TASTING SUBURBIA: AMERICAN COOKBOOKS AND THE ENVIRONMENT, 1947-1987
Jessica Sharon Partridge
B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2008
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
2012 by Jessica Sharon Partridge
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Social Science
Jessica Sharon Partridge
has been approved
April 5. 2012
Partridge, Jessica Sharon (M.S.S., Master of Social Science)
Tasting Suburbia: American Cookbooks and the Environment, 1947-1987
Thesis directed by Professor Cynthia Wong
American food and American landscapes are reflections of our culture, our particular
bioregions, and of our personal identities. Critical attention to the specific historical
moments and texts where food production and consumption intersect with the
environment and identity illuminates the interconnections between people and the natural
world, and exposes our dependence on one another and on healthy, diverse ecosystems.
The cookbooks of late twentieth century America provide rich territory for
interdisciplinary exploration. Such analysis draws into focus the long-term costs of
capitalistic consumerism and opens a broader dialogue about the future of our foodways
and our landscapes. This qualitative exploratory study examines the connections between
people, food, and the environment utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to cookbooks as a
record of food attitudes and patterns of consumption.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis.
I recommend its publication.
Approved: Cynthia Wong
This work is dedicated to my Momar and to my Patrick, my very favorite people with whom
to argue and eat. Your love nourishes me and I am so grateful.
My sincere gratitude to Dr. Cynthia Wong, who shepherded my ideas and shared my
passion, for her patience and faith. Thanks also to Dr. Margaret Woodhull for advice and
guidance, and Dr. Gregory Simon for taking a chance on my approach to geography through
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. DEFINING THE AMERICAN SUBURBAN ECOSYSTEM.......................6
Suburban Social and Historical Concerns....................13
3. A COHORT OF COOKBOOKS.........................................25
Description of Cookbook Cohort.............................28
The Individual Cookbooks as Cases .........................30
4. TOURING AMERICAN COOKBOOKS....................................43
Taking the Tour............................................44
5. (CON)TEXTUAL ANALYSIS.........................................63
Food As a Learning Opportunity.............................63
The Rise of Processed Foods................................78
Cookbook Cohort and the Narrative of the Natural World.....83
Suburban Ecological Concerns...............................93
A. COOKBOOK SURVEY...............................................106
B. RECIPE CORRESPONDENCE TO COOKBOOK COHORT
1.1 Table of Cohort Cookbooks......................................27
1.2 Selected Travel Menu...........................................41
The foodways and landscapes we manufacture are expressions of values. They are
the manifestation of our connection to one another and to the natural world. Any collective
tradition of eating must be supported by a complementary agricultural use of the
surrounding environment. As our relationships with nature change, as our values as a
society change, our foodways and our landscapes follow suit. American landscapes and
American foodways both face several serious challenges in the twenty-first century,
including climate change, toxification of the hydrosphere and biosphere, and accelerated
loss of biodiversity. Gaining a multifaceted understanding of both our foodways and the
manner in which they impact our landscapes allows us to address these challenges in
equitable and sustainable ways. The food we eat is a reflection of our culture, our particular
bioregions, and our personal identities, and an analysis of the texts of food cookbooks -
can illuminate the historical and cultural intersections where production, preparation, and
consumption collide to shape our internal and external environments. This study selects a
particular time and place the American suburbia of the mid-to-late twentieth century to
show how cookbooks of this era are a window into food as a vital signifier that reveals the
interconnections of the personal, the social, and the natural world.
Brillat-Savarin's assertion that understanding a person is as simple as knowing what
they eat applies to cultures as much as individuals.1 Food is so central to human life that it
is often taken for granted, and the meanings and consequences of the foods we eat often go
without scrutiny. The emerging field of "food studies" seeks to change this, and the
increasing academic and cultural attention indicates high interest in the complex social,
environmental, and economic arrangements of food. Food is more than nutrition and
sustenance; the cultural rituals of serving and eating are shaped by and express the values
of a society.2 One way of understanding the foods, and thereby the landscapes, of a
particular society is through the texts most closely associated with food: cookbooks.
There is a tremendous, and growing, body of scholarship about suburban history,
suburbias discontents, ecology, food, and gender, but looking at cookbooks as literary and
historic sources looking through cookbooks into suburban kitchens, yards, and lives -
adds depth and richness to our understanding of the interconnectedness of these
disciplines and their interests.3
1 Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste. Translated by M.F.K. Fisher (New York: Counterpoint,
1999), 3. Fisher was a foundational writer in the food as literature genre, and her 1949 translation of this
early 19th century gastronome enjoyed several reprints, including this 1999 paperback edition released seven
years after her death. Her passionate connection to Brillat-Savarin flavors this beautiful work, which
celebrates the power and variety of simplicity.
2 Marjorie L. DeVault, Feeding the Family (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991), 35.
3 Life in American suburbs is well documented in both fictional and non-fictional literature, historical
documents and studies, and popular culture. J.W.R. Whitehand and C.M.H. Carr' Twentieth-Century Suburbs: A
Morphological Approach is an informative text on the long arc of suburbanization in the U.S. from a planning
and design perspective (New York: Routledge, 2001). Dennis Sobins work in The Future of American Suburbs:
Survival or Extinction on the history and future of suburbia is a more socially oriented perspective (Port
Washington: Kennikat Press National University Publications, 1971). The ecology of suburbs is a much newer
line of academic inquiry with a smaller body of evidence. Stephen DeStefanos work Coyote at the Kitchen
Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia is characteristic of the best examples in that it sees across traditional
disciplinary boundaries and confronts the reality of suburban development on wildlife and the environment
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010). There are several writers working in gender and food
connections including Carolyn Merchant (Food Rules in the United States: Individualism, Control and
Hierarchy in Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 65 No. 2, April 1992), Jessamyn Neuhaus (Manly Meals and
Food communicates culture in a variety of ways, and cookbooks establish the
language of food in given settings and communities.4 Food can and should be viewed
against a backdrop of larger social and environmental changes and challenges.
The most dramatic changes in American foodways and landscapes begins after World War
II ends, and these changes set the stage for the explosion of consumerist culture and
suburbanization that are defining characteristics of the late twentieth century. American
landscapes and foodways in the twenty-first century are manifestations of our increasing
disconnection from nature, and understanding that disconnect is an important first step in
restoring the connection between people, food, our landscapes, and the environment.
This essay examines the didactic, social, and environmental discourses found in
cookbooks in order to identify a rhetoric of suburban food that involves more than simply
the production and consumption of food. Cookbooks contain powerful cultural messages
and encourage specific food and social habits. A rhetoric of suburban food grounded in
Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modem America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2003], Catherine
Manton (Fed Up: Women and Food in America. Westport: Bergen and Garvey, 1999], and Sherrie Inness
[Cooking Lessons: The Poiitics of Food and Gender. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2001; and
Dinner Roles: American Women and Cuiinary Culture. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001], Katherine
Parkins work in Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America on gender roles and
advertising is part of a growing dialogue about food and socially constructed gender identities (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006], The discourse on the power and influence of the food industry is
only hinted at in this exploration, but work like Marion Nestles Food Poiitics concentrates on this
commodification and power disU'ibution dynamic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007], There are
many talented and insightful modern food writers and activists highlighting consumerist disconnection from
our foodways and the natural world. See Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for
Sustainability eds. C. Clare Hinrichs and Thomas A. Lyson. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007];
Sandor Ellix Katz, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements
(White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006]; Mark Winne. dosing the Food Gap: Resetting the
Table in the Land of Plenty (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008]; Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the
Twenty-first Century eds. Eugenie L. Birch and Susan M. Wachter (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania,
2008], and Laura J. Lawson. City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2005],
4 Charles Camp, American Foodways: What, When, Why, and How We Eat in America (Little Rock: August
House, 1989], 23. Camp builds the academic foundation of food studies through history, language, culture,
and biology. He explains, "the task of the foodways student...is to make explicit much about food that is
implicit in American culture. (24] It is his expansive definition offoodways that informs this investigations
understanding of the term.
these underutilized historical sources involves the meanings and domains of domesticity,
the family, and citizenship, and confronts the interdependence of women, men, children,
and the environment in this highly managed ecosystem. This work seeks to illuminate
these relationships between food, gender, landscape, and identity in American suburbia.
Because many of the terms under discussion in this study have various definitions
across sources and disciplines, for the purposes of this investigation the following
definitions will be assumed when these terms are used.
Gender: the behaviors and attitudes that relate to, but are not entirely congruent
with, biological sex.5 Gender is a social construction that includes the roles, behaviors,
attitudes, and attributes that a particular society considers appropriate for men
(masculine) and women (feminine).
Foodways: the interrelated system of food conceptualization and evaluation,
procurement, distribution, preservation, preparation, consumption, and nutrition shared
by all the members of a particular society.6
The environment: all of the biotic and abiotic factors and conditions that affect an
organism or a system in its lifetime; and the surroundings and conditions in which a
person, animal, or plant lives or operates; and the setting or conditions in which a
5 Linda Brannon, Gender: Psychological Perspectives, (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2 004), xi. The World Health
Organization clearly explains the differences between 'sex and 'gender' in terms both academic and general
enough to satisfy the biological and social concerns of this investigation. 'Sex refers to the physiological and
biological characteristics that define male (X,Y) and female (X,X). www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/.
6 Camp, American Foodways, 14.
particular activity occurs. Ecology is the study of the interactions between living things and
Consumerist: a social system constructed on the idea that unlimited consumption of
goods is most economic and culturally desirable.
Suburbia: development outside city centers characterized by owner-occupied single-
family homes, lawns, parks, roads, and shopping malls. There is a predominance of family
spaces, and few public social spaces.
Suburban Ideal: a social construction comprised of notions of ownership and
privacy, and a particular understanding of domesticity encouraged by industry and
consumer culture, expressed as suburbia.8
7 This is an amalgamated and elementary definition. For a more complete view of ecology, environmental
science, sustainability, and natural resources management see G. Tyler Miller, Jr. Living in the Environment
(Toronto: Thomson Brooks Cole, 2004}; Richard B. Primack, Essentials of Conservation Biology. 3rd edition
(Sunderland: Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers, 2 002}; Major Problems in American Environmental History,
eds. Carolyn Merchant (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005}. Each of these sources is an excellent gate
into studies of interconnection and the long-term cost of human disconnection from the natural world.
8 Scholars have never agreed on a concrete definition of this construction because it reaches broadly into our
own historical moment. There is a range of understandings, including Constance Perins observation that
Americans must believe that privacy is in short supply in suburbia, evidenced by all the lawns and fences.
(Belonging in America: Reading Between the Lines, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988}, 29. Philip
Langdon points to the design of modern suburbia as the result of the rise of short-term marketing and the
decline of long-term planning. (A Better Place to Live: Reshaping the American Suburb. (Amherst: University of
Massachusetts Press, 1994}, 63. Other scholars point to rigid gender roles, familial obligation, environmental
and social degradation, and political and economic power as this study will reveal.
DEFINING THE AMERICAN SUBURBAN ECOSYSTEM
Geographer Donald Meinig nominated the stereotypical suburb as one of the few
landscapes symbolic of America.9 Suburban landscapes sprawl across the nation; in many
places these landscapes represent the dominant land use pattern. More than fifty percent of
the United States population lives in suburban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureaus
2000 report.10 The growth and rapid spread of suburban development has been criticized
for myriad social and environmental impacts since its explosion in the 1950s and 1960s,
including, and perhaps most importantly, the loss and alteration of habitat and other
threats to biodiversity.11
Geographers call suburbs "exurban development, meaning the residential
subdivisions established in the countryside surrounding cities.12 Cultural critics call
9 Paul L. Knox and Linda McCarthy, Urbanization (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005), 153.
There are several characteristics scholars use to identify and classify suburbia. John Keats (1957) calls a
suburban home "a box of your own in one of the fresh air slums were building around the edges of Americas
cities (xi), while modern ecologists, geographers, and wildlife managers like Stephen De Stefano (2010)
emphasize the detached single-family home on large expanses of lawn, and the supporting infrastructure like
roads and retail shopping in defining suburbia. (14) The critics across the period of this study seem to agree
with Gordon, et ai. (1961) that something in this place they term disturbia has gone terribly wrong. (33)
10 Frank Hobbs and Nicole Stoops, "Demographic Trends in the 20th Century for U.S. Census Bureau Report,
11 Jamison E. Colburn, "Localisms Ecology: Protecting and Restoring Habitat in the Suburban Nation." Ecology
Law Quarterly, vol. 33, issue 4 (2006): 945-1014.
12 Knox and McCarthy point to distinctions between suburbs planned and built before WWIIso called Fordist
suburbsand those designed and developed after WWII that depended much more on automobiles and
consumer culture. (151)
suburbia a state of mind and a way of living rather than a definable and locatable place.13
The popular website The Urban Dictionary presents a more cynical definition by calling
suburbia a place where people cut down the trees and kill the animals and name the streets
after them.14 Suburbs are multivalent spaces on the landscape and within the environment,
in the public discourse, and in the American mind. Any proposed agenda for these areas
must consider all of these components and many challenging others.
Modern American suburbs arose from the convergence of several events after the
conclusion of World War II, including the increased availability and lowered cost of single-
family homes and cars, the construction of the American highway system, and the shift
away from an agrarian society toward an urban society.15 The normalization of the
detached, single-family home in a residential area miles from the city core changed the
landscape of America dramatically.16 The socioeconomic, political, cultural, industrial, and
technological events that set the stage for suburban sprawl appear on the landscape as a
rapid extension of the perimeters of the city outward, "one development after the next,
with little plan as to where the expansion is going and no notion as to where it will stop.17
The growth and explosion of suburban developments occurs, both historically and
contemporaneously, "without the benefit of any kind of overall planning or metropolitan
13 Paul Atkinson, "Dream Home and Suburbia. Lecture 9,2011.
14 The Urban Dictionary, "Suburbia, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=suburbia&page=2
(accessed August 17, 2011)
15 Clark E. Adams, Kieran J. Lindsey, and Sara J. Ash, Urban Wildlife Management (Boca Raton: Taylor and
Francis Group, 2006).
16 J.W.R. Whitehand and C.M.H. Carr, C.M.H., Twentieth-Century Suburbs: A Morphological Approach. [New
York: Routledge, 2001), 182.
17 Adams, Lindsey, and Ash, Urban Wildlife Management, 30.
management, thus sowing the seeds of a number of problems and conflicts.18 Many of
these problems and conflicts are environmental, most of them are also social, cultural, and
political, and virtually all of them impact American foodways.
The two most immediately obvious physical features of suburban landscapes
(visible from a suburban kitchen window) -- detached single-family homes and manicured
lawns figure prominently in the less obvious characteristics of these environments, like
familial isolation and lack of public space.19 Having these homes in razed and reconstructed
locations distant from the city center requires automobiles, which requires paved and
maintained roads. These roads and cars, connected to the vast web of a highway system,
encourage development suited to consumer culture.20 Shopping malls, supermarkets,
drive-thru banking, fast food, and gas stations attend the establishment of every new
suburban development to cater to a busy, commuting consumer population. The road
system is central to both the suburban ideal and suburban environmental degradation.21
Constructing and maintaining these roads destroys habitat and causes large edge effects
that reduce biodiversity and pressure remaining wildlife and resources.22 These roads also
contribute to disconnection between people and the food they eat. The patchwork patterns
of suburban sprawl create very small pockets of productivity and diversity that are cut off
18 Knox and McCarthy, Urbanization, 152.
19 Whitehand and Carr, Twentieth-Century Suburbs, 182.
20 Knox and McCarthy, Urbanization, 151.
21 Stephen DeStefano, Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2010], 99. According to DeStefano, these roads are central to American social perception of
personal freedom, social mobility, and economic success.
22 Richard B. Primack, Essentials of Conservation Biology. 3rd edition (Sunderland: Sinauer Associates, Inc.
Publishers, 2002], 231.
from other pockets by parking lots, busy streets, social stratification, and the characteristic
suburban lawn. There is a patchwork quality to the food as well; there are traditional foods
and ethnic foods, homemade and industrial foods, local specialties and imported staples
within a single home, but very few, if any, of these foods grows on or near the suburban
The most characteristic aspect of the constructed and managed suburban ecosystem
is the manicured lawn. Lawns are an omnipresent fact of suburban construction, and they
are as important as the single-family home in the suburban ideal.24 Laura Miller explains,
"the primacy of detached homes, and the use of lawns, which were trademarks of the
suburban style also represented ways to separate the home from the rest of the world and
encourage family togetherness.25 There are more lawns planted in the United States than
any other irrigated crop. According to NASA, the amount of land devoted to grass lawns in
2005 in the U.S. was three times the amount of land devoted to corn.26 This loss of
agricultural land to suburban sprawl and its attendant lawns impacts American foodways
by narrowing the available options for food and increasing the distance between people
and the natural world.
23 According to DeStefano, the plant and animal species that persist, and often thrive, in human environments
are often commensal species and can be abundant, leading to the assumption that suburban ecosystems
harbor high diversity, but there are many other species that are missing from or critically threatened in these
highly managed systems. (75)
24 Thomas W. Cook and Erik H. Ervin ("Lawn Ecology, Urban Ecosystem Ecology, ed. ]. Aitkenhead-Peterson
and A. Voider. Madison: American Society of Agronomy. 2010) find the unique ecology of lawns and the
surprising complexity (though not diversity) of these ecosystems are possible because of varying degrees of
human maintenance over time.
