression would be a catalog of cheap and skimpy meals, but having read previous works by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, I knew I'd be in for a social history with all the trimmings. I was not disappointed. A Square Meal chronicles American diets in the early 20th century, tells the history of hoboes in America (and the important differences between hoboes and tramps and bums), touches on the popularization of canned and frozen foods, and gets in You might imagine a culinary history of the Great Depression would be a catalog of cheap and skimpy meals, but having read previous works by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, I knew I'd be in for a social history with all the trimmings. I was not disappointed. A Square Meal chronicles American diets in the early 20th century, tells the history of hoboes in America (and the important differences between hoboes and tramps and bums), touches on the popularization of canned and frozen foods, and gets into the surprising politics of feeding (and not feeding) the unemployed during the Depression. Sprinkled throughout are recipes and photographs and intriguing stories, and what runs just below the surface is that we are not so very far removed from the Thirties. The attitudes toward people using food stamps (which were introduced in that decade) were not charitable -- there was a suspicion in the White House among FDR's cabinet (and perhaps FDR himself) that people accepting handouts would suffer low morale from the experience. Evidently they thought that was a fate worse than actually starving to death, something that happened with grim regularity. But the false economy of letting people starve came back to roost when the Army had to disqualify half of the draftees it examined due to poor health, much of which was directly attributable to poor nutrition. Fascinating social history, highly recommended! (Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for a digital review copy.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    Disappointing, disorganized, and facile. This is not a bad book, but it is not a good book. After being a little all over the place, it ends very abruptly. Does not sufficiently discuss the history of the food theories that lead to the Depression menus and comes off as very surface-level. Though the writing was engaging enough, I could not shake the feeling that this book was using the 1930s to comment on today more than anything else.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cathie

    I felt this to be more of a social history of the Great Depression. The first three chapters seemed devoted to the Roaring 20s. Then it delved into politics of feeding (or not feeding) the unemployed, and events that affected agriculture, the beginning of home economists and promoting what a balanced diet was: watered-down and less is more, and the beginning of food manufacturing with corporations such as Post, Birds Eye, Jell-O (even Ralston & Purina). I went into this seeking a culinary take, I felt this to be more of a social history of the Great Depression. The first three chapters seemed devoted to the Roaring 20s. Then it delved into politics of feeding (or not feeding) the unemployed, and events that affected agriculture, the beginning of home economists and promoting what a balanced diet was: watered-down and less is more, and the beginning of food manufacturing with corporations such as Post, Birds Eye, Jell-O (even Ralston & Purina). I went into this seeking a culinary take, but felt I received more of a social and political take, mostly starvation and malnutrition. I guess I should not have expected too much on food during this time to be no more than personal farming, canning, hunting basics. But this was my expectation of culinary history, and what and where ethnicity, charitable support, migration - to name a few - created such culinary standards, whether going back to roots or moving the food revolution forward.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    As disclosure, I am a social worker well versed in the canon of the New Deal and the growing idea of a social safety net. And today I still worry about food deserts and the ways in which food continues to marginalize whole sections of the U.S., through illness and lifelong disease. So, this book is right smack in my interest area and it is one perfect piece of work. I had thought I would read a book heavy with recipes and dollar-stretching ideas from magazines of the Depression era. Instead I wa As disclosure, I am a social worker well versed in the canon of the New Deal and the growing idea of a social safety net. And today I still worry about food deserts and the ways in which food continues to marginalize whole sections of the U.S., through illness and lifelong disease. So, this book is right smack in my interest area and it is one perfect piece of work. I had thought I would read a book heavy with recipes and dollar-stretching ideas from magazines of the Depression era. Instead I was captivated by almost newsreel footage-feeling storytelling. From the poor health of conscripts in WWI, America embarked on a plan to (literally) beef up its citizens and assure that for whatever happened next, the nation would be healthy and ready. Despite all of that planning and wild eating, the Depression and resultant near starvation of mass numbers of Americans meant that with the start of the Selective Service for WWII, most men were underweight, undernourished and diseased. The story of those intervening years is fascinating and the political wars sound identical to the ones we hear today. Food was actually withheld because local charity managers didn't believe non-working adults should receive charity. In Washington DC, arguments about balanced budgets vs public investments raged on, neither having anything to do with food. Just arguments about the nature of charity. In this time and place, Americans were not a charitable people, as a whole. They were better one on one. This book has photos, song lyrics, menus, advertisements and really places the reader in the time frame. It is a fantastic book. I received my copy from the publisher through Edelweiss.