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I'm looking for a book about American food

I recently read Patric Kuh's book, "The Last Days of Haute Cuisine," and I also read "American Food" by Evan Jones. They were good, but now my curiosity has taken another direction.

I'm looking for a book that gives a history of how American food evolved. I'm not primarily interested in regional differences, but rather how Americans developed a taste for Cheeze Whiz and Wonder Bread, and yet can mainstream something that was once considered "exotic", such as quiche or bruschetta. There are so many choices in the average American supermarket, from really good produce to terrible processed junk, all in the same place. I'm curious why the good food hasn't overtaken the bad, sort of a culinary "survival of the fittest."

What got me thinking about this is that I come from a family of excellent Italian cooks who can create stunning dishes from the Old Country, and yet think nothing of doing a jello-and-cool-whip dessert, or a Turkey Noodle Bake with canned mushroom soup.

I've also noticed that mainstream magazines such as Woman's Day and Ladies Home Journal now carry recipes that 20 years ago would have been too "ethnic" or too exotic for the average American.

So are there any books out there that can satisfy my craving for a good history on American food in its best and worst forms?

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    1. James Beard's The American Cookery, gives traditional recipes along with how they developed.

      1. Leslie Brenner, now of the L.A. Times, wrote this book "American Appetite" some years ago which might fill the bill.

        1. An American Place, by Larry Forgione. Here is a link to a pretty cool website that features historic American cookbooks. http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/c...

                1. re: mudster

                  Yes, this is a great suggestion.

                2. Dig up different editions of Fannie Farmer, there's about a dozen or so starting from the original Boston cookbook in 1896.

                  1. Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad and Something from the Oven has a lot on this. I really enjoyed these books.

                    1. Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America by Harvey Levenstein talks about American eating habits from 1930 - 1990. He focuses a lot on how government, the food industry, and medicine shaped what Americans ate.

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                      1. I also agree with the United States of Arugula. This one was also interesting -- I picked it up from the library a while back: Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food. It not only tells how the fictional character was developed (did you know she used to have a radio show?), but gives a lot of insight into how processed food became so ubiquitous.

                        1. I doubt there's a single book that covers all of what you're talking about, but "Fast Food Nation," by Eric Schlosser, documents the history of the fast food model, and "The Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan, also goes into the history of why and how we came to eat (or at least to have the food choices) that we do.

                          1. Two good ones, Sylvia Lovegren's Fashionable Food: 7 Decades of Food Fads and Jean Anderson's American Century Cookbook. And I second anything by Laura Shapiro. Betty Fussell also has done some great work, altho her books tend to the particular rather than the general. Of course, you could always spring for the double folio volume Oxford Encylopedia of American Cooking! Paradox of Plenty is also excellent, if a bit technical, but full of very good research.

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                            1. re: MontanaMay

                              "American Gourmet" by Jane and Michael Stern. The Sterns have made a career out of studying our way of eating, and although some of their books are very specific, this one might give you a more general overview. It is also filled will entertaining retro illustrations and the histories behind the "classic" recipes.

                            2. The Warmest Room in the House by Steven Gdula, how the kitchen became the heart of the twentieth century american home. I have not finished it yet but it fits with what your looking for. I have come to find that in the beggining of the packaged food revolution these things were considered fancy and even chi-chi. Now I think we are so over saturated with them that we have to go back to the basics to have any sense of pride in what were cooking. I also really like the Time Life Series of books that came out in the seventies called American Cooking it is broken up into regions and has an immense amount of history contained in the volume.