25 Laura Miller, "Family Togetherness and the Suburban Ideal, Sociological Forum 10, no. 3 (September
26 Rebecca Lindsey. "Looking for Lawns at NASAs Earth Observatory online. 2005.
http: / /earthobservato ry.nasa.gov/Features/Lawn/
Regular mowing is the key factor in the development and maintenance of lawn
ecosystems. Suburbanites spend significant time, money, and resources mowing their
lawns (and throwing away the clippings instead of composting them). There are only a
handful of grass species adapted to routine cutting -- several dozen among an estimated
10,000 species of grass -- so these suburban ecosystems include characteristic species
introduced into North America.27 Most U.S. lawns consist of selected varieties of blue
grasses and fescues.28 We must continue to study these ecosystems to both reduce our
inputs (water, fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide, and gasoline for mowing) and increase
biodiversity through sustainable management practices.
These lawns are tools of privacy, demarcating a private space around each suburban
family, and they provide a setting for outdoor activities like gardening and barbecuing.
They also require tremendous inputs of water, fertilizer, and often pesticides, which
interrupt the delicate ecology our foodways depend on. But it is not just the environment
that suffers under this suburban management regime. Kim England explains that this
desire and demand for privacy for the family increases the household work for women,
because the design of suburbia does not "facilitate the communalization of domestic labor,
rather it concentrates it.29 The suburban home demands almost constant attention and
resources, inside and out. The lawn, which should be seen as distinct and separate from a
home garden, is privacy but it is also a prison. Laura Miller indicates that the very
"structural features of the suburban environment designed to promote togetherness may
27 Cookand Ervin, "Lawn Ecology," 153-178.
28 John Howard Falk. "Energetics of a Suburban Lawn Ecosystem." Ecology, 47, no. 1 (1976], 141-150.
29 Kim V.L. England, "Changing Suburbs, Changing Women, in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 14, no. 1,
actually be exacerbating the problems felt by all American families who try to live up to this
[idealized] vision of family life.30 The suburban ideal demands private family time in
constructed domestic spaces and tamed ecosystems.
Within American suburbia there are distinctive foodways arising from the particular
political, social, economic, and environmental values cultivated in suburban culture. These
foodways are one aspect of the suburban ideal, which is a larger and more complicated
social construction revolving around "family togetherness that in turn gives rise to the
landscapes of suburban America. Laura Miller explains, "Because it is an environment
formed to a large degree in order to encourage family interaction, suburbia is especially
useful for highlighting the meanings and incongruities attached to this notion of
togetherness.31 Food is a powerful signal and operator in this social construction. Food
identifies the members of the family, and it dictates the responsibilities of each member in
socially coded ways, reinforcing exchanges that create distance and differentiation.32
Food and cooking have a presence in many of the discourses in and about suburbia,
including magazines, popular fiction, television, newspapers, film, and, of course,
cookbooks. American cookbooks are discursive texts that simultaneously support and
challenge the suburban ideal; they draw boundaries and expand horizons. The suburban
ideal has no concrete definition, it changes over time but persists, and it does not prescribe
a static foodway, but the suburban ideal incites specific kinds of consumption, even,
30 Laura J. Miller, "Family Togetherness and the Suburban Ideal, Sociological Forum 10, no. 3 (September
31 Ibid, 396.
32 Carolyn Merchant, "Food Rules in the United States: Individualism, Control, and Hierarchy," in
Anthropological Quarterly, 65, no. 2 (April 1992), 55.
perhaps especially, in food. The suburban ideal removes the life and death from food by
disguising and simplifying food in service to consumerism, affluence, and convenience.
American suburbia is the often unspoken setting for the cookbooks in this study, but
not all of these cookbooks describe suburban life or foodways. Some are decidedly urban,
and others distinguish themselves as anti-suburban. The specific kinds of foods and the
way they are produced and consumed are the differentiating factors in the cookbooks more
often than an explicit message about suburban and urban. The geographic and
demographic realities of suburban sprawl collide with even the most urbane American
foodways. An expanding suburban population chews up valuable cropland as it spreads
outward, the rate of this loss accelerated after the end of World War II.33 The ubiquity of
the suburban lawn dumps toxins into the air and water, killing or driving away all the living
things designated pests and establishing patchwork monocultures, destroying the delicate
ecology that ensures the larger foodway we all share. The consumption of resources
inherent in suburban lifestyles contributes to the toxification of the biosphere, and it
increases the distance between people and the foods they eat. In this way, the food systems
of all Americans are interconnected, and understanding the suburban problem across its
late 20th century manifestation informs the larger conversation about sustainable
development, housing, and eating into the 21st century.
33 Adam Rome, "Suburbs and Pollution, Major Problems in American Environmental History, eds. Carolyn
Merchant (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005], 417.
Suburban Social and Historical Concerns
In 1971, Dennis Sobin noted that suburbs were worth studying because they were
in a state of transformation.34 We can say the same thing at the beginning of the twenty
first century. Sobin examines the history of suburbia as a subject of study and finds, "the
largest body of literature on suburbia is literary commentary, comprised mostly of fictional
writings."35 Sobin's survey includes pulp fiction titles such as The Love Pool and Love in
Suburbia, popular studies of suburbia such as The Exurbanites and The Crack in the Picture
Window, and formal studies like The Levittowners and The Split-Level Trap. Going to these
sources for some background on food and the suburban experience provides context for
some of the values and ideologies apparent in the cookbooks used in this study.
Dean McCoy's 1964 novel about "degenerating morals in modern suburbia," The
Love Pool, centers on a commuting suburban wife forced to use a company car pool.
Sandra's work outside her suburban home puts pressure on her marriage at many levels,
and in spite of her long hours working and commuting, she still bears the responsibility for
making the meals. Early in the story, the cheating husband Chick (yes, his name is Chick)
attempts to mollify his commuting (but faithful to this point) wife by preparing dinner
before her arrival. The resulting "wreckage" that is his attempt at Beef Stroganoff ruins
specialized cooking utensils and disrupts Sandra's clean kitchen. She explains to him that
he should have tried a less complicated recipe, that "this type of thing takes a lot of thought
and preparation."36 For Sandra, Chick's gesture is not thoughtful. It is a reminder that her
34 Dennis Sobin, The Future of American Suburbs, [Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press National University
Publications, 1971], 4.
36 Dean McCoy, The Love Pool (New York: Universal Publishing and Distributing Corporation, 1964] 44-45.
role in their in their suburban life demands that she work outside her home during the day
and that she cook the food morning and night, whereas in the life she and her husband
shared before their move to the suburbs she felt the freedom not to cook and to enjoy the
varied culinary options available in her neighborhood in the city. Sandra feels trapped by
many things in suburbia, but her particular understanding of her role as a suburban wife
turns on food and cooking. The scenes in this book that serve the narrative portrayal of
suburbia as a cloying, immoral, and inauthentic space feature Sandra contemplating her
relationships with food, shopping, and cooking inside the suburban environment.
The essays collected in C.B. Palmer's Slightly Cooler in Suburbia (1950) reveal a
dichotomous world where the urban work sphere is separate from the suburban home
space. Palmer describes life in suburbia as "enough to split any man's personality" in "a
world between worlds."37 Several of these essays show changes in the ways Americans eat
in the years immediately following the end of WWII. The experiences of food, of shopping,
preparing, serving and consuming food, are in transition here. Living in suburbia, where
food is mostly processed and frozen, takes the intimacy out of eating. Palmer notes that
shopping for food "these days seems pretty streamlined, antiseptic, and regimented" and
distant from a time when busy markets full of local producers created a kind of festival
atmosphere around food shopping.38 A relationship with a knowledgeable and trustworthy
butcher is a source of simultaneous exasperation and gratitude. Palmer sees the rise of
bright, clean supermarkets and the disappearance of the dirt and death of food as a result
of consumer desire, but does not see more consumer choices as a replacement for what
37 C.B. Palmer, Slightly Cooler in the Suburbs, (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1950], 15.
38 Ibid, 84.
was lost.39 Cookbooks reveal many of these changes in American foodways, and they offer a
range of intellectual and emotional responses to increasing distance between people and
the foods they eat.
The years following the end of World War II saw incredible social, political,
technological, and economic changes in the United States, and most of these changes affect
the way Americans eat. In September 1960, a Redbook article contained a telling complaint
from a suburban housewife: after ten years of marriage, her husband persisted in his
expectation that his wife be "a combination of Fannie Farmer and Marilyn Monroe.40 Food
and beauty were important aspects of domesticity in postwar suburbia, and their
connection with gender and identity is unmistakable. There is a tremendous body of
scholarship on the creation and maintenance of suburbia, but the dialogue gains complexity
and richness with attention to and understanding of the particular intersections between
food, cooking, landscapes and the environment, and gender. Cooking is fundamental to the
role of housewife, and food was more than 'a way to a man's heart' in postwar suburbia, it
was a complicated and intricate expression of female identity --"it was at the heart of being
a married woman."41 While our ideas about gender, the environment, and food change over
time, many of the ideas, symbols, and categories established in postwar suburbia persist in
the modern mind and on the landscape. The environmental consequences and costs of
these constructed domestic foodways and lifestyles persist in our 21st century world.
39 Palmer also details the battle against the natural world represented by the suburban lawn and garden,
which is significant because maintaining the suburban landscape and forcing tremendous productivity from
decreasing farm land pollutes the environment, poisons the air and water, and destroys the ecosystems
diverse foodways depend on.
40 Marilyn Yalom, A History of the Wife (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002), 358.
41 Jessamyn Neuhaus, Manly Meals and Moms Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2003), 111.
Suburbia and its particular understandings of food, gender, sexuality, and the natural world
are constructions. They are made ideas that can, and must, be unmade, and remade in more
responsible (socially, economically, environmentally, culturally) ways.
The period after World War II gets many of its defining characteristics from the Cold
War and the return of thousands of soldiers from Europe and the Pacific in need of
inexpensive housing and ready to spend on an emergent consumer culture. Americans on
the home front eagerly welcomed soldiers home and anticipated a time of prosperity
following years of sacrifice. The suburban ideal did not arise out of whole cloth after the
war ended. Laura Miller emphasizes, "it is important to recognize that both the suburban
ideal and the reality of suburban life are not simply, or even primarily, creations of the
people who move to the suburbs.42 Even as the war raged, government and industry
cultivated desire for suburban houses to the servicemen's families -- the Ladies' Home
Journal ran a series of prominent architects' "dream houses" between 1941 and 1946.43
When these servicemen returned home, their families knew what they wanted: a tasteful,
quiet home with a patio in suburbia. What life in that home should be like, and what kind of
food a family should eat, was as constructed as the house itself.44
Many primary sources of the period, including popular magazines, cookbooks, and
marital sex manuals, promote a return to "normalcy" after the war. Traditional gender
roles, upset by absent husbands and sons and outsized numbers of women in the
42 Miller, "Family Togetherness and the Suburban Ideal, 405.
43 Kenneth Jackson, "The Baby Boom and the Age of the Subdivision", in The Way We Lived, eds. Frederick
Binder and David Reimers (Stamford: Wadsworth Publishing, 2007], 195.
44 The extent to which this construction functioned as a means of dealing with deeply traumatized veterans is
workforce, became a keystone in the suburban ideal. Getting Rosie the Riveter out of the
factory and back into the kitchen was a high priority, and to that end popular media of the
period emphasized consumer culture, with special attention to elaborate meals prepared
with highly processed foods, as well as women's hygiene and beauty products and advice.45
American women who became housewives after WWII often lived in the historically
familiar paradigm of separate spheres based exclusively on socially constructed gender
roles and stereotypes.46 War brides and military wives eagerly welcomed home their
victorious husbands at the war's conclusion in 1945, though the tensions within the
suburban ideal meant the "honeymoon" period was often short-lived. These couples, often
formed in a wartime sense of urgency, frequently "had real problems getting used to living
together once they were finally reunited in peacetime. By 1946, the divorce rate rose to a
new high of one in four marriages.47 Other cultural critics of the postwar period have
similar views on the damage suburban living causes its inhabitants. Felicity Cloake
observes, the 1950s are often branded as the decade of the happy housewife, but once the
first thrill of peaceful domestic bliss was gone, many women became dissatisfied with their
narrow lot.48 The National Catholic Family Life Conference of 1956 proposed that
suburban development bred divorce.49 Laura Miller suggests that the heightened rhetoric
of family togetherness and the "domestic optimism of the 1950s died down somewhat as
45 Arlene Voski Avakian, "Feminist Food Studies: A Brief History, in From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food
Studies, eds. Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber (Amberst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 15.
46 Annegret Ogden, The Great American Flousewife: From Flelpmate to Wage Earner, 1776-1986 (Greenwood
Press, 1986), 186.
47 Yalom, A History of the Wife, 350.
48 Felicity Cloake, "Pretty Dishes, Fit for Supper, New Statesman (June 27, 2011).
49 John Keats, The Crack in the Picture Window, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), 148.
more people developed more awareness of the "breakups and pathologies that strike so
many families, but some aspects of the suburban ideal persist into the 21st century even as
ideas about gender, identity, and the makeup of an American family change dramatically.50
Food preparation and presentation (and clean up) are gendered domestic tasks,
depending on the setting, yet suburban women view these tasks from varied perspectives.
In spite of the social pressures toward conformity to the suburban ideal, reality seldom met
the ideal's full promise. Some housewives embraced their traditional role and did find
personal and creative satisfaction in providing food and domestic comfort to their
husbands. We might assume similarly that they took pleasure in cooking as an essential
and prominent aspect of their lives. Other women struggled mightily with the expectations
of suburbia, and saw their role as imprisoning drudgery, perhaps best exemplified in Peg
Brackens I Hate to Cook Book (1960). Women who did not enjoy cooking were unlikely to
view the preparation and presentation of food as adequate expression of their identity and
creativity. During the day, the suburban world in the 1950s and early 1960s was typically a
solitary female world, and this isolation generated frustration and deep psychological
problems for many suburban housewives.51 Sociologist A.C. Spectorsky found in his 1955
study of suburbanites (whom he calls exurbanites) that a typical suburban wife "will
contrive to set herself impossible goals for the day, thus creating in the morning the
necessary conditions for feeling frustrated and unfulfilled by bedtime."52 These feelings of
frustration and distance are extant on the suburban environment of the twenty-first
50 Miller, "Family Togetherness and the Suburban Ideal, 402.
51 Jackson, "The Baby Boom and the Age of the Subdivision, 206.
52 A.C. Spectorsky, The Exurbanites, 221.
century. The authors of Suburban Nation explain, "Today's suburban reality finds its origins
in the pastoral dream of the autonomous homestead in the countryside," and in this
expression, ownership is synonymous with democratic participation, but when the middle-
class all make the same move to the same countryside to build private homes on the same
land, "the resulting environment is inevitably unsatisfying, its objective self-contradictory:
isolation en masse."53 The distances in suburbia are inherent to the suburban ideal.
This dissatisfaction, an expression of the contradictions within the suburban ideal,
inspired resistance at many levels. Despite the concerted efforts of media to promote an
idealized set of modern social norms, the limited personal, social, and professional
opportunities afforded these housewives is among a number of masked realities that belied
the truth of suburban life. According to Marilyn Yalom of Stanford University's Institute for
Women and Gender, during the postwar years "alcoholism, suicide, madness, family
violence, and wife and child abuse were all well known to social workers, psychiatrists,
ministers, priests, and rabbis, but they were, for the most part, hidden from the general
public.54 The plight of the suburban housewife, her isolation from society and seeming
acquiescence to the propaganda of mass consumer culture at her own great peril, remained
critically unexamined until Betty Friedan created the language for the "problem that had no
name" in 1963 with her landmark The Feminine Mystique. Friedan explained, "the problem
lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women.55 The
conventional wisdom of the postwar period held that the American suburban housewife
53 Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline
of the American Dream. (New York: North Point Press, 2010], 40.
54 Yalom, A History of the Wife, 363.
55 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], 57.
was spoiled, predictable, and largely incapable other own ideas.56 These qualities make for
exemplary consumers, especially in the kitchen and the bedroom, and that fact was not lost
on Friedan. She acknowledged the powerful pull of consumer culture on unhappy women
and she "exhorted these women to pull themselves out of the race and see what was really
happening to them.57 Friedan's work informs generations of scholars, but, like the
disparate attitudes and experiences of suburban housewives, there is a wide range of
reaction to Friedan's work over time and across generations.
Erika Endrijonas points to Friedans clarification of the intersections between
technology and societal expectations of women, and explains the intimate way food
operated in the 1950s as an expression of womens patriotic, nurturing duty.58 Joanne
Meyerowitz confronts Friedan's assumptions and conclusions in The Feminine Mystique
and finds that postwar era media did not monolithically glorify and enforce domesticity.