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from the publisher. "Food, like language, is always in motion, propelled by the same events that fill our history books" (189). This work of non-fiction covers the culinary habits of a nation in the wake of World War I and through the Great Depression. Before the depression, America had an abundance of food, although rural and urban areas had very different habits concerning meals. Yet the economic downturn left many malnourished and starving. Fo I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from the publisher. "Food, like language, is always in motion, propelled by the same events that fill our history books" (189). This work of non-fiction covers the culinary habits of a nation in the wake of World War I and through the Great Depression. Before the depression, America had an abundance of food, although rural and urban areas had very different habits concerning meals. Yet the economic downturn left many malnourished and starving. For the first time in American history, the government stepped in to make sure its people had something to eat. This gave an opportunity for early pioneers of dietary recommendations to shape America's perception of a 'balanced diet' and understanding of dietary recommendations. The resulting tension between tradition and culinary science is one that still continues today. To gain perspective on the changes in diet that occurred during the Great Depression, it is necessary to understand what habits existed before. Ziegelman and Coe do an excellent job of providing a history of something that is so fundamental to every human, and yet something that rarely is given much space in history books - the average human diet. The description of the average rural and city diets following World War I was one of the most fascinating sections of the book for me. It was fascinating to read of the huge, hand prepared meals eaten by hard working Americans who lived on farms. I had no idea of many of their habits, such as eating a pie with all three meals of the day. The emphasis on using every resource available to them was stressed, including pigs, whose fat was even used to make a specialty called "killed lettuce" which was "made from pokeweed, dandelion, and other wild greens that were drizzled with hot bacon grease that 'killed,' or wilted, the tender, new leaves" (21). Meanwhile, in urban cities, the "kitchenette" was gaining prominence in new, modern apartment buildings. Along with its cramped cooking space, corner delicatessens, cafeterias, and lunch counters grew in popularity for the first time. However, the sections of the book devoted exclusively to depression-era cuisine focused largely on charity distributions and government-provided meals, with much discussion of federal policies that shaped this service. Home economists capitalized on the national emergency to push nutritional standards on school nutrition programs and in the foods that were distributed to destitute families. The impact of both the depression and this scientific approach to the diet was also felt by still employed families, who were encouraged to alter their shopping and eating habits. Families were encouraged to use inexpensive ingredients, dressed up or made more palatable in cream sauces or hidden in casseroles. This was the age of the casserole, as it was "well-suited to inexpensive ingredients, it was easy to serve and to clean up after, and like all one-pot meals, a casserole saved on fuel costs" (128). Women were urged to keep a strict food budget, guided by menus planned out in advance of shopping. Although fortunate that the government changed its early stance prohibiting charity in the form of food distribution, it was disheartening to see the starvation rations many were reduced to during this time period. For instance, one reporter "lived for a week on the city's $1.20 weekly food handout, eating mostly oatmeal, potatoes, stewed tomatoes, and cabbage, and lost nearly ten pounds" (242). In other words, government-provided food helped, but it clearly was not enough to keep a family healthy and well nourished. One astonishing figure that illustrated the long-term impact of the country's malnourished state were the condition of draftees at the beginning of World War II. Government health experts confidently "expected perhaps 2 percent to be found unfit. They were shocked, however, when they tallied the figures: more than half a million draftees were examined, and 43 percent of them had failed. The culprits were poor teeth, bad vision, heart disease, syphilis, tuberculosis, and low body weight," many of which can be contributed to the nutritional deficiencies that were rampant during the Depression (246). There was a wealth of fascinating and critical national history in this book. However, I was greatly disappointed in the lack of organization. The book completely lacks an introduction and a conclusion that would have provided a framework and thesis statement for what to expect from this text. As this book was written by a husband and wife team, I wonder if part of issue stems from multiple authors, who each worked on separate sections of the book and combined them when they were completed. Indeed, each chapter seems to jump from subject to subject, which seemed to indicate discrete essays that were then bound together into one work with little thought to narrative flow beyond placement in chronological order. At the very least, I expected a concluding chapter that would have provided a summary or overview of the many disparate topics covered within this book's pages. While clearly well researched and greatly informative, this work needed a heavier editorial hand to further polish it before sending it on to readers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This meal was too dry for me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    The information in the book was really interesting, and contained much that I hadn't known both about American eating habits prior to and during the Depression, and about the evolution of government policy re: welfare and hunger relief. But the presentation left so much to be desired. There was little obvious connection between chapters, and I felt that the authors jumped between topics with little or no transition. It was hard to form a mental "big picture" given the way the book was written. The information in the book was really interesting, and contained much that I hadn't known both about American eating habits prior to and during the Depression, and about the evolution of government policy re: welfare and hunger relief. But the presentation left so much to be desired. There was little obvious connection between chapters, and I felt that the authors jumped between topics with little or no transition. It was hard to form a mental "big picture" given the way the book was written.