Our History in Food

Book cover for The Complete Jello Recipe BookI am slightly obsessed with vintage cookbooks. I frequent the Friends of the Library book sales to see what old cookbooks they’ve acquired, so I was pretty excited when I stumbled across St. Louis Public Library’s online exhibit featuring culinary history in the area. To celebrate this theme, they’ve created a beautiful website showcasing several vintage cookbook covers and even scanned a few recipes from these books. You can also find vintage menus from historic St. Louis restaurants like Bevo Mill and the River Queen floating restaurant. If you’re inspired to learn more about the history of food, check out some of these books in DBRL’s collection.

Book cover for A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William SitwellA History of Food in 100 Recipes” by Willam Sitwell.
This historical book is formatted like a cookbook with each chapter beginning with a recipe, most of which you can attempt to cook at home. Each recipe moves the reader forward in time to tell the history of cooking (from a Western perspective). Starting with an Ancient Egyptian bread recipe from around 1950 BC, this book takes us through royalty, colonialism, the world wars, Rice Krispie Treats and up to more recent food history, including Julia Child, Jamie Oliver and contemporary modernist cuisine. “A History of Food in 100 Recipes” will give you a primer on historical recipes, as well as the history of important chefs in the US and England.

Book cover for Breakfast: A HistoryBreakfast: A History” by Heather Arndt Anderson.
Eggs, bacon and coffee may be the first things that come to mind when you hear breakfast, but the first meal of the day actually has a much more complex history. This book focuses on how breakfast in America (and England) has evolved and briefly mentions how breakfast is viewed in other cultures. Learn how Kellogg’s changed the way we think about this meal, why an “astronaut breakfast” consists of steak and eggs and how Poptarts came into existence.

Book cover for In Meat we Trust by Maureen OgleIn Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America” by Maureen Ogle.
Chances are that fast food hamburger on your table didn’t come from a nice loving family farm on the outskirts of town – the story of how it got to your table is much longer. “In Meat We Trust” is a straightforward look at cultural dynamics of meat in the US from the time of European settlement. In Europe in the 1700s, meat was a luxury which people ate about once a week on average. At the same time, the poorest US citizens were eating about 200 pounds a year! From ranches to feedlots to the current standoff between organic farming and factory farms, this book will get you up to speed on how meat has shaped American culture and how we’ve shaped the meat industry.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan.
This book is not directly about the history of food, but rather breaks our culinary habits down to the basic elements we use to transform food: fire, water, air and earth. That being said, it does take us back to earlier ways (various groups of) humans prepared food. Instead of buying cheese or beer or bread, Pollan makes these items from scratch in an attempt to discover what these acts mean to society. “Cooked” is an interesting search through food history to reclaim our eating habits from corporations and to rediscover the sociological implications of preparing food.

Bon appétit!

About Katie

Artist, novice gardener, bicycle enthusiast. Look for me at the Columbia Library Branch!
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