Rather, there is a definite tendency toward contradiction. The cultural dialogue about
American housewives contained messages that simultaneously assumed that all women
desired marriage and motherhood and found the housewife role rewarding, and
indications that domesticity isolates, frustrates, and exhausts women.59 Meyerowitz
accuses Friedan of a reductionist approach to the literature of the period, and concludes
56 Glenna Matthews, Just a Housewife: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1987], 216.
57 Ogden, The Great American Housewife, 186.
58 Erika Endrijonas. "Processed Foods from Scratch: Cooking for a Family in the 1950s, in Kitchen Culture in
America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. ed. S. Inness. (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2001], 169.
59 Joanne Meyerowitz, "Competing Images of Women in Postwar Mass Culture, in Major Problems in
American Womens History, 2nd edition, ed. Mary Beth Norton and Ruth Alexander. (D.C. Heath and Co., 1996],
that Friedan's "forceful protest against a domestic ideal neglected the extent to which that
ideal was already undermined.60 However, an undermined domestic ideal is still powerful
enough to persist into the 21st century, as we see with the tropes that food and love still go
together, and the cultural assumption evident in everyday advertising that women do the
vast majority of the home cooking.
Beyond the limited range of sources that Friedan investigates, there are any number
of sources that support Friedan's conclusions -- even men's magazines. Glenna Matthews,
an American history scholar at UC Berkeley, charges that Playboy and other 1950s men's
publications displayed very little sympathy for the plight of the suburban housewife. --
including the Playboy Gourmet Cookbook (1961), whose voice demonstrates this disregard
for women as home cooks. Matthews finds, "The editors were likely to run features
displaying either undisguised contempt for her or else resentment of her 'idleness.61
While women's magazines of the period encouraged timely and well-prepared meals,
beauty, family togetherness, cleanliness, and consumerism, "the tenor of advice to men
after WWII was that they had the right to be self-centered and self-indulgent. The wife who
would not accept this was, by implication if not explicit charge, a bitch.62 Friedan claimed
that the concept of "togetherness," coined by McCall's in 1954, "was seized upon avidly as a
movement of spiritual significance by advertisers, ministers, news editors. But very quickly
there was sharp social criticism, and bitter jokes about 'togetherness' as a substitute for
60 Ibid, 416.
61 Matthews,/ust a Housewife, 213.
62 Ibid, 213.
larger human goals--for men.63 Even the voices in the dialogue that upheld the honor due a
suburban marriage acknowledged that men with smothering or depressive wives look
elsewhere for their pleasures. Theodor Bovet's 1958 marital sex manual, Love, Skill and
Mystery proposes with the language of food that, no matter how tempted, a good husband
should not stray from the nutritious marriage for a junk food fling. He must remember that
a "wife is like bread, and one ought to thank heaven for her and not be led astray by any
girl--even one as sweet as cake.64 The implied connection between women's roles and the
maintenance of the stability of the marital and familial relationship through sex and food is
The pathologies of domesticity in postwar suburbia came under particularly intense
scrutiny by the poet Anne Sexton, "perhaps because no other major woman writer of the
period had been so thoroughly immersed in the housewife role herself.65 Glenna Matthews
highlights Sexton's poem "Housewife" as confirmation that her "long-term identity" as a
housewife "inspired revulsion.66 The poem's imagery suggests female genitalia (and
sexuality) hijacked and transformed by obsessively clean suburban houses, where
intercourse, both social and sexual, occurs only by force and women inevitably become
their own disappointing mothers. Cooking and food are important, powerful components in
the construction of Sexton's identity, and she explained to her biographer, "until I was
twenty-eight I had a kind of buried self who didn't know she could do anything but make
63 Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 97.
64 Theodor Bovet, Love, Skill and Mystery (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1958], 152.
65 Matthews,/ust a Housewife, 214.
66 Ibid, 215.
white sauce and diaper babies.67 Sexton, who battled depression for years before her final
suicide attempt in 1974, felt alone, but she was not. Housewives, disappointed and
otherwise, were legion in postwar suburbia.68
The creation of a new Mrs. Consumer of Suburbia stereotype pushed millions of
women back into the kitchen and their traditional gender roles, but it also garnered them a
new centrality in American society. The late 1940s and 1950s see the emergence of
consumerist culture centered around food and children.69 During the Cold War era, the
housewife became a powerful figure, capable of "shor[ing] up the family against liberalism,
socialism, and communism.70 This kind of iconic attention came, as it so often seems to in
the long arc of history, at the price of female autonomy. Social scientist Sarah Pink's thesis
that housewives are "free from" but not "free to" reveals itself here in that the daily life of
the average postwar suburban housewife was easier physically and mechanically than her
mother or grandmother's daily lives.71 Suburban housewives are free from backbreaking
labor, but they are not free to neglect their wifely duties, including cooking, cleaning, child
rearing, and shopping. Suburban husbands have a different perspective on food and
domestic labor, dictated by social and cultural norms and pressures. Cookbooks are
discursive, didactic cultural sources that affirm these roles and duties, and instruct on how
67 Ibid, 214.
68 Census data confirms that this demographic experienced tremendous growth in the postwar period. See
Frank Hobbs and Nicole Stoops, "Demographic Trends in the 20th Century", (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), 33.
69 Endrijonas, "Processed Foods from Scratch, 157.
70 Ogden, The Great American Housewife, 171.
71 Sarah Pink, Home Truths: Gender, Domestic Objects and Everyday Life [New York: Berg, 2004), 186.
to fulfill them through food.72 Suburbia is the manifestation of consumerist culture, and its
foodways and landscapes reflect and reinforce one another. Cookbooks display changes in
values and attitudes over time that influence spheres beyond the kitchen table and the back
yard. Landscapes and foodways involve the spheres of politics and public policy in
agricultural and environmental concerns, private spheres in homes and families, and
community spheres in availability and distribution. Cookbooks are valuable texts for
understanding the changes in both foodways and landscapes (and the societies that
construct and maintain them) in American suburbia during the late twentieth century.
72 This study looks most significantly at the White, middle-class experience of suburbia. Other scholars draw
attention to the class, ethnicity, and race dynamics that mainsh'eam academic inquiry often overlooks, and
this is certainly a valid critique. See The New Suburban History eds. Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Segrue
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2 006). Here, I follow Katherine Parkin, who finds that "White women
customarily received these messages about the power of food to shape their families, while African American
and Hispanic families generally did not. (Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America,
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 79.
A COHORT OF COOKBOOKS
Psyche Williams-Forson calls cookbooks important cultural sites at the intersection
of food and memory, and finds that these cultural documents play a role in the way food
informs identity formation.73 American food and American landscapes are connected and
dependent, and understanding the history of this connection through cookbooks is part of
national and personal memory. Food is a biocultural phenomenon that has historically
provided opportunities for social and environmental exploration. Peter Garnsey explains
that food "governs human relationships at all levels. Food serves to bind together people
linked by blood, religion, or citizenship; conversely, it is divisive, being distributed and
consumed in accordance with existing hierarchies."74 Food is power, and any attempt at
challenging power and the status quo require critical scrutiny of cultural constructions,
assumptions, and boundaries. Carolyn Merchant describes the task and its importance in
these terms: "Because they reflect and recreate the gender, race, and class hierarchies so
prevalent in American society, deconstructing food rules is part of the process of
dismantling the hierarchies that limit the potential and life chances of subordinate
73 Psyche Williams-Forson, Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 2006), 3.
74 Peter Garnsey, Food and Society in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), xi.
groups.75 The texts that reflect these food rules most clearly are cookbooks, and that
makes them a site for critique, challenge, and change.
Food is more than just a tool for observing other phenomena; food itself is worth
exploring and understanding. This study cannot possibly articulate all of the connections
between food, identity, gender, and the environment in American suburbia, but it can
affirm the value of cookbooks as texts that reveal the interconnectedness of these arenas in
According to Warren Belasco, the field of food studies has confronted several
problematic constructions, most prominently the Victorian "idealized bourgeois division
between the female sphere of consumption and the male sphere of production" that shaped
academic inquiry without ever reflecting daily reality.76 Cookbooks are not reality, but they
can tell us about cultural ideas and ideals through the foods, stories, and gender roles
inside the texts. Gendered food is an experience of relationships of power, and it is not
limited to the experiences of a single gender. Rigid gender roles and stereotypes
characteristic of the suburban ideal apply to both men and women. Kim England explains
that there is an academic tendency toward presenting suburban women as the innocent,
passive victims of a built environment, but cookbooks demonstrate the active role men
and women living in suburbia play in the creation and maintenance of their landscapes and
foodways.77 Over the period of time of interest to this investigation, the foods associated
75 Carolyn Merchant, "Food Rules in the United States: Individualism, Control, and Hierarchy," in
Anthropological Quarterly, 65, no. 2 (April 1992], 56.
76 Warren Belasco, Food Matters, in Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies, eds. W. Belasco and P.
Scranton (New York: Routledge, 2002], 7.
77 Kim V.L. England, "Changing Suburbs, Changing Women," in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 14, no. 1
with women and suburbia and the foods ascribed to men inside and outside suburbia
undergo some change, but there is also surprising resistance. Many of the tropes of twenty-
first century food discourse find their progenitor in late twentieth century suburban
dialogue. Men as outdoor chefs and barbecue masters, women caring more than men about
vegetables and proper nutrition, and links between food and romance are all examples of
themes that persist in the mind and on the landscape. There are many trends in American
foodways, and tracing each of them is a challenge beyond the scope of this investigation,
but the changes in suburban foods found in cookbooks offer an opportunity to see into the
lives of suburbanites and understand how the foods they eat inform their views of the
natural world and ossify their conceptions of the environment.
Are the culinary, social, aesthetic, and environmental critics the best way to
understand American suburbia? Or should the boosters, designers, and developers
dominate the understanding of these complex social and spatial arrangements? Food and
cookbooks are a means of considering multiple points of view and meanings. The concept
of American food and the notion of a uniquely American cuisine have fascinated and
frustrated generations of cooks and chefs. With more than half the American population
living in suburbs, suburban food may be among the strongest, most representative
expressions of an American foodway. The foods of suburbia are the foods Americans eat.
The distance between the origins of these foods and the suburban kitchens they end up in
changes over time. That distance grows during the period between 1945 and 1990, and in
turn the human interrelationships attendant with food procurement (farmers, ranchers,
butchers, green grocers, etc.) transform as well. The evidence for these changes, and many
others, can be found inside cookbooks.
Description of Cookbook Cohort
This qualitative investigation began by surveying more than fifty cookbooks written
between 1945 and 1990. As part of the survey, common recipes were identified and each
cookbook was surveyed for narrative or storytelling qualities in the text beyond the recipes
and ingredients. The survey also asked questions about the degree of processing of food
items and environmental awareness. An example of the survey is available in Appendix A.
The final cohort chosen for this cookbook tour through late twentieth century America
comprises a selection of cookbooks that each contain a story beyond the recipes, made
evident with explicit narrative devices used in the texts themselves. Schutt explains that
narrative explanations of historical, social, and environmental concerns involves
developing an accounting "of events and processes that indicate a chain of causes and
effects.78 Each member of this cohort is part of the chain, and has a part of a larger story to
tell about American food and American landscapes, and about American families,
communities, and ecosystems.
Table 1.1 Table of Cohort Cookbooks:
At Home on the Range Margaret Yardley Potter 1947
Peggy Put the Kettle On Blanche Firmin 1951
General Foods Kitchens Cookbook The Women of GFK 1959
I Hate to Cook Book Peg Bracken 1960
78 Russell K. Schutt. Investigating the Social World: The Process and Practice of Research, 6th ed. [Thousand
Oaks: Pine Forge Press, 2009), 427.
The Playboy Gourmet
Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker
How to Keep Him (After You've Caught Him)
Diet for a Small Planet
James Beard's American Cookery
The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook
The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American
Thomas Mario 1961
Ruth Ellen Church 1966
Jinx Kragen and Judy Perry 1968
Frances Moore Lappe 1971
James Beard 1972
Alice Waters 1982
Jeff Smith 1987
Each cookbook is a distinct destination on this tour, and each cook is a character in
the larger story of American food and landscapes. This cohort represents only a small
sample of cookbooks published during more than fifty years of American food writing, but
this sample confirms the capacity of cookbooks as sites of historical, social, and
environmental engagement and investigation, and reveals American foodways and the
suburban environments they represent as manifestations of desires to separate human life
and culture from the natural world. This tour indicates an increasing distance between
people and the foods they eat, increasing dependence on technology, and the loss of vital
food knowledge, but this tour also demonstrates thoughtful alternatives to disconnected,
Exploring the narrative landscapes of these American cookbooks reveals increasing
disconnection from food origins by showing that fewer people grow, process, and preserve
their own food after World War II. Meat comes from further away and is more processed,
with more machines or people mediating the relationship between people and the animals
they consume as food. People stop making their own bread and rolls at home, and they
start buying them frozen from the supermarket or made in a commercial bakery. The
disappearance of seasonal notions of food is revealed in this tour as processed foods
eliminate these natural boundaries. This tour shows us changes in the diversity and
availability of a range of food items in American cuisine at the end of twentieth century,
and sets the stage for the challenges of the twenty-first century. Carolyn Merchant finds
that food norms and rules "are an important means through which human beings construct
reality. They are an allegory of social concerns, a way in which people give order to the
physical, social, and symbolic world around them.79 At each destination inside each
cookbook, this investigation considers the historical and social contexts attached to the
cultural product that is the individual cookbook and its expression of a particular food and
The Individual Cookbooks as Cases
Margaret Yardley Potter, At Home on the Range, 1947
The alternate title of this cookbook is How to Make Friends with Your Stove, which is
a feat the author, Margaret Yardley Potter, achieved in spite of the Great Depression and
the loss of her servants.80 Potter writes in a tone and voice reminiscent of someones fussy,
well-to-do grandmother who highly values formality and serves largely inedible food. The
soup she describes in her introduction (ostensibly meant to engage the readers appetite
and attention), Clear Green Turtle Soup, requires the assistance of a professional butler.
79 Carolyn Merchant, "Food Rules in the United States: Individualism, Control, and Hierarchy," 55.
80 Margaret YardleyPotter, Tit Home on the Range (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1947), 11.
She spends quite a lot of time complaining about how much easier cooking was when she
had someone to do it all for her, and cheering on the new homemaker who is her target
audience with promises of the rewards of providing meals for family, friends, and guests.
Potters cookbook does not list recipes in neat, open sections of ingredients,
preparation, and instruction. Instead, the recipes are interwoven into the narrative of this
womans life learning to be a wife, mother, and cook. No single recipe in this cookbook can
be learned without reading some of this womans story. The reader learns how to plan and
prepare meals according to cost, occasion, availability, and convenience. Potter may have a
simultaneously mollycoddling and cantankerous way about her instruction, but she cares
about the cooks she is teaching. She encourages community and creativity in her charges by
counseling the remembering of friends birthdays, the organization of bake sales and
benefit dinners, the heartfelt preparation of a spouse or childs favorite dish, and good
advice to experiment and make a dish a womans own.
Blanche C. Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 1951
This cookbooks dust jacket and cover page advertise it as "recipes and
entertainment ideas for young wives, but the narrative device within is so much more.81
Peggy is Mrs. Firmins new daughter-in-law, and this book is a collection of the pretend
letters Peggy writes to Firmin begging for advice and help because Peggys cooking is a
major disappointment to Mrs. Firmins son, Jack. Peggy doubts her experience and the
quality of her cooking, and Firmin is glad to write back and teach her how to make
81 Blanche C. Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On (New York: Exposition Press, 1951], jacket.
everything from Jacks Favorite Breakfast Eggs to "A Simple Cake a Child Could Make.82
The letters are short, and several recipes that answer Peggys particular culinary distress
follow each one. In the reply letters, Peggy endures scolding for her own food preferences
and her lack of interest in making her own bread rolls. Firmin presents each recipe in a
clear list and instruction layout familiar to most modern American cookbooks, and
occasionally the instructions are peppered with hints for better results or slight variations
for creativity. There are no photographs or illustrations in this cookbook, and very little
indication in the text of an awareness of or value in the natural world. The setting for this
book is the constructed domestic space Peggy is expected to thrive inside.
Women of General Foods Kitchens, The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 1959
The "women of General Foods authored this collection of recipes, which claims to
be "the one cookbook you can live by on the cover.83 The explicit narrative quality of this
source intends to "help social situations and improve a womans cooking and serving
skills. Advice on how to do the grocery shopping for a meal and strategies to handle the
eating habits of children and husbands are major tropes in this source. The book is
organized according to the particular food situation, from childrens parties and church
suppers to teenage entertainment and formal company dinners. The colorful (generally
hideous) photography in this book indicates a middle class suburban sensibility that is
almost cartoonish. The women of General Foods understand that shopping for, planning,
preparing, and serving interesting new foods for a family is difficult, but they constantly
82 Ibid, 93 and 141.
83 Women of General Foods Kitchens, The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook [New York: Random House, 1959],
assure the reader "it can be done with the help of a pantry stocked "to provide the
maximum variety and novelty for your family.84 The encouraging and perky voice of the
cookbook reminds the reader, "You, more than most people, need to keep a well-stocked
emergency shelf and encourages the reader to make time on her trips to the grocer for
strolling along the isles and finding new foodstuffs for her family.85
Children are a main focal point in this cookbook, and it repeatedly encourages
mothers to involve their daughters in the process of food preparation and serving. The
natural environment is a small consideration here, while the constructed environments of
the home and the community have prominence. The drawn pictures in the book consist
largely of individual food items in their living guises prize-ribboned chickens, fluffy
lambs, and bubbling oysters share decoration space with drawings of families in front of
televisions, picnicking in the park, and celebrating major holidays. This source teaches
every step of the process of providing food for a family, and it assumes in word and image
that the food maker and server in every suburban family is a woman.