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    This book is much better than it has any right to be. As a mix of recipes, songs, photos, oral history, scholarship, science, nutrition, and American history, it is totally fascinating. After the Depression hits, we learn about programs that formed before, and as part of, the New Deal, like the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the school lunch program, and the Food Stamp Plan, as well as the beginning of industry and consumer culture, as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval endor This book is much better than it has any right to be. As a mix of recipes, songs, photos, oral history, scholarship, science, nutrition, and American history, it is totally fascinating. After the Depression hits, we learn about programs that formed before, and as part of, the New Deal, like the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the school lunch program, and the Food Stamp Plan, as well as the beginning of industry and consumer culture, as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval endorsed new gadgets and products. This was also the first time that science shaped the way Americans ate, with a new focus on vitamins and calories. Most interesting perhaps, in addition to the many revolting recipes included in the book, is the discussion of how war (both WWI and WWII) almost completely shaped our food culture and our government's response to crisis and charity. ("Eat Corn Muffins and Win the War!," "Meatless Mondays") With Hoover and even FDR, there was a reluctance to give out too much aid, lest people become too dependent, yet they even cut vet benefits. Instead they focused on jobs programs (WPA). Despite this, there were not enough jobs to go around, and people were starving and would pass out on the street. By the time of the WWII draft, more than 40% of men failed the health examination. Only at that point did the government fully support food assistance programs and nutrition. "America would harness the newer knowledge of nutrition to defend itself against the Nazi threat." Between 1910-1930, there was an obsession with efficiency, and the lunch counter and self-serve cafeterias emerged based on factory organization (you move your tray down the line). A passage from early in the book: Frederick Taylor (a mechanical engineer) "believed that American prosperity was endangered by the 'awkward, ill-directed, or inefficient movements of men.'" Another couple conducted research with a stopwatch that they called a "motion study," "using movie cameras to analyze the worker at his task...eliminating any [gestures] that were wasteful." In the early 1920s, the Department of Agriculture gave rural homemakers PEDOMETERS (!) that the women would pin to their aprons; "one Montana woman walked a quarter of a mile in the course of baking a lemon pie!" And the efficiency kitchen was born. (In 1921 Irving Berlin's song "In a Cozy Kitchenette Apartment" was popular.) Women took a lot of heat from men during this time; one husband, for instance, claimed that the newly popular deli was a "promoter of equal suffrage" since his wife didn't have to cook. Prohibition shaped food culture as well: "sugar consumption spiked during the 1920s....Deprived of alcohol, Americans turned to anything sweet for a quick, satisfying rush." Interesting tidbits in no particular order: Betty Crocker was invented by a flour company in 1924; she had a radio cooking school show. The Department of Agriculture had a radio show hosted by "Aunt Sammy" (counterpart to Uncle Sam) and published "Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes." Clarence Birdseye was ice fishing, pulled out a fish that was completely frozen, and realized that it tasted great when it was cooked later. Hence, frozen food products. Recipes and Dishes mentioned (to list just a few): Chop Suey with Milkorno (a product championed by Eleanor Roosevelt): http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/homeEc... Hot Deviled Eggs in Tomato Sauce Prune Pudding Grapefruit Souffle Liver Loaf Lima Beans De Luxe (canned beans, yellow cheese sauce, canned pimento) Jellied Lime and Grapefuit Salad (including stuffed olives, lettuce, and MAYO ????) Available online: The National Cookbook (1932)--and there are copies on Amazon for $500??--was already trying to preserve regional recipes in the wake of new factories and food products, so you can see the germ of Alice Waters et al. and the contemporary locavore farm-to-table movement. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record... Just read the book instead of this long, long review. And take your vitamins!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    Constantly infuriating and depressing, occasionally inspiring, and at all times informative, this is a very readable story of the agriculture, charities, government policies, and a bit on the economics of how people ate directly before, during, and after the Great Depression in the US.

  10. 5 out of 5

    thefourthvine

    I finished this and sort of enjoyed reading it, but it was really, really infuriating. This is definitely the book to read if you want to have extensive, rage-driven fantasies about traveling back in time and punching certain presidents in the face, and it's also the book to read if you want to be depressed about how little has changed and how we're making the same damn mistakes all over again 100 years later. I definitely did not want either of those things, but I found the book interesting eno I finished this and sort of enjoyed reading it, but it was really, really infuriating. This is definitely the book to read if you want to have extensive, rage-driven fantasies about traveling back in time and punching certain presidents in the face, and it's also the book to read if you want to be depressed about how little has changed and how we're making the same damn mistakes all over again 100 years later. I definitely did not want either of those things, but I found the book interesting enough to deal with them. (But, UGH. So much leftover rage. SO MUCH.)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    "A Square Meal" explores the food and the food culture during the Great Depression in the United States. The Great Depression fundamentally changed the way that Americans thought about and interacted with food. Food was, of course, rationed and individuals didn't have control over what kind of food they got many times. People were expected to do more with less and turn food that may not have been the best into meals for their family. This book doesn't only explore what kind of food people made bu "A Square Meal" explores the food and the food culture during the Great Depression in the United States. The Great Depression fundamentally changed the way that Americans thought about and interacted with food. Food was, of course, rationed and individuals didn't have control over what kind of food they got many times. People were expected to do more with less and turn food that may not have been the best into meals for their family. This book doesn't only explore what kind of food people made but the chain reaction set off by food scarcity. It was the Great Depression that first got the government involved in food relief for its own people. Prior to that, local communities were left to care for their own with what they had. The Great Depression was so wide ranging and hurt communities far and wide that first states started to step in and then the federal government. There were all sorts of logistics that various organizations and levels of government had to grapple with in order to make sure that people were able to get some sort of relief. In times of food scarcity, you make do with what you get. The book explores a lot of what housewives did in order to stretch their rations. Let's just say that creativity was key! One of my favorite parts of the book was the recipes included and those talked about. There were tons of cookbooks created during this time period in order to cater to the home economist who was charged with feeding and nourishing their family. In this day and age, I am lucky enough to be able to go to the grocery store, buy whatever I want, cook it, and feed my family. We have tons of choices. This book made me appreciate that so much more! This is a quirky look at an interesting history and it's definitely off the beaten path!