[Sca-cooks] OOP: America Eats!

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Mon Aug 24 04:42:51 PDT 2009

On Aug 24, 2009, at 12:19 AM, lilinah at earthlink.net wrote:

> "America Eats!" is about the work of a group of WPA Federal Writers'  
> Project members - including Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison, and Nelson  
> Algren - sent by the government to document American culinary  
> culture - which is really homely (in its best sense), jes' plain,  
> local and regional food.
> The project was never published. Pat Willard, the author of this  
> book heard about it, got ahold of the unpublished manuscript, and  
> travelled around the US to see what was being cooked today compared  
> to the 1930s. She includes some of the original articles along with  
> her own writing and some recipes, accompanying her text with  
> pictures by WPA photographers - including Dorothea Lange and Ben  
> Shahn.
> I so excited i was awarded this book and i'm looking forward to  
> reading it very much!

It sounds like you're in for a good time! I just recently finished  
Mark Kurlansky's "The Food Of A Younger Land", which is sort of the  
Good Parts Version of that same WPA Federal Writers' Project analysis  
of eating in America. It refers repeatedly to the unpublished "America  
Eats" manuscripts as well...

Some of the information is available elsewhere, and won't come as a  
shock to any serious food history student, but a lot of it is probably  
new to many. I was especially interested in both the world of fast  
food in a pre-McDonald's America (lots of info on the Secret Language  
of Short Order Cooks and Soda Jerks, for example), and some of the  
accounts of various organized, semi-professional communal meals, such  
as barbecues, clambakes, chitlin' fries, etc. (surprisingly absent  
from Kurlansky's book, anyway, were references to the political  
beefsteak fundraiser, mostly a New York City and North New Jersey  
phenomenon, apparently). We wouldn't know anything about, or have any  
interest in, getting a couple of hundred people together in an open  
space and setting up a massive meal, would we?

I remember being a bit thrown by the fact that some of the speech of  
the people being interviewed is recorded by the writers in various  
attempts at dialect, some of which is pretty unbelievable. But I get  
the impression this was not uncommon, even in straight newspaper  
reporting, up to the 1940's or '50's.


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

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