Peg Bracken, I Hate to Cook Book, 1960 (reprinted 1986 with original text)
Peg Bracken uses sardonic humor in her approach to cooking. She considers food
both deeply personal and worthy of bragging rights. Her disdain for housework,
particularly cooking, leads her to distrust the home economists that write contemporary
cooking manuals. She scorns their advice and their cheery dispositions toward work she
considers drudgery, and she advises her readers to ignore most of what these professional
84 Ibid, 7.
85 Ibid, 7.
home scientists prescribe. Instead, Bracken suggests that readers who share her aversion
to cooking and other household tasks culturally coded to her gender keep her book handy
and refer to it often. The recipes comprise a strange mixture of processed and homemade
foods. She bothers to include a recipe for fresh, hot rolls that begins with the instruction
"Get bakery ones, but there are several recipes for complicated baked desserts made from
scratch.86 There are familiar suburban foods here, and some surprisingly wasteful attitudes
toward leftovers. Bracken advises that homemakers simply throw leftovers out to avoid
burdening the cook with the task of reimagining them or the family with having to eat them
again.87 The trope of busy suburban lives is reflected in the separate section for last-minute
suppers, and the suburban focus on children appears in the attention Bracken pays to the
foods children enjoy and several creative ideas for childrens birthday parties, including
advice for throwing a hobo themed party that features "a spotted handkerchief for each
little guest tied to a stick to hold the childs lunch, and then "lead the little bums, each
carrying his bundle, to the park or zoo for a picnic.88
Despite her humorous tone, Bracken reveals an apprehensive and often
overwhelmed feeling regarding her duty to feed her family. She closes her cookbook with
the admission that "cooking can become intrusive, the kitchen itself looming larger than
life-size, but also with the promise that it does not have to be this way.89 Food and cooking
86 Peg Bracken, I Hate to Cook Book (NewYork: Bantam Nonfiction, 1988], 201.
87 Ibid, 84. There is also the suggestion that too many leftovers, too often will drive away many husbands,
(82j. This works to reinforce the centrality of food and cooking to a womans role as wife, especially during
this time, but still present on the physical and cultural landscapes of America.
88 Ibid, 294. The foods recommended for this parly are all processed, so the workload is relatively light.
89 Ibid, 363.
are manageable, especially if Brackens advice and shortcuts become a familiar part of a
homemakers kitchen repertoire.
Thomas Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 1961
In the introduction to this recipe collection and lifestyle guide for the "cultivated
twentieth-century bachelor", Hugh Hefner explains that gourmet standards extend beyond
food and wine, they "permeate every level of his urban-oriented life," from his clothes and
cars, to the company he keeps and the ways he spends his leisure time.90 The recipes
contained in this cookbook are the products of a professional chef, Thomas Mario, and they
are explicitly not for the suburban palette. In the introduction the reader is warned that
this cookbook may shock readers if they share the "sensibilities of those finicky-fussy food
journals for dyspeptic epicures," or if they have not escaped the invasion of housewives
who cook into the male domain of the chef.91 This is a cookbook "catering to the special and
subjective tastes, the particular and private needs, of that discriminating diner...the urban
male," and the man who not only eats the delights contained within, but also creates them
in his swank urban home is Playboy's target audience.
Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cook Book, 1961
This is a classic of the early 1960s, from its garish color photography to its
insistence on speed and efficiency. Dishes touted by the Better Homes & Gardens editors as
"favorites and "classics receive minor revisions, such as the addition of pimentos to the
90 Thomas Mario, The Playboy Gourmet (New York: Crown Publishers, 1961], 5.
91 Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 5.
standard Tuna Noodle Bake, and high praise for their dependability, frugality, and creative
touches. The opening pages promise meals that are "a certain success for busy cooks
trying to please big families and consist of large color photographs of the collections
signature recipes.92 An almost manic positivity permeates this source, characterized by
such phrases as, "Todays casseroles are pretty and practical and "Turn out a puffy, golden
souffle, a tender omelet and youve made your reputation.93 The tools and gear for cooking
and serving food of this kind indicate shopping opportunities and kitchens large enough to
store several varieties of pots and pans, alongside the previously mentioned well-
provisioned pantry. The setting here is the domestic space, and there are several visual and
textual signals that it is a suburban domestic space. The natural world shows up in the
table decorations mostly, such as papier-mache bulls overlooking Curried Beef Cubes in the
photographs highlighting the creative presentation possibilities. In the data analysis to
follow, this source proved to have one of the highest correspondence rates with the set of
Ruth Ellen Church, Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook, 1966
Mary Meade, the fictitious Home Economics character created by the Chicago
Tribune in 1930, opens her cookbook with this observation: "much of modern cooking is
92 Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book, (Meredith Publishing Company, 1961) 2-7. The critic/artist
fames Lileks points to this particular school of food photography as iconic of the foodways of the 1960s. In his
work, Lileks confronts the revisionist and romanticized versions of the suburban world of the 1950s and 60s,
specifically the dominance of commercial culture and corporate food (The Gallery of Regrettable Food, New
York: Crown Publishers, 2001), 62. Lileks explains that this BH&G cookbook attempts to reposition casserole
as a gourmet delight.
93 Ibid, 91
the inspiration of the moment; little of it has roots in the past.94 She goes on to explain
how wonderful cooking is for the woman who can easily buy her cake in a mix, her
vegetables already sauced even if frozen, and her dinner rolls in a convenient package.
Meade believes that the homemaker of 1966 is far busier than her mother or grandmother,
and fast paced food is simply a reflection of an enviable modern lifestyle. Real cooking
(from scratch) is only for special occasions and weekends, according to Meade. There is an
incredible amount of assumed alcohol consumption in this book, and some rather
apocryphal advice about American wines attends nearly every recipe. In one instance,
Meade reminds her reader that the U.S. State Department serves American wine at all
diplomatic functions.95 Meade recommends that the modern homemaker assemble two
sets of meals on weeknights, one for the kids and one for the adults. The ingredients for
these meals consist of premade foods, which when combined create allegedly delicious
results sure to please everyone in the family.
Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook is actually authored by Ruth Ellen
Church, the Chicago Tribunes longest serving food editor. She held the post from 1936 to
1974, and when she retired from the paper, so did Mary Meade.
Jinx Kragen and Judy Perry, How to Keep Him (After Youve Caught Him) Cookbook, 1968
Advertised on its dust jacket as "an irreverent and affectionate guide to the well-
stuffed spouse,96 this cookbook is organized around what sort of man a woman feeds.
94 Ruth Ellen Church, Mary Meade's Modem Homemaker Cookbook, (New York: Rand McNally & Company,
95 Ibid, 8.
96 Jinx Kragen and Judy Perry, How to Keep Him (After You've Caught Him) Cookbook (Garden City: Doubleday
& Company, 1968J, jacket.
Authors Jinx Kragen and Judy Perry collaborated on a cookbook prior to this one called
Saucepans and the Single Girl, a rather transparent riff on Helen Gurley Browns successful
(and scandalous) 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl. This cookbook is a sequel of sorts to
their first cookbook where the original text was full of advice for landing a man, now
Kragen and Perry want to help women use food to cater for and to their husbands. The
recipes in this cookbook are significantly different from the other cookbooks, more
sophisticated in many ways, and in some cases easier to prepare. The authors promote a
regime of intense variety in both cuisine and setting, and consistently reinforce the
important of excellent cooking in maintaining a decent marriage. The ingredients in the
recipes are both premade and fresh, and there are several indications that processed foods
save valuable time for the women who use them. The natural world is not part of the
narrative or the setting of this book. It is the particular domestic spaces a woman occupies,
as dictated by a husbands income, that concerns these authors.
Francis Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet, 1971
Francis Moore Lappe explains that the purpose of this cookbook is a complete
reversal in the way Americans think about and consume protein.97 This is the only
vegetarian source in this investigation, and it is the most environmentally aware. Lappe
points to meat consumption as dangerously wasteful and unsustainable.98 This source is a
serious critique of the American foodway, and it is also a plan for individuals and families
to change their personal eating habits. Lappe cites ossified cultural attitudes about food as
97 Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet (New York: Ballantine, 1971], xi.
98 Ibid, xiii.
the major obstacles to change." This source has almost no agreement with the selected
recipe set, though there are familiar foods in this collection, including chocolate chip
cookies and pizza. Lappe dedicates an entire half of her book to protein theory, which
recommends eating complementary alternative proteins, and the importance of knowing
where the food one eats comes from, how it is grown and harvested, and how it works in
the body.99 100
James Beard, James Beard's American Cookery, 1972 (reprinted in 1980, paperback]
This recipe collection is immense, and Beard himself acknowledges that American
cuisine is difficult to define, being an amalgam of the cuisines of Native Americans and
generations of immigrants from across the globe. Beard explains in his introduction that
this cookbook is not a book of regional cookery, it is not a collection of family recipes, it is
not primarily a critique of American cuisine. It is simply a record of good eating in this
country with some of its lore.101 This cookbook does not focus directly on suburbia or
indicate that women are the contemporary primary food preparers, but it does spend time
showing and celebrating womens important roles in food and community throughout
Beard points to highly processed versions of classic American foods as points of
disconnection between individuals and communities, and he encourages his readers in
their culinary efforts to start from scratch. The natural world is a prominent player in this
99 Ibid, xi.
100 Later editions of this cookbook do not contain the complicated protein counting system advanced in this
first edition. The 10th anniversary edition proudly proclaims itself "completely revised and updated on the
front cover. This seems to reinforce the notion that this cookbook, in this form, was incapable of inspiring the
radical change in American foodways Lappe advocates.
101 James Beard, James Beard's American Cookery (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972], 6.
source. Beard wants his readers to know their food, from how it lived and died to how to
prepare it. There are several recipes and directions for dressing squirrel and other game
meat, and detailed instructions for buying domestic meat from a local butcher. Beard does
not explain how a person might grow any of the fruits, herbs, or vegetables in these recipes,
but he does indicate that local farms have superior produce than corporate grocery stores.
This source does not make any commentary on suburbia specifically, but indicates that the
ways and places Americans live changes over time, and that American foodways change
with technological advancements and continuing immigration.
Alice Waters, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, 1982
This cookbook describes Alice Waters personal approach to food and eating, as
expressed through the menus she serves in her Berkeley restaurant. It is also a critique of
modern foodways. Waters distrusts highly processed and mass produced foods, and sees
them as partially responsible for human disconnection from community and the natural
world.102 There is no indication in this source that women are the primary cooks in a family
or a community, and Waters does not offer any thoughts on domesticity or suburban living
directly. Very few of the selected recipes of this study have correspondence here, and that
difference is an opportunity for discussion of the ways American food comes to the table
and the power of food in American homes and communities.
Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, 1987
Jeff Smiths food history and recipe collection serves as a bookend for this
investigation for several reasons. The Frugal Gourmet was a vey successful PBS show with
102 Alice Waters, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook (New York: Random House, 1982], 4.
more than 250 episodes between 1983 and 1995, and this particular cookbook was a best
seller, his fourth in three years.103 American foodways, of increasing public interest since
the bicentennial, maintained high visibility into the 1980s, and by 1987 suburban sprawl
was commonplace. By this point in history, the food of America is the food of suburbia.
Smiths cookbook is a historical celebration of the foodways of our forebears, and
the unique regional cuisines of the States, but many of the ingredients in these recipes are
processed. Smith cautions at the introduction that this cookbook is specifically not about
those foods we might think of as American, like hamburgers and hot dogs, but those foods
that come from our own soil.104 He then goes on to encourage the use of imported wines,
cheeses, and spices in the glossary, and this tendency toward contradiction extends to the
recipes and the historical anecdotes. The narrative device is the light (in tone and academic
weight) history lesson attending each grouping of American foodstuffs, and interesting, if
apocryphal factoids about American history and culture accompany almost every recipe.
For the purposes of comparison and representation, the tour though the cookbook
cohort comprises a limited menu appropriate for an investigation of this scope. The table
below describes the travel menu. These recipes represent common foods and meals across
time in these cookbooks. Each recipe occurs in a minimum of eight of the eleven cookbooks
103 Though Smith later suffered a personal fall from grace, that incident occurred outside the scope of this
study and does not impact this text. Other investigations utilizing this source might find this unseen private
sexual aspect more relevant or useful. This investigation is interested in the historical, social, and ecological
concerns expressed in this recipe collection/American ethnography.
104 Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1987] 13.
comprising the cohort. Appendix B contains a detailed table of the occurrence of these
recipes in the cohort.
Table 1.2 Selected Travel Menu
Apple Pie Green Salad
Meatloaf Coffee Cake
Pizza Turkey (Roast)
Chocolate Cake Omelet
Lobster Newburg Picnic
Our foods and our stories connect people to one another, and to places and
ecosystems. Narrowing the investigative focus to a select number of recipes shows changes
in knowledge and intimacy of representative and familiar foods over time. It allows a
"tasting" of the differences between times and kitchens, and understandings and valuations
of the natural world. These recipes are stories shared and changed and personalized
between generations and dynamic social standards. When someone makes a recipe from a
cookbook, especially from a cookbook outside their own immediate foodway, they
participate in the life and narrative of that cookbook. The cookbook and the cook become
part of one another's story, and the space for challenge and change opens up.
TOURING AMERICAN COOKBOOKS
Touring America through cookbooks and in doing so, looking at changes in the
relationships between people and the environment during the late twentieth century -
reveals the disconnections from the natural world inherent to suburban sprawl. The
powerful pull of the consumerist suburban ideal manifests on American landscapes as the
lawns, roads, parks, and shopping centers of suburban neighborhoods, urban food deserts,
and as the marginalized or invisible farms and ranches that supply them. The suburban
ideal manifests at kitchen tables in highly processed, environmentally costly, but time-
saving food items and recipes. Disconnection from the places and processes food comes
from translates into disconnected and mechanistic views of nature and the environment.
Cookbooks themselves are a product of consumer culture. They are written for
people who can afford their advice and their ingredients. The majority of cookbooks
published in the postwar period target homemakers, and these women are moving out of
cities and into suburban developments across the country. A tour through American
cookbooks shows the suburbanization of the nation through changes in the ways
Americans produce, prepare, and consume the foods they eat.
This fictionalized tour originates in the extant narrative aspect of each cookbook.
Where possible, the details and settings are derived from the texts themselves, and where
these details are absent, research into the life and times of the authors serve this narrative
device. This tour demonstrates a range of spaces within and for the management of
American foods and landscapes.
Taking the Tour
The tour begins in 1947, in the home kitchen of Margaret Yardley Potter. Mrs. Potter
seems a friendly and energetic sort, and she talks endlessly about her family, her cooking
knowledge, and occasionally even politics. Her kitchen is large, bright, and clean. The walls
are canary yellow and the wood trim is Kelly green, while all the cabinets are painted inside
a shade of orange like a bright Chinese lantern. There are wide-mouthed glass tobacco jars
full of beans, lentils, rice, and barley keeping a tattered collection of cookbooks company on
the long stretches of hardwood counters. The most prominent features of Mrs. Potter's
kitchen are a fat electric stove and refrigerator, and a wide three-basin sink paired with an
enormous wire dish drainer. Above the stove is a long narrow shelf stuffed with assorted
glass jars and bottles containing everything from salt, sugar, and flour to wine, herbs, and
sauces. Hooks on the walls contain a colorful collection of aprons and potholders. One
entire wall is devoted to kitchen gadgets; it looks "an old-fashioned tin peddler's cart" with
its different apple coring devices and can openers.105 Mrs. Potter serves the entirety of the
selected travel menu, except roast turkey. The meatloaf is hand-ground but served
swimming in condensed soup, and the curry is made with consomme. The bread and
pickles are homemade, and Mrs. Potter is especially proud of her P.O.M. pickles, named
after Hemingway's "poor old wife", and her watermelon rind. If you ask, Mrs. Potter would
105 Potter, At Home on the Range, 206.
probably serve you something off the travel menu, but dinner could be anything from
Calves brains with black butter to Tripe a la mode de Caen.
In Mrs. Potter's busy kitchen we learn that the habits of wartime thrift did not
immediately disappear with war's end. We can also see the rise of consumerism here,
especially in her fondness for kitchen gadgets and modern appliances, and in her somewhat
grudging acceptance of commercially prepared foods.
The next destination on the tour moves forward in time several years from the
kitchen to Peggy Firmins suburban backyard. Like many other families escaping the heat
on covered patios and cool lawns, the Firmins are cooking and eating outside. The chickens
Peggy barbecues under her mother-in-law Blanches instruction are cleaned and split (by
the butcher and then delivered wrapped in paper and tied with string), their bony sides
pressed down onto the grill. Blanche asks Peggy if she is certain that the grill is six inches
from the coals and whether she has purchased assorted barbecue gadgets. Peggy brushes
the birds with sauce (a thin, fragrant mixture of butter, lemon, onion, and Worcestershire
sauce), and leaves Blanche in charge of the fire and the company while she sets the table
with our meal.