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Absolutely not does not match the marketing or book flap. When I first heard about this book it sounded like a good read. How have our eating habits changed? How did we go from eating foods that were grown locally and seasonally to processed convenience items? Where and when did this change? Was there a catalyst?    'A Square Meal' purported to look at the eating habits of people in the US and how they especially changed by the Great Depression. How the economics changed, how people had to adjust Absolutely not does not match the marketing or book flap. When I first heard about this book it sounded like a good read. How have our eating habits changed? How did we go from eating foods that were grown locally and seasonally to processed convenience items? Where and when did this change? Was there a catalyst?    'A Square Meal' purported to look at the eating habits of people in the US and how they especially changed by the Great Depression. How the economics changed, how people had to adjust their eating habits, what it meant for food farms/suppliers/industries, and how that affects us today. I had been especially interested in how the US got our food guidelines and how the eating habits shifted to items that are pre-packaged and aimed towards convenience.   Sadly, that is not what this book is about at all. Initially it starts really well in discussing the eating habits of people. How labor intensive it could be for women (who typically did the food preparation). The rise and tracing of the path of food charities. How the sandwich used to be an item limited to picnics, saloons and afternoon tea but became a menu item of convenience and easier preparation.   Then, as other reviewers note, the book suddenly can't decide what it wants to be. We get less about the food habits (or about food in general) and instead look at the Great Depression. Some of it was very interesting: the psychological effect of the breadlines and the message it sent. But unfortunately it took away from what the book was supposed to be about (I had expected we'd be looking more at the eating habits themselves and the nutritional guidelines as mentioned above), plus the really awful writing.   I've read another book by Coe's before that looked at Chinese food in the US. The writing there was just excruciating and sometimes the text here is not that much better. My interest in the subject kept me going for awhile, but the interesting parts were few and far in between.   As others said, it's not really a "culinary history" of sorts, at least not in the way the book flap and marketing make it out out to be. It does have some information that I didn't know about and can be highly relevant (for example, the book talks about out of work coal miners and how that poverty/lack of work/unrest affected the coal miners, their families, and what Hoover did to get that segment back up to speed (highly relevant lessons that perhaps certain parties should learn) even if the effort only helped a small number of people and didn't fix the overall problems.   I was sad to find that I eagerly awaited this book but it really didn't match my expectations. Some people may really find it useful or more to their liking but they should be aware it's not quite what the cover/book flap says it is. Borrow from the library unless it's a resource you need.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andie

    I got this book as part of Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. I had heard about this book on "Fresh Air" on NPR and was led to believe, by the interview that this was going to be an account of what I like to call "unfortunate food." - food that was nutritious, cheap and, ultimately unappetizing. It was that, but it was also much more. What this book really is is a history of American cuisine from World War I through the Great Depression, as well as a look at the attitudes of America towards I got this book as part of Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. I had heard about this book on "Fresh Air" on NPR and was led to believe, by the interview that this was going to be an account of what I like to call "unfortunate food." - food that was nutritious, cheap and, ultimately unappetizing. It was that, but it was also much more. What this book really is is a history of American cuisine from World War I through the Great Depression, as well as a look at the attitudes of America towards its poor citizens and its remedies to alleviate hunger during the country's hardest times. At the end of World War I, America was still a largely rural nation, centered on farming and fueled by a meat and potatoes diet that was high in calories. It was surprising to learn that the average American consumed close to 5000 calories per day! This, of course was mitigated by the strenuous life on a farm where there was little mechanization or electricity well into the 1930's. The 1920's brought a great migration to the industrialized cities of the north. People moved from ample farm houses to small apartments and rising incomes led to the adoption of modern appliances like electric refrigerators. Convenience foods and meals eaten in restaurants like Child's and the Automat also changed the way Americans ate. The Depression, of course, sent the country into a turmoil. City dwellers lost their jobs and had few resources to fall back on. Farmers, while being hit with a drastic decline in commodity prices, could feed themselves - at least in the beginning. The government's attitude that it was morally wrong to help people survive in the face of economic disaster seems especially cruel, until one realizes that the attitude of the population at large was that being poor was somehow a moral failing and that if relief was to be offered, it should be at a minimal level. People felt that if the poor got "too comfortable" they would never want to work. The election of FDR changed things as his administration offered direct relief and then works projects like the CCC and WPA, but the economy never really recovered until World War II gobbled up several million men for the armed forces and shifted the country into a war production mode. This book is not only an interesting social history, but also a cautionary lesson for how we treat our poorer citizens here in the 21st century.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alycia

