Radio Readers BookByte: Food and Privilege

Aug 21, 2017

Women in the workforce may have changed some of the food customs and preferences in the U.S.
Credit Northeast Fisheries Science Center / NOAA

I am Meagan Zampieri from Norton, Kansas and I have a confession.  I’m trying to lose weight. The program I enrolled in five months ago has successfully (so far) taught me a level of care in choosing my food that I had not, in many years, been taking.  Perhaps it is a poor choice for me right now to be reading The Food of a Younger Land , the first book in this, our Radio Readers Fall Read – Food and Story.

The book is essentially 400 pages of comfort food recipes, or perhaps it is a re-education itself in how far away I, as an American, moved from so much I do.

In my world, my childhood, I was taught where food comes from, how it’s made. I had to know what was in every item placed on the table because, it seemed, everyone in my family was allergic to something: eggs, poultry, dairy, tomatoes, melons, pecans, black walnuts, strawberries...

My mother couldn’t eat at most family events once she discovered a complete intolerance to meat, including its broth and its gelatin. I spent a week traveling with a colleague who is lactose intolerant. Not a single waiter or waitress we encountered knew off the tops of their heads whether the food in their restaurants would make her sick.

So, in my weight loss journey, as I learn to eat only what my body wants and needs, I am reading this book. I understand how we could have lost recipes over the course of several centuries and across continents—but in only 80 years?? The people who taught me to cook were alive, were crafting their own recipes when the Federal Writers’ Project was collecting these stories. These were the creators of our comfort foods.

Women at the Wright Biscuit factory
Credit Wikipedia

What happened? Was it the joining of women to the workforce that created the necessity of ready-made, shelf-stable pot roast and mac n' cheese, or did the creation of such create the opportunity to do so? When did a recipe meant to serve 12 begin to serve only 8? When did our dinner plate become a salad plate and our platters become our dinner plates?

I’m afraid Food of a Younger Land doesn’t have any of these answers, nor do I think it should. It’s a collection of essays and recipes, a few short stories and caricatures. But I wonder… If we had to spend as much time preserving, preparing, and cooking the food we eat now as we did then, would our country be in the obesity epidemic that we are in?

Maybe it’s time for a new America Eats…

A Disclaimer: I fully understand that my position on the issue of the food I eat is one of several privileges. First, I work only one job, which affords me a comfortable living and lots of free time. Second, I was early taught many home economic skills and was given the time and space to practice, only rarely having to eat my failures. Third, and maybe most importantly, if my local grocer does not have what I want, I have the means in money and time to obtain it. I understand that much of this is borne out of my race and the race of my ancestors who were similarly privileged.