Blanche turns the birds, brushes them with sauce again, and moves away from the
fire. She lights a cigarette and smiles. She tells us that this "little picnic place" was her idea,
a private retreat in Peggy's own backyard in her own home, and "such an easy and
enjoyable way to entertain."106 She laments Peggy's lack of clever outdoor cooking tools.
Peggy disappears and reappears with side dishes for the table: a hot dish of baked red
beans, a cool, crisp green salad, and a tray of pickles and rolls. Peggy bastes and turns the
106 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 197.
birds a last time, then brings hot coffee. The plate of barbecued chicken is brought directly
to the table from the grill, and at last it is time to eat. The chicken is fork-tender and slightly
salty, the watermelon rind pickles are strangely sweet and sour, like picked cinnamon
toast. The salad is simple and fresh lettuce, diced celery, and thin slices of green pepper
and white onion, scented with rosemary, and tossed in aromatic black pepper vinaigrette.
This is where Peggy's menu changes. Homemade foods are only half the offering.
The baked beans are made from a combination of canned red beans and condensed chicken
gumbo soup, prepared catsup and mustard, and ground beef. The only "fresh" ingredient in
the recipe is ground black pepper. Peggy does not often make her own bread, a fact that
distresses Blanche, and the rolls at this meal are similar to the beans. They are made from a
packaged mix Peggy adds water to, then shapes, and bakes. The atmosphere is friendly and
all around us are the sounds and smells of other suburban families spending a Saturday
night cooking and eating in the own backyards. As the heat of the day gives way to a balmy
evening, Peggy presents homemade devils food cake.
The concept of a family's own place and own space is a central component in the
mythology of suburbia, and this is a shared theme between these two cookbooks, these
women and their foods. There is a sense of continuity in the centrality of food to the role of
homemaker, even as the relationships between homemaker and food changes through
technology and culture. Margaret Yardley Potter and Blanche Firmin are both real people,
not characters created by the food industry or publishing houses. Both women lived and
'kept house' during World War II, and both women see food the food a woman feeds her
family as a legacy of care and American bounty. But food is also a duty to family, country,
and culture. For both of these women, and the American women in their audience, the Cold
War codes their understanding of the world and their everyday experiences. Food is a
significant quotidian aspect of life, and its necessity makes it crucial to the construction of
culture.107 Cold War suburban culture emphasizes strict gender roles, and Potter and
Firmin encourage adherence to these cultural constructions. The Cold War created an
environment of fear and suspicion that consumer culture kept tamped down, and dissent
from accepted norms met swift opposition. These women seem proud to provide what they
clearly perceive as a service to younger homemakers in explaining and encouraging
participation in a consumerist status quo that rigidly defines womens roles. Containment
is a conspicuous trope of the Cold War era, and it extends through foodways, landscapes,
and popular culture. Creating a safe and private asylum for the family where ties can be
strengthened, away from the city and its mix of classes, ethnic groups, and races in a
homogeneous community coincides with dramatic increases in demand for housing.108
These two homemakers reveal the beginnings of suburbanization and its changes on
The theme of private domesticity pervades both texts, and shows us an idealized
nature that is both controlled and managed. Peggy's backyard lawn is part of an
accelerating trend in the 1950s that we could not see from Mrs. Potter's kitchen window in
1947. The variety of foodstuffs we found in her kitchen are not apparent at Peggy's
backyard barbecue, and in the latter more of the ingredients are processed or prepared.
There is a generational difference between the foods of mothers and their daughters (and
daughters-in-law) that reveals itself in the commercial availability of processed and
107 Avakian, "Feminist Food Studies: A Brief History, 15.
108 Miller, "Family Togetherness and the Suburban Ideal, 395.
prepared foods and the decreasing interest in home canning, pickling, and bread-making.
Both of these authors engage in a very personal sharing of food and cooking advice as they
seek to pass on American traditions for the family table and ideas for adapting to an
increasingly busy, and complicated, world for homemakers.
Consumer culture accelerates through the 1950s, and the next stop on the tour
demonstrates changes in American cultural perceptions of abundance. Tasting American
foods is a different experience in the commercial kitchens of General Foods. This is not a
suburban kitchen or backyard, but a bright, sterile factory where a small army of aproned
women test dozens of recipes everyday. There are monstrous ovens and long expanses of
countertops. The smells of vastly different dishes compete for attention, and we can taste
anything from the travel menu here except pizza. There is an international flair in this
industrial kitchen, with the idea that food is like traveling at your own table. There is also a
strong emphasis on shopping and entertaining. There is no suburbia inside this kitchen, but
the work of these women and the products of General Foods target the growing suburban
These women promote entertaining company and family food as separate, but both
the responsibility of women. These lines between family and outsiders show themselves in
the foods and recipes for company. Company food is more a matter of formality and
presentation than of real differences in the food items served. The ladies of General Foods
Kitchens show us ways to dress up curry for a company supper: an unexpected guest is
treated to Bengal Lamb Curry with the simple addition of curry powder to a dish of
condensed chicken soup, rice, and leftover cooked lamb.109 A more sophisticated and
109 Women of General Foods Kitchens, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 374.
handmade curiy recipe follows the advice to have a friendly dinner party. All the
condiments are arranged in their packages, from crisp poppadums and spicy sweet chutney
to shredded coconut. The ladies encourage that we try different chutneys, and buy "one jar
and then another" until we find a personal favorite, acknowledging "no Indian chutney is
cheap but they're all good, so there's no waste if you keep on trying."110
Sample the tiny individual meat loaves, made with chopped parsley and dill pickles,
and the familiar ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, and catsup. There is also a variety made
with minced onions, grated carrots, and canned tomato juice, and one made with canned
"mashed" tomatoes, a package of French salad dressing mix, and a combination of ground
beef and pork. The chocolate cake is made from scratch, not a mix. The family curry dishes
all come from the same bottle of curry powder and condensed canned soups, so they all
have the same flavor. The lobster Newburgh is made from canned lobster, and all the picnic
offerings require the use of consumer goods like insulated bags and large thermoses, as
well as ice coolers full of soft drinks, which the ladies of General Foods Kitchens have
thoughtfully put on display. This kitchen is the step before the grocery store, and
consumerism is at the heart of everything that goes on here. This combination of processed
and homemade exists in almost everything produced in this kitchen, and no one woman is
responsible for these recipes. They are all the product of collaboration and repeated
testing, which ensures a certain level of quality even if removes some of the individual
cooks' personality. However, the ladies of General Foods Kitchens assure us that every
woman can bring her own flair to these dishes in her own kitchen.
110 Women of General Foods Kitchens, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 153.
In this space we see the solidification of distance between cook and food, and
tenacity of the notion that women cook food for families. The natural obstacles to food
availability like seasons and distance are disappearing, and the origins of food matter less
than cooperation and the participation of American women in a culture of consumption.
The American food landscape looks very different inside this commercial kitchen, and there
is less life and death in the food of the ladies of General Foods Kitchens than in Mrs. Potter's
postwar kitchen. Food may be an opportunity for adventure and learning, but the places
food comes from are becoming invisible. The meat is all cleaned and prepared for cooking,
the offal and the bones and blood hidden from the consumer behind the counter at a
supermarket or in a factory far away. The vegetables are frozen and served out of season,
grown distantly and shipped in to the same grocery store. This pattern of food production
and consumption expanded and accelerated during the 1950s, and it followed the pattern
of suburban development on the American landscape.
Fresh foods matter very little to the tour's next hostess and homemaker. Peg
Bracken hates cooking, but she does it because she feels she has to, that she has no choice
but to fulfill her gender-coded role as food planner, preparer, server, and cleaner in her
suburban American life. We meet Bracken at a suburban park near her home for a picnic.
The park is typical of suburban concerns in the 1950s and 60s, with its small peripheral
trees, its rectilinear order and paths, and the mix of lawn and asphalt.111 This is a space
created and maintained for the benefit of suburban families in service to recreation and the
"togetherness demanded by the suburban ideal. Bracken explains that a picnic in the park
111 Galen Cranz and Michael Boland, "Defining the Sustainable Park: A Fifth Model for Urban Parks, in
Landscape Journals, 23, no. 2-4. (2004), 103.
is easier than hosting a dinner party, but has the advantage that your guest is "quite as
indebted to you" as if you had done all the extra work such an event requires.112 Bracken
hates cooking, but she loves praise, so she has spread out a variety of "upgraded" picnics.
For Peg, a picnic means "out of reach of the house, not a backyard barbecue or patio party,"
mostly because she also hates to clean house.113
Bracken prepares homemade baked chicken, drenched in bottled mayonnaise and
rolled in crushed Ritz crackers before baking, store-bought and homemade barbecued
chicken, and canned turkey. Her barbecued chicken has a sweet, salty crust she gets by
baking the chicken after coating it in garlic salt, brown sugar, and butter. She has potato
and non-potato salads, loaves of crunchy bakery bread, and several pots of herbed butter
and assorted relishes. Peg's cuisine relies heavily on canned, frozen, and premade
foodstuffs. She adds her own special flair to her cooking by experimenting, and by drinking.
Bracken serves wine, in wineglasses, at all her picnics. Eating outdoors is more a matter of
reducing the workload than of reconnecting to nature for Peg Bracken. Bracken shows no
particular interest in the outdoors or in nature. She regularly sneers at the pride others
take in the produce of their own home gardens, and delights in the modern conveniences
available at her local supermarket. Peg utilizes many of the utensils seen in the General
Foods Kitchens ladies picnic display, and there is continuity between that factory-
produced outdoors meal and the spread Peg Bracken presents in this suburban park.
The next stop on the tour is distinctly different from the places and people
experienced to this point, moving out of the domestic private family space of suburbia and
112 Bracken, I Hate to Cook Book, 279.
113 Bracken, I Hate to Cook Book, 278.
into the urban kitchenette of a well-to-do bachelor who sees food very differently from the
women who have previously shared their recipes and know-how. This host, a perhaps
fictionalized urbane playboy, considers himself a gourmand, above the feminized and
homey foods of suburban housewives. He is the usual tall, dark, and obnoxious, and he
cooks in a tuxedo, but he can turn out several culinary masterpieces from his 'kitchenless
kitchen', designed by Playboy. Everything he cooks has a story, and he knows and
understands (or at least pretends to) where the food he eats comes from and what it takes
to put it on his plate. This man is also a prolific consumer his collection of kitchen
gadgets, tools, and pots and pans may look different from Mrs. Potter's, but the indication is
the same. Cooking is complex, and there is high consumer demand for clever and stylish
ways to make it easier.
There is no fat, hot stove dominating his cooking space, but instead an array of
chafing dishes, casseroles, electric griddles, and a toaster oven crowd the walnut Formica
top of his culinary stage. For our pleasure this evening, our host has prepared a bubbling
hot Cheddar cheese fondue served over toast, called Welsh Rabbit, and he chats amiably
about "such comic misnomers" and dismisses the indication that this dish was the only
choice for hungry poor people forbidden from eating more nutritious foods by wealthy
gourmet snobs. He uses what he calls "rat-trap variety" cheese, but assures us that once
you add the ale and mustard it will "taste like a river of gold out of Hades."114 Lobster
Newburg also goes with the crisp toast that keeps popping up out of the little black box
plugged in by the small sink. Our host explains that lobsters are "the playboys of the deep,"
114 Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 245.
suitably fond of delicacies like clams in the shell and now able to travel great distances.115
Northern lobsters and their differences from spiny or rock lobster interest our host, and he
explains that for true gourmet quality, frozen lobster, often spiny, should be overlooked in
favor of live and healthy from a reputable fish dealer. The bread comes from a local bakery,
and our host assures us that their apple pie is quite good and heats up nicely in the small
toaster oven. A crisp green salad and "bone cold" beer finish out our late night urban
supper with a gourmand bachelor.
Our urban bachelor believes his food is vastly different from the foods of suburban
home cooks, but Rabbit (the cheese fondue on toast) is common in American homes. Mrs.
Potter and Blanche Firmin have a recipe for it; so do the ladies of General Foods Kitchens.
The differences between them are minimal, and the same goes for the green salad. All of
these women provide recipes for the Lobster Newburg, as well. The degree of processing of
the food ingredients seems the point of greatest departure. Our urban bachelor does not
shop for his food in a supermarket; he patronizes several small specialty businesses for his
culinary needs. This means he must cultivate relationships with food professionals, and his
lifestyle demands that he have some education about the plants and creatures he
consumes, but his environmental concern is limited to availability; he does not worry about
overconsumption or pollution. Whether this urban bachelor acknowledges the fact or not,
his foodway and that of suburban wives are connected. The same kinds of consumer
demands drive the economic and social cultures both groups live in, and one of the results
is that the foods each group eats come to look similar and they come from similar places.
This man would probably like the food at Peg Bracken's suburban picnic, but he would
115 Ibid, 40.
probably never admit it. For her part, Bracken would not approve of his idea of a picnic, at
least not the complicated food part. But irrespective of their perceived differences, their
foods are highly recognizable to one another.
The good life does not necessarily consider the environment in our urban
bachelor's mind. He understands the life cycles of his food, but he does not recognize his
own connection to those ecosystems. He eats out more often than he eats in, and for him
cooking is a chance to show off and have something he likes to eat. He does not cook for a
family, or under the weight of routine and expectations that many home cooks carry. There
is a higher degree of diversity in his urban life and foodway than in some of the suburban
kitchens and backyards seen so far. An urban foodway, in the 1950s and 1960s, entailed a
series of human relationships and a degree of relationship with the natural world. There is
more of the life and death of food in this urban iteration than its suburban counterpart.
Knowledge of food, its origins and anatomies, is part of the separation between urban and
suburban food. The distance from food is somewhat lessened here.
This pattern of different kinds of disconnection from the natural world in urban and
suburban foodways displays itself in the cookbooks of the 1960s with very little change. A
traveller could stop anywhere along the path and taste curry and rabbit, or beef stroganoff
and deviled eggs, or any number of other common American and suburban foods. The
Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cookbook is a destination and culinary experience
remarkably similar to the General Foods Kitchen tasting, except that every dish is
transformed into a casserole in an effort at timesaving. Most striking about this destination
are the contrasts (and similarities) between the recipes in this cookbook and those in the
Playboy bachelors culinary and lifestyle manual. The editors of Better Homes & Gardens
present a collection of dishes, made from mostly processed foodstuffs, they consider
appropriate for company dinners or potluck suppers, including several variations of curry,
pizza, and rabbits (the toast and cheese variety). The ingredient list for Chicken Curry
includes the familiar curry powder, but also calls for the addition of monosodium
glutamate. The saffron rice that accompanies the dish calls for real saffron. The other
curries are made with shrimp, lamb, tuna, or leftover roast turkey, but all are made from
the same packaged curry powder.116 The pizza dough is scratch-made, though the Better
Homes & Gardens editors offer suggestions for speedier crusts made from packaged mixes.
The pizzas are somewhat standard, containing familiar toppings like Italian sausage,
mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, and mushrooms. The unnecessary addition of green olives
and salami cornucopias is slightly off-putting. There are also variants of rabbits here,
including Creole Rabbit made with green pepper and American cheese, Swiss Rabbit Stack-
ups made with Swiss (processed) and Parmesan cheese, and Western Rabbit made with
cornbread (from a mix) and condensed cheese soup. The editors are friendly and almost
pathologically enthusiastic about the ease and creativity of the dishes they present.
The next destination on the tour reveals the extent of the changes seen so far on
American foodways and landscapes. Ruth Ellen Church, the Home Economics editor for the
Chicago Tribune, writes under the papers pseudonym for food authority, Mary Meade.
Church-as-Meade guides us through the wonders and conveniences available at the local
supermarket in 1966, and all the suburban interests and pursuits such consumer items
make time for in the lives of busy suburban homemakers. Isles of choices exist in canned,
116 This curry powder appears in several recipes in the book that are not titled to indicate the inclusion of this
spice, including Cheese French Omelet. The woman who owned my copy of this book before me, one Mrs. Dale
Miller of Muncie, Indiana, disagreed with this recipe and wrote clearly in old-fashioned cursive script in the
frozen, instant, condensed, and processed varieties. Mary Meade has a fondness for molds -
- not the biological variety, but the gelatin salad kind -- and the supermarket is something
like an experimental treasure hunt for new combinations of ingredients for these creations.
There is her famous lime gelatin with avocado, onions, and pickled beets; her blue cheese
gelatin mold with pecans, served with fresh fruit; and her allegedly "refreshing Jellied
olive and Grapefruit salad.117 Be brave, taste the suburbs of the 1960s.