    You have the right to food money. So long as you don't mind investigation, humiliation, and rehabilitation. Who knew that The Clash song Know Your Rights may as well have been written about the Great Depression? What a mess. If anyone needed a historical reason for not donating to the American Red Cross this week, this book will give you plenty. And hopefully make you re-think everything you thought you knew about the Roosevelt administration. But you probably already knew what a loser Hoover wa You have the right to food money. So long as you don't mind investigation, humiliation, and rehabilitation. Who knew that The Clash song Know Your Rights may as well have been written about the Great Depression? What a mess. If anyone needed a historical reason for not donating to the American Red Cross this week, this book will give you plenty. And hopefully make you re-think everything you thought you knew about the Roosevelt administration. But you probably already knew what a loser Hoover was, so that was a relief. It just shows that things, especially in government, rarely change. This is a great book and unlike most books about food, it will not make you hungry.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Holly McIntyre

    Truthfully, I would give this 4.5 stars, but it is so hard to find interesting non-fiction these days that I slid it over to five. It was not entirely what I expected, but excellent in its own way nonetheless. It covers more than the Great Depression, reaching back to the food policies of the Great War to find the roots of America's love affair with a scientific approach to food and cooking. The focus is not so much "culinary" as "dietary" with much detailed attention to the dietary prescription Truthfully, I would give this 4.5 stars, but it is so hard to find interesting non-fiction these days that I slid it over to five. It was not entirely what I expected, but excellent in its own way nonetheless. It covers more than the Great Depression, reaching back to the food policies of the Great War to find the roots of America's love affair with a scientific approach to food and cooking. The focus is not so much "culinary" as "dietary" with much detailed attention to the dietary prescriptions embedded in the food relief policies of the 1930s. To be honest, I got a little bored trying to comprehend the organizational structure of various food relief programs, although I understood enough to realize how willing politicians were to simply let people starve. Here and there, the book provided what I sought, the source of the foods of my childhood. It appears that my mother, a young housewife in the 1930s learned her lessons well. Even her signature "fancy salad" (grapefruit sections and avocado slices artfully arranged on lettuce with a drizzle of French dressing) makes an appearance in the book, although she skipped the suggestion to encase them in lime jello. If you love food and wonder why Americans eat the way we do, read this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This book bills itself as a "culinary history" but it is so much more: it often leans toward full social history, and it is endlessly fascinating. The authors always bring the focus back to food (and often, the lack thereof), but in the meantime, we get to see the politics of first Hoover's and then Roosevelt's efforts at relief, the rise of home economics and the scientific study of nutrition, and the technological advances taking place in the kitchen in the early 20th century. It is interestin This book bills itself as a "culinary history" but it is so much more: it often leans toward full social history, and it is endlessly fascinating. The authors always bring the focus back to food (and often, the lack thereof), but in the meantime, we get to see the politics of first Hoover's and then Roosevelt's efforts at relief, the rise of home economics and the scientific study of nutrition, and the technological advances taking place in the kitchen in the early 20th century. It is interesting to see the ways in which some things have changed (attitudes toward what constitutes an "adequate" diet, for example) and others have stayed so very much the same (the endless arguing and political tension over "providing relief" versus "creating dependency" for welfare recipients). Though the authors take no political positions, there is definitely fodder here for comparisons and conversations about modern welfare practices. And of course, several recipes are included for the curious, including a truly horrific-sounding jell-o salad (to be served with mayonnaise!). Definitely recommended for anyone with a taste for social history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Corban Ford

    An interesting culinary history of the great depression. I really enjoyed reading this. Jane Ziegelman examines how economic contraction and environmental disaster shaped the way that Americans ate during the depression, and she does it in a very thorough and engaging way. It is revealing, perceptive, and highly readable; a fresh slant to the old depression histories.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    This was a very readable book which contained history prior to and through the depression in the US. This history included food, and it was fascinating to read how local, state, and federal governments dealt with food policy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Anne

