Histories of American Foodways
Annual Meeting of the Historians in the German Association of American Studies 2015
Eating right has become a tough challenge in modern America. Every day, Americans face a vast number of food choices, from gene-modified corn and processed lasagna to locally grown vegetables, organic meat and homemade jam. These foodstuffs are produced and sold in a myriad of places, from suburban superstores to the neighborhood’s farmer’s market, from basement food courts to fancy rooftop restaurants. Yet, the American foodscape is even richer than that: It is also a patchwork of traditional and ethnic foodstyles in a society that is local and global at the same time and looks back on a long history of migration, encounter and exchange. Consumers’ choices depend on their cultural traditions, their wealth, their gender, race, age and religion, the status of their health and many other factors. Choosing “right” demands knowledge about personal preferences, the tastes and origins of foodstuffs, their nutritional value, the pleasures and the dangers they provide for individual bodies and the nation.
“Food is good to think with,” French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss pointed out half a century ago. And it is also good to study and write history with. Food provides a variety of paths to the values and structures, patterns, politics and power structures, conflicts and choices of a society. Also, it is the ubiquity and everydayness of eating, which make understanding the history of American foodways so important. Within the recent two decades, food has become a booming topic of historical inquiry on America. Food has been explored in its importance for the colonization processes from the first encounters between Europeans and Americans to the highly globalized world of the 21st century. Both European and American diets looked different before Columbus sailed to America. Historians have also studied food’s relationship to industrialization, with the many changes in processes of food production, allocation and marketing. They have looked at the related transformations of the American diet, the emergence of home economics and nutritional thinking and the changing fears and promises related to various kinds of food, substances and bodies. The historical study of American regional foods and of America’s ethnic foodways and how they relate to the history of immigration and identity has also been an important field of research lately. Furthermore, scholars have studied the histories of various substances and foodstuffs, from vitamins to meat and Iceberg lettuce, and how their production and consumption changed neighborhoods, cities, regions or the whole nation, its taste, technology, and transportation networks. Other research has addressed the moral meanings of foodstuffs, the history of dieting and fasting and the current “obesity crisis” and its meanings for America in the world.
The conference will explore “Histories of American Foodways” in five panels, covering a wide range of topics. Invited keynote speakers will be internationally renowned food historians Prof. Charlotte Biltekoff (UC Davis) and Prof. Bryant Simon (Temple University).
Please register for the conference until January 31, 2015 by sending an email to Maria.Matthes@uni-erfurt.de
Conference fee including board is € 48,50, to be paid at the conference site. For room reservations please get in touch with the Augustinerkloster at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating DGfA in the subject heading.