Anything from the travel menu is available here, except pickles, which Church
considers too time consuming for modern women when the commercially available kind
taste so good. Church recommends the less expensive rock lobster for her Lobster
Newburg, and she disagrees with Mario because she thinks that frozen rock lobster tails
are ideal for this preparation. Her variations on the theme meatloaf reflect a parochial
version of exoticism. The "Italian" variant includes oregano, tomato paste, and mozzarella
cheese as cultural representatives in a loaf comprised of ground beef chuck, eggs, and
cornflake crumbs. Her "Spanish loaf is also made from ground beef, but includes mashed
potatoes, canned tomatoes, and a whole chopped onion. Mrs. Potter would be horrified by
Mary Meades casual acceptance of packaged ground "hamburg, but they would probably
see eye to eye on the flavors and other ingredients.
There are numerous bottles of domestic wine, mostly from California, but there are
also varietals from Ohio and New York. She serves a lovely mixed green salad that includes
fat buttery leaves of Bibb lettuce, tender and curly pale yellow chicory leaves from the
heart of the cluster, peppery crisp watercress, fresh parsley, and instant onions. She uses
mayonnaise from a jar rather than "salad dressing for her best salads, though there are
117 Church, Mary Meades Modern Homemaker Cookbook, 234.
critics that regard such a choice as foolish and pedestrian. Among them is certainly Thomas
Mario. This is another recipe Mario would disapprove of, indicative as it is of the feminized
suburban foodway he so fears. Dessert is Crazy Chocolate Cake, so named because of the
complicated method of its preparation. It is made from scratch, not a mix, and its texture
depends on capturing the bubbles resulting from the chemical reaction between baking
soda and vinegar. This destination, like many of the other suburban destinations on this
tour, is a shifting blend of the homemade and processed, and of the experimentally creative
and the established standard.
Not all 'modern' homemakers subscribe to the cuisine Mary Meade advocates. There
are other brands of suburban cookery, and different attitudes toward the roles of wife and
mother. Jinx Kragen and Judy Perry approach their gendered food duties with humor and
sophistication. This tour stop finds our authors in one of their suburban homes, playing
hostesses to social hour with their fellow suburban wives and holding court with their
witty observations about men. The snacks and cocktails served here are not the foods of
the hour, but rather a discussion of the foods they should each be serving when the wives
return to their own homesteads for the evening meal. Kragen and Perry have categorized
all the different kinds of husbands a woman could have, and they champion cooking food
specifically for individual types of husbands.
They demonstrate familiar recipes, including curry, meatloaf, green salad, and apple
pie, but each of these dishes has a special flair that Jinx and Judy add for personality and
variety. There is Curiy Soup, made from canned cream of chicken soup, curry powder, and
milk that is garnished with fresh-snipped chives and thin apple slices. This quick soup,
appropriate for an office sack lunch if packed into a thermos, is completely different from
Jinx and Judys party curry recipe that calls for imported Indian curry powder. They serve
shrimp curry with an amazing assortment of garnishes, from banana chips and shredded
coconut to chutney and raisins plumped in wine. Creating such a fine supper is a sure way
to make your husband a popular party host, according to these women. Jinx and Judy also
demonstrate recipes for meatloaf, for those women who married less adventurous men
that they call old Charlies. All of the meatloaf recipes have the names of mothers: Mother
McCrees meatloaf that contains sage, sausage, and red wine; Mother Mias version made
from basil, ricotta, and parmesan cheese; and "another mothers meatloaf flavored with
mushrooms, sour cream and Worcestershire sauce. The green salad is a melange of cottage
and blue cheese whipped with yogurt served over a bed of Romaine lettuce. There are two
kinds of apple pie here, one made with rum and one made with Cheddar cheese, and both
are made from frozen pie crusts. Jinx and Judy promise that by making an effort to know
your husband and cook to his personality, a happy marriage is easier to have in an
increasingly harried world. The monotony of suburbia must be battled back through
interesting and varied meals.
The 1970s were a turbulent, dynamic time in America and during this time many
cultural assumptions were challenged. Food is among them. One of the loudest voices
doing the challenging belonged to activist Francis Moore Lappe. This tour finds Lappe at a
teach-in and tasting at a local community college. She is a passionate speaker, and the
lecture is about far more than how to eat a vegetarian diet. This is about hunger, the food
industry, and food policy. It is about waste and the environment we share with all living
things. It is about democracy and social justice. It is about power and access to the
abundance of the earth. There are complicated charts and graphs on large easels behind
Lappe, but she talks about the political ecology of food and the waste inherent in consumer
culture, and somehow the complicated complementary protein tables and charts are
dissonant with the intense speech Lappe delivers.118
The actual food items on offer for sampling a planet-friendly foodway resemble
other foods on the tour, but they are not the same. Clearly, a vegetarian foodway excludes
several of the items on the travel menu like meatloaf and lobster Newburg, but other
familiar food items are also absent. There are no recipes for apple pie, green salads, or
pickles, and their absence is notable because it indicates how distinct this foodway is from
the suburban ideal put forth on this tour so far. The origins and lifecycles of these foods are
not invisible here; they are central to this cookbooks concerns. There is a return of
seasonality and an intimate awareness of the interconnection of people, food, and the
environment. In several ways, this teach-in is emblematic of the times, and it seems that
challenges to the status quo are everywhere. The Vietnam War rages on as public
sentiment sours, there are well-published atrocities and insignificant accountability, and
the fragility of our shared environment is a common topic of conversation. There is energy
for change in the charged atmosphere of the early 1970s, though it is hard to taste it with
much enthusiasm here. More time and thought has gone into the pitch of a drastically
different foodway than into the actual recipes for its foods. For the purpose of tasting the
difference, sample the coffee cake made from a combination of whole wheat and soy flour,
118 Lappe grew beyond this somewhat narrow view of the problems of American foodways, and this
particular approach to proper vegetarian nutrition no longer dominates the public or professional discourse. I
have used this edition of Diet for a Small Planet because it is both passionate and before its time, the narrative
inside is a part of the larger story about rebellion and challenge, and it speaks directly about the environment
during the late '60s and early '70s.
the pancakes made with sesame seed meal, and the curry made from soy beans and
Even as challenges to the status quo force Americans to examine their values, an
equally strong pull in the early 1970s manifested as the United States prepared to celebrate
its bicentennial, and nostalgia for the founding fathers and the nations history was high.
This tour finds James Beard at a potluck supper for a local historical society. There is a vast
banquet of American foods spread out on folding tables sagging under their weight. The
dishes have flavors from around the world, and ingredients that are both domestic and
imported. Immigration to the U.S. gave rise to a kind of hybrid cuisine that to this day
blends cultures, flavors, preparation methods, and ingredients from regions across the
globe. Beard points out differences in the dishes and shares historical tidbits in a friendly,
well-informed way that makes even the suspicious-looking foods sound delicious. There
are at least six kinds of meatloaf, several variations on the theme pizza, bowls and jars of
homemade pickles, trays of scratch-made rolls, and dozens of varieties of chocolate cake.
Beard celebrates the variation on display here, and he sees the renewed interest in baking,
preserving, and pickling as a positive sign that American cookery has a vibrant future, in
spite of the prominence of convenience foods.
Chez Panisse is the only restaurant on this tour, and it is an expression of James
Beards hopes for American food's future. Alice Waters, the chef and owner of this Berkeley
eatery, has a philosophy about food that marries pleasure, sustainability, and community
with European technique and sensibility. Waters and Chez Panisse celebrate the power of
food to give pleasure, protect the natural world, and build and strengthen human
relationships. This is an expression of the hybrid foodway Beard described in his historical
assessment of American cuisine. The French and the local Californian meet in this open
kitchen and inspire a more thoughtful kind of consumption. The menu changes daily and
centers around local and seasonal items served at their peak. Even the ceramic tableware is
locally made. The restaurant is clean and simple, with oak tables and chairs, red and white-
checkered oilcloth on the tables. The light is warm and white so everything going on in the
kitchen is visible, and a cool breeze blows in off the Bay and mingles with the smells from
the food. At a table near the front window, under a colorful David Goines poster, Alice
Waters presents an indoor picnic including Charcoal-Grilled Chicken Wings with Lemon
and Pepper, a variety of salads, fresh radishes with sweet butter and fresh baked baguettes,
and crunchy anise scented biscotti. Simplicity and seasonality are the most important
aspects of the foods here, and in that way this kitchen is very different from the suburban
kitchens on this tour. These picnic items are among the only correspondences with the
travel menu, and none are processed. Processed foods have no place in this kitchen, and
Waters believes these consumer products dangerously expand the distance between
people, the food they cook and eat, and the natural world.
From a transparent restaurant kitchen, this tour concludes by moving into the
artificial kitchen of a television chef. Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, works in a large
kitchen television set stocked with polished copper pots and utensils, reproduction kitchen
antiques, and other evidence of consumer culture. Sit down in a dark wooden chair around
the long oval dining table tucked into the fake bay window that looks out on a cartoonish
suburban scene. Yellowy gold afternoon light falls through the leaves onto a manicured
lawn. The neighbor's house is just visible through the trees. Even the background of this
television set sends a message about American life, landscapes, and food. Smith shows us
Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, several varieties of barbecue and chili, and he finishes with
spiced pickled peaches. He peppers his instruction with historical anecdotes and
commentary about how little we eat together as American families anymore. He is friendly
in a fake television way, knowledgeable but not pretentious.
American foods fascinate this cook, and the changes that technology and
globalization bring represent sources of both ease and inspiration, and a site of conflict and
loss. American foodways have always been immigrant. They have always represented the
flavors and ingredients of the homelands of diverse peoples. The melting pot of America
combines new world and old world food items, diverse preparation methods, and
preserved and scratch-made foods. Smith shows what we have seen since the start of our
tour: that the exotic and domestic play complementary roles in American foodways, and
that distance between people and food causes social and environmental damage. Smith
shows a suburbanized America.
This fictionalized encounter with both the setting and the character of these
cookbooks facilitate a deeper reading of each. Touring through the cookbooks of the late
twentieth century demonstrates the changes experienced in the relationships between
food and the environment for an increasingly suburbanized population. Over time, this tour
moved from the kitchen to the television studio, illustrating the increasing distance of food
from the natural world and into a commercially commodified environment. Exploring
further, these themes are reinforced by a close analysis of cookbooks as didactic texts, the
rise of processed foods evident in their recipes, and the reflections of the natural world
found in their pages.
Food As a Learning Opportunity
Many of the cookbooks in this set make the assumption that readers already know
how to cook; others begin with the assumption that the reader knows nothing and needs
each step of preparation and serving explained. However, all of these cookbooks encourage
readers to try new things, to experiment, and to learn from their mistakes, and some move
beyond this experimental attitude to emphasize the ability of food to teach families about
everything from polite manners to regional and cultural geography. In this way, cookbooks
directly inform and instruct in the norms and practices of culture as it is lived.
The oldest book in this cohort, At Home on the Range contains both the assumption
that women should be able to read the title of a dish and understand what has to be done,
and advice for women who have no idea what they're doing in the kitchen. In her
instruction for preparing calfs tongue, Potter says, "the title should be sufficient
directions," but she goes on to detail several ways to utilize the water in which a calfs head
boiled, including recipes for Tongue and Mushrooms and Tongue Hash.119 She includes
in her cookbook specific shopping lists and menus, and detailed lists of preparation steps to
save time and maximize productivity in the market and in the kitchen. Encouraging readers
119 Potter, At Home on the Range, 53.
to go their own way and make something special by hand lightens Potter's tone.120
Similarly, Firmins Peggy Put the Kettle On encourages her daughter-in-law, and other
readers, to test their ingenuity in the kitchen. However, she also admonishes Peggy to learn
to cook to please others, not herself.121
The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook explains to readers that dinnertime should be
pleasant, that it is an opportunity to teach children table manners and an openness or
willingness to try new things. "Mealtime is a learning time according to the women of
General Foods Kitchens.122 This advice extends to adults as well, and being open to new
cultures and trying new cuisines as a means for exploring the world features prominently
in the recipes in this cookbook. The authors explain, "a meal can be a lesson in geography,
history, or literature, as well as a new taste experience, and they indicate that knowledge
of foreign foods can improve a home cooks repertoire.123 This theme is repeated in the
Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cookbook, where foods from around the world provide
an adventure from the kitchen.
Learning in the kitchen is not limited to trying new foods; many other cookbooks
introduce readers to new methods of cooking and new tools for doing it. There is interest
from homemakers as well as single urban males in gourmet and epicurean eating. Both The
Playboy Gourmet and Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook encourage readers not
only to try new dishes, but they introduce readers to new equipment and methods for
cooking. Educating consumers about kitchen tools and utensils promotes the purchase and
120 Ibid, 18-24.
121 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 75.
122 Women of General Foods Kitchens, General Foods Kitchens Cookbooks, 11.
use of such devices.
The Playboy Gourmet is an educational book in many respects. There is a
tremendous amount of basic instruction in this cookbook, but it is delivered without any
disapproving indication that the male chef should already know how to buy, prepare, and
serve every food listed inside. The instruction is friendly, almost conspiratorial in tone. The
ingredients for many of these recipes are expensive and must be carefully studied, but
quality and enjoyment are the emphasis of this cookbook. In the section on chops, Mario
describes the relation between man and animal this way: "In deepening this rather one-
sided but nevertheless gratifying relationship between man and beastie, one must first
learn to distinguish between the two best known areas of contact: steaks and chops."124
Mario repeatedly indicates that food animals celebrate their fate, that they are equally
gratified by their relationship to man.
This cookbook encourages a familiarity with the anatomy of food animals, and skill
in their dismemberment. That said, it does not advocate that any of its fine readers go into
livestock ranching or butchery, as that sort of close-to-the-land living interferes with the
pursuit of the good life. The author declares, "any man who splashed catsup or chili sauce
or barbecue sauce over a fine broiled steak is dead to the finer things," indicating that he
has probably already succumbed to the numbing female influences of suburban food.125
Steaks, according to the author, can only be properly prepared by a man who appreciates
the "aggressive art" of cooking over charcoal women can perfect chicken (a food animal
124 Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 69.
425 Ibid, 75.
the author considers an inherently feminine food), but never steak.126 This cookbook also
seeks to educate the urban male about eating in restaurants and fine hotels, how to choose
an excellent cut of meat or the right wine, all in an effort to enjoy the finer things in life and
In a perversely inverse compliment to The Playboy Gourmet where male pleasure is
the driving goal -- The How to Keep Him After You've Caught Him cookbook is less about
learning new things than it is about learning to cook things that please the husband. Staying
organized, creative, and beautiful are the more important lessons for wives in these
By the start of the 1970s, as cultural critique found a voice, the cookbook as a tool for
educating the audience, and challenging the status quo experienced a profound new shift as
well. Diet for a Small Planet is all about the learning opportunity that cooking and eating
represents. Eating habits have meaning in this cookbook, and learning about those
meanings is important in changing the cultural assumptions Americans make about their
food. Diet cookbooks encouraging control of the body and its appetites, especially those
targeting homemakers, were certainly familiar, but Lappe's work challenged American
notions of diet and duty. Like some of its forebears, this cookbook also introduces readers
to many new and perhaps unfamiliar foodstuffs and ideas. Developing a new understanding
of food origins and environmental costs, and learning to take pleasure in a new perspective
on healthy eating, is at the core of this cookbook.
This thread is continued in The Chez Panisse Cookbook. Alice Waters encourages
experimentation and seasonality, and she wants her readers to explore all of the different
126 Ibid, 74.
foodstuffs local to their region. Waters warns her readers that even professional chefs can
get bored without the inspiration and creativity brought to the table by others. Sharing
foods and learning about the foods of others broadens the palette and improves the
experience of dining. Flexibility and creativity are the ways people can grow and learn with
food in this cookbook.
James Beard also sees cooking as an opportunity for learning, both about history
and culture and about cuisine. Beard explains that American cuisine is at a crossroads of
technology and tradition, and learning to make the most of both is what makes a good cook
in Beards opinion. Similarly, Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, returns to the theme of
adventure and travel in the kitchen by exploring cuisines from unfamiliar regions. For
Smith, this sense of adventure is married to the history of food and the creation of an
Many of these cookbooks, especially those published before 1970, have another
didactic purpose. They function to educate consumers about their socially prescribed and
constructed gender role. The cultural conception that women are the primary responsible
party for food (purchase, preparation, service, etc.) in American suburbia (and in American
families generally) is stronger at the beginning of this survey then at the end.
In 1947, Potter explains that the perception by men that a wife has all week to lounge
around but is solely responsible for cooking, preparing, and serving the food, weekdays and
all weekend, is prominent and automatic.127 Spending a summer at the ocean leads to an
imprisoning duty to provide food for family and hordes of hungry guests. Potter complains,
"I spent aproned Saturdays and Sundays in solitary confinement, juggling pots and pans
127 Potter, At Home on the Range, 17.
over the smelly stove," but encourages her reader with the assurance that these
experiences led her to develop a reliable system of planning ahead that frees a woman from
this kind of grief.128 A housewife, in this postwar cookbook, must be frugal and must stretch
the budget, but the food she serves must display creativity and personality through recipes
like Slop Salad.129 Making use of leftovers, and not being wasteful, is a conspicuous theme
in this cookbook. Potter encourages her readers to "go your culinary ways with confidence
and without apology as long as the recipe is followed carefully the first time, and that a
home cook should thereafter "add individual touches unafraid, lightheartedly paying little
attention to my or anyone elses instructions except as they appeal to your particular
That said, Potter also explains that a good wife and mother must sometimes prepare
foods she does not like herself. She uses her own example of tripe, which she "fought a long
but losing battle against until her husbands "hints anent his favorite dish grew so insistent
that it became a question of tripe or divorce, and for a short time it was a difficult
decision.131 The trope that food made well is an important part of a good marriage is a
major theme in this particular book, exemplified by Potters recipe for Sole Turbane
served so perfectly that both cook and husband enjoy "a peaceful dinner table...and a happy
married life.132 This cookbook also contends that the bed and the stove are the most
128 Ibid, 15.
129 Ibid, 93.
130 Ibid, 61.
131 Ibid, 55.
132 Ibid, 69.
important components of a home, and because of their importance Potter advises her
readers, "Dont rush either purchase, for these important articles, like a husband, should
last a lifetime if well selected."133 Food made special, for a special person or occasion, is also
an important component of motherhood and being a wife according to Potter.