    You think you know, but you don't know. It's really not until the scope of the era is right up in your face that you KNOW know. For those of you not fortunate enough to have had parents/grandparents around from the Greatest Generation/Silent Generation, Ziegelman's book is the remedy, providing a comprehensive guide that covers subjects ranging from "public policy to hobo lore" (ix). In fact, the relationship between policy and actual life is scarier than you imagine. The Hoover White House was ri You think you know, but you don't know. It's really not until the scope of the era is right up in your face that you KNOW know. For those of you not fortunate enough to have had parents/grandparents around from the Greatest Generation/Silent Generation, Ziegelman's book is the remedy, providing a comprehensive guide that covers subjects ranging from "public policy to hobo lore" (ix). In fact, the relationship between policy and actual life is scarier than you imagine. The Hoover White House was ridiculously out of touch with the common man, eating fancy meals during the scarcest of times, and confident that no one was REALLY starving. FDR, hailed as the savior-hero, was better, but not enlightened enough to grasp the TRUE scope of the problem (Eleanor was, as usual, much closer to the mark). Tales of mismanaged Red Cross "assistance" will have your blood boiling. State agencies with good intentions but few resources and public schools with with the same will have you banging your head off a wall more than once. Undergirding it all is the perennial American fear that somebody might get something for nothing. Yes, America preferred to let people starve than give them food, because they might get used to handouts and become lazy/entitled. Sound familiar? As for the changes in consumption themselves, Ziegelman does a good job explaining how food culture changed during the Depression, while mentioning, but not dwelling on, individual anecdotes. First she sets up the post WWI era, when there was plenty to eat and most people grew their own (the original farm to table culture). Advances in technology slowly introduced processed foods into the American diet, and by the time the Depression hit most folks were far removed from the source of their food. This is an oversimplification of a fascinating cultural process in which Ziegelman demonstrates that just because we CAN do things doesn't necessarily mean we SHOULD. The biggest punch in the gut is the story of the Bonus March, which I was certainly never taught about in school, and I can see why: common people from all over the country, poor and hungry, rising up to camp out at the White House and demand their veterans pensions, and by the way, some FOOD? Not something most servants of capitalism want to encourage in a curriculum. Hoover is an even bigger dick than you thought, and Douglas MacArthur is a straight-up asshole, for what he did to those men, women and children. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's necessary if you want to understand just how hungry--and desperate--these people were. My one quarrel here is that Ziegelman pays only token lip service to racism. A few anecdotes here and there, framed as, "Oh, and by the way, black people had it worse," are tossed in but never really elaborated on (exemption: sharecropping, which is discussed comparatively well." A lot of authors excuse this by saying, "Oh, that would take a whole separate book," but then nobody ever gets around to writing that book. The reader will occasionally wish Ziegelman had talked a bit less about policy and a bit more about people, but given that Depression policies fucked people up so hard, the city of Cleveland is STILL recovering (yes really), it's stuff the average person needs to know. Still: more intersectional analysis, please. This is a solid add to cookery collections that include a focus on history and folkways / culture as opposed to just cookbooks. This means mostly large libraries, but a medium-sized library can get away with it in a socially conscious community (or a community that badly needs to be). Recommended everywhere you need to spark some outrage and start a revolution, if only in critical thinking.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    From the poor health of military conscripts in WWI, America embarked on a plan to (literally) beef up its citizens and assure that for whatever happened next, the nation would be healthy and ready. Despite all of that planning and wild eating, the Depression and resultant near starvation of mass numbers of Americans meant that with the start of the Selective Service for WWII, most men were underweight, undernourished and diseased. The story of those intervening years is fascinating and the polit From the poor health of military conscripts in WWI, America embarked on a plan to (literally) beef up its citizens and assure that for whatever happened next, the nation would be healthy and ready. Despite all of that planning and wild eating, the Depression and resultant near starvation of mass numbers of Americans meant that with the start of the Selective Service for WWII, most men were underweight, undernourished and diseased. The story of those intervening years is fascinating and the political wars sound identical to the ones we hear today. Food was actually withheld because local charity managers didn't believe non-working adults should receive charity, even though there were no jobs. In Washington DC, arguments about balanced budgets vs. public investments raged on, neither having anything to do with food. These were really just arguments about the nature of charity. In that time and place, Americans were not actually a charitable people, as a whole. They were better one on one. But food was allowed to rot while Americans starved. This is the story of social safety nets and farm subsidies. I thought I would read a book heavy with recipes and dollar-stretching ideas from magazines of the Depression era. Instead I was captivated by almost newsreel footage-feeling storytelling. This book has photos, song lyrics, menus, advertisements and really places the reader in the time frame. It is a fantastic book. ~Suzanne R.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Beth Cato

    The subject matter of this book is intriguing--the culinary history of the Great Depression--though in the end, it wasn't quite what I hoped it would be. The book starts out strong, detailing how World War I changed American's outlooks on food, and how that continued to evolve through the 1920s with major shifts to delis and cafeterias and corporation-driven food trends. Unfortunately, I found that where the food faltered was on the Depression itself. It became much more of a social history, emp The subject matter of this book is intriguing--the culinary history of the Great Depression--though in the end, it wasn't quite what I hoped it would be. The book starts out strong, detailing how World War I changed American's outlooks on food, and how that continued to evolve through the 1920s with major shifts to delis and cafeterias and corporation-driven food trends. Unfortunately, I found that where the food faltered was on the Depression itself. It became much more of a social history, emphasizing the growth of public school lunches to keep children alive and focused, and how Hoover and Roosevelt handled (and didn't handle) the crisis. I wanted to see more examples of foods and recipes of the period, and how different regions adapted in specific ways. Major emphases is on the starvation and malnutrition of people who were without work, but I wanted to see more of how employed people adapted to these tough times. This feels like a time and subject that still has a wealth of material to be explored.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This was good but not great. Other reviewers have noted that the emphasis is on history, which is true, and I was looking forward to that. Still, even as a history it falls a little short; it lacks specificity, seems to cover the same ground multiple times (vitamins! protests! lack of government support!) and jumps around a bit in the timeline. I learned a few interesting tidbits (the Bonus March) but do not feel as though my overall understanding has changed.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Hoo boy yes this is "an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced". Very very in depth. Exhaustively in depth. It seemed very well researched, but since I am not fascinated by the food of the Great Depression to the degree presented in this book, I found it somewhat dull. Also there seemed to be too much of a focus on New York. Hoo boy yes this is "an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced". Very very in depth. Exhaustively in depth. It seemed very well researched, but since I am not fascinated by the food of the Great Depression to the degree presented in this book, I found it somewhat dull. Also there seemed to be too much of a focus on New York.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Goodman

    “A Square Meal: a culinary history of the Great Depression,” by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe (Harper, 2016). It is more than that. Because the authors need to create the context in which to understand the Depression, they have to describe the history of food in the US, at least from the Civil War era onward. Farm women’s main occupation was preparing the daily meals. Most of the US was rural and farmland, and the great majority of people ate what they produced. Farm meals tended to be huge, bec “A Square Meal: a culinary history of the Great Depression,” by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe (Harper, 2016). It is more than that. Because the authors need to create the context in which to understand the Depression, they have to describe the history of food in the US, at least from the Civil War era onward. Farm women’s main occupation was preparing the daily meals. Most of the US was rural and farmland, and the great majority of people ate what they produced. Farm meals tended to be huge, because farmers needed huge amounts of energy to do their backbreaking work. Farmhouses didn’t really have kitchens, just big rooms where the food was prepaered and eaten. From summer through fall and early winter, people ate and lived well and were well-fed. By the end of winter, though, when the stored foods were almost gone, not to mention the complete absence of fresh vegetables, people tended to become frail and sickly. “Spring fever” was a real illness---often scurvy---caused by malnutrition. In addition, food was not well distributed. Every city had breadlines, as a matter of course, where food was distributed aftrer midnight; it was shameful to be hungry. Almost a third of draftees in World War I turned out to be underweight, malnourished and otherwise unhealthy, because of their bad diets. Over the years scientists and home economists began to devise what they thought would be healthy diets; they offered recipes, and classes, and magazine stories to women about how to cook and what to eat. Ziegelman and Coe provide lots of recipes, and they almost all sound awful. Lots of different kinds of meat loaves, stews, solid but dull and unappealing to today’s palate. They spend a good deal of time with Herbert Hoover and the runup to the Depression, emphasizing the government’s unwillingness to provide food to anyone considered unworthy. Even the Red Cross would not provide food aid, because that would make people lazy and unwilling to work. It took riots and rebellion in towns and cities before the governments realized they had to do something much more substantial to help feed the country. Even FDR was unwilling to provide too much support. Once again, malnourishment and sickness were widespread—right until the start of WWII. Again, the nation was shocked at how malnourished the draftees were. But the war brought true prosperity and plenty of food. Eye-opening. They never explain where the term “square meal” came from. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Corinne Edwards

    3.5 stars When I think of the Depression, I often envision so-called "bread lines" and the hard times of The Grapes of Wrath, but the idea of this book intrigued me - how did this period of extreme want affect the food and eating culture of my country? Turns out, it affected it a lot. This book is really two major things: the progression and preparation of the food itself, what it consisted of, how people made do with very limited ingredient choices, how was food preserved and sold? But is also ve 3.5 stars When I think of the Depression, I often envision so-called "bread lines" and the hard times of The Grapes of Wrath, but the idea of this book intrigued me - how did this period of extreme want affect the food and eating culture of my country? Turns out, it affected it a lot. This book is really two major things: the progression and preparation of the food itself, what it consisted of, how people made do with very limited ingredient choices, how was food preserved and sold? But is also very political - how did the government handle so many of its citizens being hungry? And in some cases, not just hungry but actually starving? Is it the government's job to solve this problem? And if so, how? Do you give the employable jobs and pay them wages so they can work and earn their own money? Do you hand out food to those who WANT to work but can't get a job or does every person have an actual RIGHT to food? It's easy to think about the scarcity of food when you're removed from it. When you're watching your children actually starve - all of a sudden it is the ONLY thing. These are seriously tricky questions and the two presidents, Hoover and Roosevelt, handled it differently at different times. This was as fascinating as I'd hoped it would be. I didn't particularly love the writing and sometimes it it felt frustratingly non-chronological in terms of the political happenings, or maybe it was just that there were so very many acronyms, the organization felt choppy and the political stuff wasn't why I was reading, but the rest of it was so intriguing. The dishes and recipes (some of them are SO nasty), the interacting of women with the world around them with new appliances and gadgets and ways of preparing foods. The advertising to women, the propaganda, the anecdotes of real families trying to survive. The way that world events impacted American families and food habits. I loved learning about the school lunch programs and the CCC and tried to imagine my own Great-Grandma, raising her twins during this time period - HOW did she do it?? I think you'd have to be pretty interested in the subject to not mind all the political stuff and the disorganization but for someone who IS interested, I was always interested in listening.