Peggy Put the Kettle On shares the notion that women, even inexperienced and fearful
young women, are responsible for the tasks associated with feeding a family. Blanche
Firmin and Peggy are part of a continuum of food and cooking knowledge that is a
complicated skill and also very personal, and something Peggy must master if she wants "to
run a house happily and feed her family well.134
The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook makes a point about the joy women bring to
family meals, the entertainment of their friends, and their service to their communities.135
The starting premise of this cookbook is that women do the food work for a suburban
family, illustrated by the authors assertion that "its a big job. And the wonder of it is that
so many women do it so well, turning out an incredible number of eye-filling, soul-
satisfying meals with skill, imagination, and grace.136 The visual art in the book reinforces
this connection between women and food. There is advice in this cookbook for learning to
be a better grocery shopper, how to create memorable family time, and how best to
impress one's peers with food, from fancy sit-down dinners with the help of a maid to TV
watching parties and buffet service suppers for multiple guests. The authors explain,
133 Ibid, 199.
134 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 13. This demand for a well run home is central to the suburban ideal; it is
also a part of the distance and dissatisfaction of suburban reality.
135 Women of General Foods Kitchens, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, foreword.
436 Ibid, 2.
"marketing may sometimes be a chore, but we suspect that in their heart of hearts, most
women love it and describe the grocery store as an almost magical place full of excitement
and new things to try, and of course, new things to buy.137 Running the house more like a
husband runs his office is pitched to the reader as an alternative to spending all weekend
preparing food for the family. "Be an executive and get others to work for you! is the
advice of the women of General Foods Kitchens, as they explain that children can do much
of the cooking, and that pre-cooked foods can save a homemaker valuable time she can
then spend with her family.138 The question of leftovers and what to do with them in frugal
and creative ways receives brief treatment with the advice to follow two rules, "skip a day
before serving them; and dont let leftovers be mere warmed-overs. You can do a lot better
than that.139 Keeping meals interesting is an important part of successful homemaking,
according to the authors, even for a woman who holds a job outside the home.
The Playboy Gourmet separates mens food from womens food, and regards the food
of suburban home cooks as seriously inferior. Readers are warned in the introduction not
to "bother to leaf through the index in search of blueberry muffins, chicken fricassee or
apple pandowdy. You are not holding the homemakers all-purpose encyclopedia of
cloddish cookery rather, the reader is embarking on a culinary journey in service of the
serious art of gourmet food.140 However, the recipes, instructions, and serving advice in
this cookbook are similar to those in cookbooks targeted at women. There are familiar
137 Ibid, 6.
138 Ibid, 80.
139 Ibid, 44.
140 Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 6.
recipes for canapes, soups, eggs and omelets, pancakes, and pizza. There is no recipe for the
pedestrian blueberry muffins scorned in this book's introduction, but there is a recipe for
rustic, and therefore somehow masculine, blueberry griddlecakes.141
The language is the biggest difference between this cookbook and others. Here, the
language is a blend of professional kitchen and classically trained chef, and that of the
masculinized lifestyle of Playboy magazine. There are few indications in Marios cookbook
that an urban male gourmet operates under a tight or limited budget, and there are no
recipes for using leftovers, but there are recipes for saving time. There a few pictures of the
prepared recipes in this cookbook, but they bear a striking resemblance to the disdained
suburban dishes they are supposed to be so different from. For example, the photograph of
Wiener Schnitzel a la Holstein highlights the fried eggs and lemon wedges that garnish this
garish dish.142 If a bachelor wants to make a great hamburger, he must have "a thorough
orientation in the art of petting."143 This cookbook has a section devoted to casseroles, so
they are not the exclusive bane of suburban home cooks and their families, although the
author associates his casserole recipes with the one-pot dishes of France and Italy, and of
royalty around the world and through time, and not with the busy schedules of
homemakers.144 Mario declares that turkey is curvaceous and wild, where chicken, already
ascribed to female cooking in this work, is "nice and inoffensive" and therefore more
141 Ibid, 31.
142 Ibid, 80. The accompanying photo would not be out of place in Lileks work, and is more 'suburban in its
presentation than the other photographs in this cookbook
143 Ibid, 89.
444 Ibid, 92.
suitable for female cooks.145 But in practice, the recipes for this masculine turkey are
almost identical to the recipes for turkey in women's cookbooks. For example, the recipe
for roast turkey instructs the urban male to stuff the bird with prepared packaged stuffing,
but indicates that using chicken broth to moisten the stuffing will vastly improve its flavor.
Ideas for time and money-saving meals, and howto make leftovers both palatable and
exciting, are also conspicuous in the Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cookbook. The
indication that women are responsible for the food a family eats is clear, but the recipes
offered in this cookbook are supposed to make this easy and fun.
Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook (1966) claims that modern cooking has
no roots in the past. The author explains that modern cooks, assumed to be women, do not
bother making their own soups, salad dressings, or pickles because all of these are
available processed and that saves valuable time for busy homemakers. There are recipes
for party dip made from baby food and for frogs legs, both of which would probably horrify
Thomas Mario. This cookbook also notes, that some families are forgetting what the fresh,
nonprocessed vegetable is like! because "canned and frozen prepared products make
serving vegetables to a family easy.146 This disconnection from food is presented as though
it is a good thing for the homemaker and her family. The recipes in this cookbook are
allegedly popular with readers of the Chicago Tribunes food section, and some of the
recipes are said to even be contributions from men and some from (professional female)
145 Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 101.
146 Church, Mary Meades Modern Homemaker Cookbook, 253.
147 Ibid, 10.
How to Keep Him After You've Caught Him is about using food to please your husband,
and the assumption that women cook the food a family eats is the foundation of this book.
It is clear here that a wife's job is keeping her husband going and making an effort to keep
herself up. Ideas for saving money, budgeting, and meal recycling are present only in the
context of marrying a man who makes very little money in his profession. This cookbook
advocates shifting his mood by modifying a wifes own, rekindling the flame of a stale
marriage with food, coddling a husband with treats, and keeping men and their attention
away from their secretaries and the TV. So important is the woman's role in providing food
in this cookbook that it includes advice for lying and excuses when dinner is late.
The tone toward women, and toward rigid gender roles, softens after 1970. Diet for a
Small Planet makes no mention of women as solely responsible for food preparation. The
responsibility in this cookbook is about eating in more environmentally sound ways. There
is no indication of gender in this cookbook, or in Alice Waters menu collection in The Chez
Panisse Menu Cookbook.
In contrast, James Beards American Cookery is actually nostalgic about women's role
regarding food. The popularity of certain foods at certain times is linked in this cookbook to
housewives interest, but Beard does not indicate that only women are responsible for food
in the American family. Beard is proud to be fond of food from many regions, classes,
ethnicities, and traditions, made by both women and men. Changes in technology and the
popularity of processed foods lead Beard to talk about how few families make their own
pickles and preserves anymore (or eat squirrel), but he indicates an increasing interest in
baking bread at home, and sees this as a sign of hope for the future of American cuisine.
The Frugal Gourmet has a similar approach to the gendered aspect of American food. Jeff
Smith shares stories about women's historical role as food preparers and providers, but
does not indicate that women solely occupy this role in modern (for him, 1980s] America.
Another didactic aspect of these cookbooks is the social importance of food in
community building. Some of these cookbooks consider this a high priority, and others,
specifically The Playboy Gourmet, disregard this aspect altogether. However, all of the
cookbooks in this set share the notion that food supports personal relationships.
Entertaining company with food, and using food as social status tool, is characteristic of the
celebration of affluence in consumerist American culture in the late twentieth century.148
The concept that food plays a role in community formation and maintenance is also a
component, to varying degrees, in each of the cookbooks in the set.
At Home on the Range encourages a housewife to consider food as a means to
personal fame, as favors to others, and as acts of kindness and sympathy better than
flowers. More than beauty contestants or movie stars. Potter is content, through food, to
enjoy a "more lasting fame."149She prides herself in serving thrifty and sophisticated food
guests, and pleasing her family with their favorite dishes. In a similar vein, Peggy Put the
Kettle On contains extensive advice for entertaining and impressing your guests and your
family with food. Firmin also indicates that there are foods that are appropriate for the
family, and different foods that are appropriate for company.150 The introduction explains
that by reading this cookbook and making its recipes, and sharing them with family,
148 Catherine Manton, Fed Up: Women and Food in America. (West Port: Bergin and Garvey, 1999], 75.
149 Potter, At Home on the Range, 114.
150 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 100.
friends, and her community, a woman is "making a personal cook book of [her] own.151
This cookbook also considers a good sauce and good coffee serious accomplishments any
cook can and should be proud of in her community, and urges readers to experience the
joys of sharing homemade jams and pickles with "guests and hear them Oh! And Ah!152
Peggy holds dinner parties, weekend guests, and cocktail parties regularly in addition to
her duties feeding her family every day.
The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook explains that food for entertaining and company
needs to be special; there are different foods for outsiders. According to the women of
General Foods Kitchens, company dinners are "apt to include one or two dishes that are
not everyday family fare, as a pretty compliment to our guests.153 This cookbook also
details many occasions appropriate for sharing food and friendship in the community, from
hostess duties for a local club or church group to preparations of the foods following a
funeral. There are definite differences between what this cookbook considers bridge and
daytime company, or an appropriate luncheon guest list, and the company invited for
dinner.154 Food is both inclusive and exclusive in this cookbook, it builds community and it
isolates the family.
The Playboy Gourmet does not advocate membership in local community groups, and
food is largely presented as a means for personal gratification, though providing party
151 Ibid, 12.
152 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 205.
153 Women of General Foods Kitchens, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 85.
154 Constance Perin, in Belonging in America: Reading Between the Lines (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1988), details the taboo against inviting divorced women to dine with the family at dinner. No such
taboo exists around lunch or cocktails, or for single men. (42)
foods and beverages in a sophisticated and gourmet manner receives extensive treatment.
The end of every section includes a drawing of a naked woman, just to emphasize the point
of cooking for a male urban gourmand. However, this is not so different from the
cookbooks targeted at women that promise a well made and smartly served meal is a solid
start to a long-term relationship.155
The Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cookbook promises that every meal they call
"company dinner worthy is a dish guests will rave over. There are multiple opportunities
in this cookbook for sharing food with company and community, including church suppers,
business dinners, and extended family meals around birthdays and holidays. There are
even a few recipes in here that encourage cooking in front of your company, where A t
Home on the Range specifically advises a hostess against cooking in front of her guests or
allowing guests in the kitchen.156
Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook insists that food can make or break a
culinary reputation for a homemaker within her family and her community. The idea that
food served in the home should be prepared and presented for the pleasure and praise of
others dominates. The recipe for Honeymoon Biscuits promises these breads are "a
modern brides pride.157 Recipes throughout promise guests that are easily fed and readily
pleased. Providing food for others, both family and guests, is a strong trope in this
155 Some writers argue that men were expected to stop cooking after they marry and move out to the suburbs.
This line of thinking does not apply to barbecuing. See Elizabeth Fakazis, Esquire Mans the Kitchenette, in
Gastronomica, 11, no. 3 (Fall 2011]: 29-39, and Tim Miller, 'The Birth of the Patio Daddy-O, in Journal of
American Culture, 33, no. 1 (March 2010]: 5-11.
156 Cooking in front of company is a core component of The Playboy Gourmet and The Chez Panisse Menu
Cookbook. It also appears in General Foods Kitchens Cookbook and is implicit in the Frugal Gourmets
cookbook. This notion that guests should not see the preparation of their food is exclusive, in this collection,
to Margaret Yardley Potter.
157 Church, Mary Meades Modern Homemaker Cookbook, 52.
cookbook. There are fewer indications of specifically family foods and company foods
here. Food for company and food to impress others are also less prominent in How to Keep
Him After You've Caught Him, but they make their appearance on several occasions,
including holiday meals that involve in-laws. The authors concentrate more on the
maintenance of a marriage than on building a place in the community.
This attitude shifts dramatically in Diet for a Small Planet, which sees the changing of
American foodways as the beginning of a new kind of community, and a way for Americans
to reconnect to the natural world. In contrast, James Beard focuses on the historical
connections between people, food, environment, and communities. For Beard, food plays
such an intimate, intricate role in life that food cannot be separated from community. The
foods that communities eat, the foods they share with one another, and the foods that
define communities and regions are important parts of American cuisine. Alice Waters
takes this idea further, believing that food prepared and served in the right/best way
engages everyone at the table and builds relationships. Waters believes in food for special
occasions, and in making occasions special with extraordinary food. The Frugal Gourmet
looks at food as a defining part of communities, but also looks at the way that communities
are changed by foods.
In American suburbia during the period of interest to this investigation, food is a
defining characteristic; it confers a special kind of belonging. Understanding more about
the familiar foods of American suburbs can tell us something more about the culture of
suburbia. Food is a foundational part of community and family, and the differences among
and between the members of these groups with regard to food reflect and reinforce wider
The Rise of Processed Foods
The convenience foods that characterize the consumerist culture of a suburbanizing
nation reflect a growing distance between people and the natural world, and between
communities and the ecosystems that undergird their foodways. In particular, the rise of
highly processed foods is symbolic of this dissociation. Processed foods have a place in each
of the cookbooks in this set, but that place is different in each of these cookbooks, from
timesaving boon to deplorable interference.
In 1947, when Potter released At Home on the Range, television was still a new
medium and largely unknown to the public, and mass advertising for processed foodstuffs
wasn't beamed into every living room every night, so it is unsurprising that the cookbooks
of this era do not reference television. This is not to say that food was not part of
televisions early life in America -- in fact, James Beard was among the first TV chefs, and
his show, I Love to Eat, aired the same year Potter published her cookbook. Radio still
reigned in the U.S. in the late 1940s, and though there were certainly advertisements for
processed foods there as well as in print, it was not to the degree seen once television gains
dominance and technological changes become commonplace.
According to Potter, some convenience foods can ease the burden on a busy
housewife, and incorporating these foodstuffs into homemade dishes is a great advance
over the ways women cooked before their introduction. Other foods, like pickles and
waffles, require homemaking from scratch for best flavor. Potters strongly dismissive
opinion on highly processed meat, unless she (or the home cook) does the processing, is
158 Alan Beardsworth andTeresa Keil, Sociology on the Menu (New York: Routledge, 2003], 73.
also a prominent feature.159
Homemade, unprocessed foods battle for dominance with premade and processed
foods in Peggy Put the Kettle On. Firmin encourages Peggy to make her own rolls and bake
her own cakes, not rely on packaged mixes.160 This cookbook also indicates that the foods
children like are not always the foods that are good for them, and a good wife and mother
needs to employ certain tricks to get children to eat properly. There is a condescending
tone when Firmin writes that it is a pity that Peggys children do not like vegetables in the
letter that begins the section on them.161 Firmin believes that because commercial jams and
pickles are so good, it is no longer necessary for a housewife to know how to make her own,
but she explains that it is a joy for a housewife to share her own handiwork in this way, that
homemade cakes have more personality, and handmade rolls taste better. Firmin does not
reject consumer culture, but she insists that a good homemaker have a greater hand in the
food she serves her family.
The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook urges mothers to coach their children to try
new things, but warns that children will want to eat what they see advertised on television,
and this cookbook pays special attention to the foods that children like. Availability and
seasonality are not issues in this cookbook; in fact, there is a strong notion that everything
available in the supermarket should be tried.162 Processed foods play a significant role in
this collection of recipes -- unsurprising considering that a giant food company published
159 Potter, At Home on the Range, 37.
160 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 23 and 139.
161 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 99.
162 Women of General Foods Kitchens, General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 3.
this book. This is the first cookbook in the set to indicate that foods eaten in front of the TV
are different. Watching the big TV show is a perfectly acceptable occasion for inviting
friends and sharing a meal.
There are no references to television in The Playboy Gourmet, but the notion of
participation in consumerist culture is a major trope in this work. There is a section
devoted to meals made in less than twenty minutes that includes recipes for frogs' legs,
scallops, chicken livers, and veal.163 Most of these recipes are a far cry from the quick meals
prepared for children in suburban homes. While little boys may love the idea of eating
frogs' legs, actually consuming them as a meal is another thing.164 This cookbook considers
these items a delicacy and appropriate only for a sophisticated and educated palette.