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    I bailed on this history halfway through, a real rarity for me, but since I wasn't getting through more than two or three pages a day I wasn't even really reading it anymore anyway. Not that it's bad, per se--Ziegelman and Coe are intelligent, able writers--it's just that the subject, The Culinary History of the Great Depression, as the subtitle states, turns out to be far less revelatory, or even interesting, than I imagined. Mostly though I lost patience with the endless use of primary sources I bailed on this history halfway through, a real rarity for me, but since I wasn't getting through more than two or three pages a day I wasn't even really reading it anymore anyway. Not that it's bad, per se--Ziegelman and Coe are intelligent, able writers--it's just that the subject, The Culinary History of the Great Depression, as the subtitle states, turns out to be far less revelatory, or even interesting, than I imagined. Mostly though I lost patience with the endless use of primary sources, quoted at length and mostly tedious, repetitive lists of "foods we eat", all of which are pretty ordinary. Some of the macro stuff was good, like how America's hypocritical, heartless attitude toward helping other people in need was pretty much the same back then (late 1920s, pre-FDR 1930s) as it is today. And maybe the authors would eventually make the point they were hinting at, about how today's American diet of cheap, caloric, sugary food began in these years because it's all charities and government were willing/able to provide. Not enough meat for me to chew on though. Har.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sheela Lal

    What I liked about the book: all of the information required immense research, and I deeply appreciate that. The pieces that went into detail about the reality at the time challenged my understanding of the time period and was an active reflection catalyst. I loved understanding the policies and politics through a food lens, and want more deconstructed history like this! What could have been better: a structure that demarcated theme and time. Not focusing only on WASP stories, but digging more i What I liked about the book: all of the information required immense research, and I deeply appreciate that. The pieces that went into detail about the reality at the time challenged my understanding of the time period and was an active reflection catalyst. I loved understanding the policies and politics through a food lens, and want more deconstructed history like this! What could have been better: a structure that demarcated theme and time. Not focusing only on WASP stories, but digging more into Black and immigrant experiences during the Great Depression. I flipped through many pages because the writing was redundant or read like the author just wanted all of the research to make it into the final draft. What could not be controlled: I did not care much for the random recipes interjected throughout the book or the random listing of events.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe’s A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression is much more than its subtitle promises. Not only do Ziegelman and Coe write about what people were able to scrape together for themselves and their families between 1929 and 1939, they also thoroughly discuss how Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and their Congresses approached relief (welfare) during those hungry years. The end result is a much darker history of the Great Depression than I’ve ever read. Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe’s A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression is much more than its subtitle promises. Not only do Ziegelman and Coe write about what people were able to scrape together for themselves and their families between 1929 and 1939, they also thoroughly discuss how Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and their Congresses approached relief (welfare) during those hungry years. The end result is a much darker history of the Great Depression than I’ve ever read... Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    A really good book I think a lot of people should read. It really makes you think about how charity and poverty is treated in America and also in other places, though this book just focuses on America. It's kind of horrifying. The amount of times I read about how people shouldn't be given food so they can survive because they haven't "earned it" or they might become dependent on handouts? I wanted to hit people. The idea the government isn't responsible for keeping its citizens alive is abhorren A really good book I think a lot of people should read. It really makes you think about how charity and poverty is treated in America and also in other places, though this book just focuses on America. It's kind of horrifying. The amount of times I read about how people shouldn't be given food so they can survive because they haven't "earned it" or they might become dependent on handouts? I wanted to hit people. The idea the government isn't responsible for keeping its citizens alive is abhorrent and yet all too familiar. All the quotes and stuff on the book sold it as just about food and there are a lot of interesting facts on food and what and how people ate at the time, it's just also about how people were treated as well. And how many, many, many people die because the idea of handouts is seen as anti-American. So, good book. A bit depressing and all too relevant right now.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Fascinating! This book answered all sorts of questions I had never thought to ask. I learned about the typical farm diet of the 1920s and how that diet differed from the diet of the growing number of city-slickers. I learned what people ate (or didn't eat) during the Great Depression. I learned about the newly born food science and home economics industries. I learned about how much food people actually received from government relief programs (not much). I read a lot of fascinating and mostly d Fascinating! This book answered all sorts of questions I had never thought to ask. I learned about the typical farm diet of the 1920s and how that diet differed from the diet of the growing number of city-slickers. I learned what people ate (or didn't eat) during the Great Depression. I learned about the newly born food science and home economics industries. I learned about how much food people actually received from government relief programs (not much). I read a lot of fascinating and mostly disgusting sounding recipes. Who ate this stuff?

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