There are several familiar pasta recipes that would be perfectly at home in the suburban
kitchen and table, including baked macaroni and lasagna (spelled "lasagne here to
emphasize its cosmopolitan prestige). That other suburban staple, pizza, also merits a
section of its own in this cookbook. There are tools that any urban gourmet needs, just as
suburban home cooks require tools, including French fry cutters, machines for opening
oysters and clams, electric griddles and deep fryers, and a host of other gadgets and time
saving devices. There are fewer processed foods in this cookbook than in some others, but
several make an appearance, including instant pudding, frozen seafood, processed cheese,
and canned vegetables and sauces. In that vein, the Better Homes & Gardens Casserole
Cookbook contains canned, processed, and packaged foods throughout, and insists that
163 Mario, The Playboy Gourmet, 126-127.
164 Other cookbooks in this cohort contain recipes for frogs legs, including the suburban sources Peggy Put
the Kettle On and Mary Meades Modern Homemaker, and the historical source James Beard's American
husbands, children, and guests will love them. Many of the recipes in this book are of the
sort so derided in Marios cookbook.
Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook also includes packaged and frozen soups,
and a tremendous amount of the cooking advocated in this cookbook is actually little more
than opening cans and mixing their contents together over heat. There are recipes for foods
that are touted as great for TV watching. In contrast, How to Keep Him After You've Caught
Him specifically indicates that a marriage in trouble needs to have the television turned
off.165 There are processed foods in this book, and conspicuous consumption, but the
emphasis is on homemade food.
Diet for a Small Planet decries the use of processed foods and attempts to keep them
out of this cookbook. James Beard has fewer problems with processed convenience foods.
He points to the evolution of American cuisine as moving along a continuum from
simplicity to bounty to excess to functionality, and part of that functionality is convenience
foods.166 Beard notes the increasing availability and reduced cost of both chicken and
turkey in America in the early 1970s, but also notes a serious decline in both their quality
and flavor.167 Processed foods, according to Beard, can help even a mediocre cook serve
Alice Waters, who respected and cooked a special meal for James Beard, deeply
165 Kragen and Perry, How to Keep Him, 36.
166 Beard, American Cookery, 6.
167 Ibid, 186.
168 The popularity and cultural acceptance of processed foods is clearly seen in examples like the recipes in
the American Women's Bicentenniai Cookbook that almost all contain highly processed foods, including a
recipe for a dish called 'pheasant deluxe which, according to these authors, was served to Pres. Johnson and
Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin at the Glassboro Summit Conference in 1967, and consists of a mixture of
canned soup and dried soup mix as the deluxe part. (1880J
disagrees with Beards accepting and complacent attitude toward processed and distancing
foods. She believes that processed foods take the connection experience of cooking and
eating away from food. Home-cooked food that consists of largely processed items does not
deliver the experience or connection Waters considers necessary for thoughtful
consumption. There is no mention of television in The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, and
few of the recipes appeal to children (or some adults) raised on a diet of fast food and
suburban staples. The argument that this cultural (mis)conception of food functions in the
continuation of the status quo is subtle, but consistent. Modern critics of industrialized
foodways point to the pernicious mindset characteristic of disconnected suburbanites as a
locus of resistance to changes in both food and environmental policy. Sandra Jane
Fairbanks indicates that the dominant suburban mindset, expressed as "a lack of aesthetic
appreciation of nature on the part of many Americans," arises from the problem that many
Americans "grew up in or currently live in areas of urban or suburban sprawl that typically
are aesthetically unremarkable, and even quite ugly.169 Suburban development, with its
lawns and lack of public spaces, is often remarkable for its monotony and detachment from
both city and the natural world. Waters challenges the disconnections from nature
resulting from these consumerist attitudes and estranged environments through her
restaurant, Chez Panisse, and her community and public school education effort, The Edible
Jeff Smith was a popular and well-known television chef, and while homemade meals
169 Sandra Jane Fairbanks, "Environmental Goodness and the Challenge of American Culture, in Ethics and the
Environment, 15, no. 2 (2010], 93.
170 This incredible program promotes environmental awareness and connection to food and to our own
communities. It is outside the scope of this investigation, but it is among the hopeful signs for change toward
more equitable and sustainable foodways. For more details, see Alice Waters, The Edibie Schooiyard (San
Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008J.
are the focus of his The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American cookbook, many of the recipes
include and promote processed food items. Smiths show, and this cookbook that
repackages it, furthers the disconnection of food and landscapes even as it teaches about
the historical importance of interconnection between people and healthy, diverse
Within this cohort of cookbooks, there are differences in the degree to which recipes
incorporate processed foods, but the distinctions between these cookbooks lie in the
intended audience and whether the cookbook acknowledges alternatives to the status quo.
The rise of and rejection of, as well as capitulation to processed foods is a signifier of the
larger distance between the natural cycles of suburban food and food in the natural world,
particularly where it relates to life and death, seasonality, and the limitations of availability.
Cookbook Cohort and the Narrative
of the Natural World
At the beginning of the cookbook cohort in 1947, Margaret Potter, in At Home on the
Range, has fond memories of the foods she ate growing up and as a young married woman
living a sort of country life and travelling extensively. She recalls the foods that came from
the land and the people around her, and she reconnects to this idea several times
throughout her cookbook. Potter grows or has grown her own food at many levels, and in
her cookbook she advocates the same. She has grown her own vegetables, her own herbs,
and raised and slaughtered her own meat. In her recipe for "old-fashioned Pressed
Chicken, she advises her readers that "the age of the bird does not matter, but "the older,
tougher fellows take longer to cook but seem to give a better flavor to this dish that uses
the skin and bones to make a cold jelly that surrounds the meat when the dish is finished
chilling and turned from its mold.171 The life cycles of animals are familiar to her, and she
consumes meat in a foodway where all the pieces of an animal are ingredients. Her
connection to the foods she has eaten is important to her, and she thinks it should be
important to all young homemakers. Her cookbook contains awareness that food is a living
thing. This deep and intimate connection to food at its origins inspires an ethic against
waste and cupidity that essentially disappears from the cohort until the early 1970s.
This connection to living food from living land leads to distrust on Potters part for
highly processed meat. Potter has seen "a surly steer fattened in the meadow, facing a
patriotic though unmourned death to provide us with meat, and she urges her readers to
utilize a trustworthy butcher.172 "Dont, I beg, buy already ground, unidentified 'hamburg'
from the meat counter. Get top or bottom of the round and have the butcher grind it just
once, under your watchful eye, Potter counsels.173 However, other kinds of convenience
foods have a place in this cookbook. She acknowledges the ubiquity of canned soup and
stock, and indicates that they are acceptable, saying of homemade stock, "nowadays the
contents of the red-and-white cans have taken its place and are almost as good, but
providing a recipe anyway.174 There is seasonality in Potters cookbook and an ethic of
using everything and wasting nothing. There is also an acknowledgement that convenience
171 Potter, At Home on the Range, 37.
172 Ibid, 71.
173 Ibid, 38.
174 Potter, At Home on the Range, 26.
foods are an advance, even if they put distance between the source and the plate.175
By the early 1950s, Firmin's Peggy Put the Kettle On contains fewer ideas about the
connection between the food people eat and the land it comes from, but there is a sense in
this cookbook of the endless bounty of America and what that means for the foods
Americans eat. Mrs. Firmin introduces Peggy to a wide variety of animals and plants, some
of which intimidate Peggy. There is a scolding tone to the letter that opens the section on
fish when Firmin writes, "I was sorry you gave away the fish Uncle Frank brought to you
last weekend. It is too bad the thought of cooking them frightens you.176 Peggy and other
"young wives are then wished the opportunity "to eat fish the ideal way, directly from the
hook to the pan to the plate, though the recipes that follow contain canned cooked seafood
like lobster and shrimp, filleted fish, and canned fish like tuna and salmon.177 Roasting a
turkey from an unprocessed bird is not presented in the same frame -- there are clear
directions for removing the pinfeathers, stuffing the craw, and trussing the bird, and no
indication that Peggy finds this upsetting.178 Peggy receives no advice on growing her own
vegetables or herbs; instead, Mrs. Firmin assures her that "frozen vegetables are Gods own
gift to the busy housewife" and encourages serving at least three vegetables every day.179
175 Gardening, for pleasure and for food, is a demanding occupation. The cookbooks of this cohort have a
range of responses to growing food in a suburban garden, and an investigation focused on this aspect of
cookbooks would provide further critical data in the dialogue about sustainable suburban foodways and
176 Firmin, Peggy Put the Kettle On, 75.
177 Ibid, 75-83. This is another indication that Peggys role as homemaker and wife disconnects her from
herself and the environment she lives in. Even if Peggy does not like something, she must learn to cook and
serve it cheerfully, without thought for where it comes from or her own disgust.
178 Ibid, 33.
179 Ibid, 99.
Origin matters very little, and constraints like seasons are falling away in this recipe
collection that "is food lore at its homiest.180 Blanche Firmins cooking advice is more than
lore, it is a powerful suggestion that creativity must be controlled, and that nature must be
tamed. Endrijonas points to the implicit idea that if readers follow directions there will be
no failure, and consistent pressure to execute a repertoire of familiar and historically
successful recipes with creative touches of experimentation. There is a parallel here with
the suburban conception of the environment and connection with the natural world. The
disconnection is part of tamed nature and distance from origins and processes.181
Through the end of the 1950s, an idea about endless American bounty and
technology, the ability to consume anything in any season, has only grown, appearing again
in the General Foods Kitchen Cookbook from 1959. This work highlights the social and
biological diversity of the United States and its many culinary rewards, so long as they
remain at a comfortable distance from the family. The authors explain, "The marvelously
varied wealth of our fields, orchards, rivers, and oceans has made possible many styles of
cooking. And the even greater variety among ourselves...has given our regional specialties
a similar variety of overtones.182 Picnics and backyard barbecues are prominent events in
this cookbook, along with other occasions to eat outside the home, and this indicates a
generic interest in the tamed natural world at the very least. The flavors of the recipes are
both local and global, reflecting a high degree of mobility and an openness of mind to the
180 Ibid, 12.
181 Endrijonas,"Processed Foods from Scratch, 162.
182 Women of General Foods Kitchens, The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 122-123.
foods and cultures of others, whether from another region or another country.183 The
recipes in this cookbook contain more processed ingredients than either Potter or Firmin
advocate, including instant pudding, frozen vegetables and fruit juices, excessive amounts
of flavored gelatin, prepackaged cake and biscuit mixes, and canned foods from soup to
tortillas. Processed foods are part of living in "hurrying times and being "hurrying people,
and through these prepared and partially prepared foods "it is still possible to provide the
necessary islands of peaceful, enjoyable family living that are traditionally associated with
the table without devoting endless hours to the labor.184
The connection between food and the natural world is more scientific and
mechanistic in 1961s The Playboy Gourmet. The natural history of the animals that
precedes each section of recipes is detailed and accurate, from the animals diet and life
cycle to the creatures historic importance to man and cuisine. This information connects
the gourmet eater to his food, even when that food item bears little resemblance to the
animal it comes from after being cleaned and frozen in the grocery store. This cookbook
also seeks to build a border between the kinds of foods it promotes and the kinds of foods it
considers pedestrian and suburban. In this, Thomas Mario indicates that there is less
distance between a gourmet urban chef and his food than there is between a suburban
homemaker and cook and the food she serves.
The Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cookbook has its own understanding of the
natural world -- ideas about American abundance have not gone away, but there is advice
for growing your own herbs and vegetables, and connecting in some way to the foods that
183 Ibid, 121.
184 Ibid, 1.
one eats. The Better Homes & Gardens Casserole Cookbook also contains some interesting
ideas about the modern new ways people subvert the cycles of the natural world. For
example, there are recipes that include a variety of vegetables with the advice that these
recipes show off the best that Spring has to offer, but then also the comment that these
recipes are easily made in the dead of Winter with frozen vegetables.185 This is also echoed
in Mary Meade's Modern Homemaker Cookbook, which similarly contains recipes for foods
that reflect or represent the natural world.
By 1968, in the How to Keep Him After You've Caught Him Cookbook, there are rather
more disturbing messages about the natural world. The authors encourage their readers to
pray for the extinction of salmon so that's a housewife won't have to make it for her
husband.186 The connection between living things and food is clear, but there is little
respect for it here. The authors mention briefly that a woman who is perpetually "tardy
and therefore reliant on convenience foods, might cultivate "a few pots of fresh herbs so
that if all else fails, you can still fill your kitchen with heavenly wafts of chives and
rosemary."187 Food and maintenance are the cornerstones of this cookbook, whose stated
purpose is finding purpose in suburbia.188 Kragen and Perry remind their readers "that the
most important thing about marriage is your husband...what he does care about is what
goes into his stomach, that you still look like the girl for whom he gave up his precious
bachelor days and that you don't greet him at the gate with an inventory of domestic
185 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 57.
186 Kragen and Perry, How to Keep Him, 6.
187 Ibid, 180.
188 Ibid, ix.
difficulties.189 The environment of suburbia promotes anxiety in this cookbook, and
presents consumerism as an antidote. Products for gourmet food and beauty abound here.
These anxieties are reminiscent of Dean McCoys Sandra in The Love Pool, the suburban
commuter who cannot negotiate the distance between the false ideals of suburbia and the
life (and foodway) she shared with her husband in the city.
In 1971, Frances Moore Lappe published Diet for a Small Planet, which is a direct
challenge to the established paradigm of American eating. It is an environmental cookbook,
in that the purposes of the cookbook are to connect food to the land it grows on, connect
the status quo to waste and pollution, and provide consumers with alternatives that protect
the fragile balance of the earth. Diet for a Small Planet advocates the end of meat eating, and
a social and intellectual revolution spawning a new way of thinking about nutrition and
feeding the world. Lappe explains her own choice to end her family's meat consumption as
an acknowledgement that changing life habits is a challenge. She tells her reader, "the more
we learned about the costliness of meat on so many grounds and the more we discovered
the delicious possibilities of foods we had always neglected, the less important meat
became."190 The high costs she speaks of are clearly articulated in the first half of the book,
which is devoted to educating the reader about the interconnections between people,
animals, plants, and ecosystems. The second half of the book contains recipes comprised of
"complementary proteins and charts for comparison with traditional meat-based meals.
Humans and the environment are inseparable in this cookbook, as is a notion of
environmental equity and social justice. Lappe observed a world of limited agricultural
189 Ibid, x.
190 Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet, 130.
resources and "saw that much agricultural land which might be growing food is being used
instead to grow money, and this realization spawned a deeper understanding of the
impact of foodways.191 Knowledge and understanding are the only way to change the
established paradigm of American food, and before she had them, Lappe felt that "food,
instead of being my most direct link with the nurturing earth, had become mere
merchandise by which I fulfilled my role as a good consumer.192 For Lappe, escaping the
consumer culture cycle means intelligent and conscious eating through informed choices.
James Beards American Cookery is also concerned with the connection between
people, the food they eat, and the environment. Beard celebrates the familiar idea of
American bounty, based in tremendous biodiversity, but acknowledges the toll that
progress and pollution have taken on the environment and the products of the soil and
seas. American cuisine represents generations of change, and tracing recipes through time
delivers Beard to the conclusion that "American cookery is at a crossroads somewhere
between technology and tradition.193 He remarks on convenience foods and the
accomplishments they afford an uninspired home cook, but his attention, and hope, centers
on a renewed interest in homemade foods with sophisticated foreign twists and traditional
American influences -- what he calls "American bounty through foreign variations.194 He
notes a growing trend in organic gardening and health foods, but also decries the reduced
quality of fruits and vegetables because of year-round availability, and the reduced quality
of meat following increased availability. Beards cookbook also points to a reduced supply
191 Ibid, xiii.
192 Ibid, xiv.
193 Beard, American Cookery, 3.
194 Ibid, 5.
of wild mushrooms with the disappearance of wilderness, the disappearance of older
varieties of apples, and the loss of the American chestnut. There is a wide variety of plant
and animal life presented as delicious foods here, including recipes for squirrel and wild
weeds. Food and the land are deeply interconnected in this cookbook.
Alice Waters cookbook, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, is a story about the way
Waters personally connects to food, and the kinds of foods she strives to serve in her
restaurant. She is a professional chef and an epicure who pays attention to the origins and
costs of food. Waters feels that, "We as a nation are so removed from any real involvement
the food we buy, cook, and consume. We have become alienated by the frozen and
hygienically sealed foods.195 She fondly recalls tasting fresh foods from her parents
garden as a child, and this idea of growing up eating fresh foods left an indelible mark on
her palette. She worries about the American children raised in such an alienated foodway
"who will not remember or never know the taste of real food, and she intends her
cookbook and her restaurant as an example that another foodway is both possible and
more pleasurable.196 A mechanized industrial foodway cannot deliver the quality or the
experience that comes from handcrafted foods gathered and prepared from locally
available ingredients. Waters cares deeply about seasonality, and eating with the seasons
and experimenting with natural bounty are the constant message of this cookbook.
Maintaining a home garden, of any size, makes quality and variety less of a challenge than
shopping for fresh, high quality herbs and produce. Waters explains that growing some
195 Waters, The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, 3.
196 Ibid, 3.