Explorations: American Cookery


  1. It is obvious from Simmons that our American ancestors did not find their meat wrapped in individual portions in a special refrigerated section of their food stores. Consider that for most of man’s time on earth, we existed long before supermarkets (a recent and perhaps problematic phenomenon). Summarize the diet of a person living in the U.S. at the end of the 18th Century. How does it differ from yours? How would preparing a meal differ then from today? What resources would you need to prepare an 18th Century meal? (You might look up examples of 18th Century houses and kitchens).
  2. How did a typical 18th Century person obtain food for dinner? Why does Simmons spend so much time and detail discussing how to prepare turtles for the dinner table? When was the last time you ate a turtle?
  3. In Twenty-First Century America our experience of food, especially meat, differs from other cultures around the world. Why do we eat certain animals in America, while other animals occupy a special relationship to us, even becoming part of the family? Find examples of cultures and countries that eat very different foods from the American diet. Why do they eat what they do?
  4. Food, as I have note, is rooted in and helps to create individual cultures. It is situated geographically, temporally, and culturally. Read through Simmons’ cookbook: give a recipe example. Get a contemporary American cookbook (you might consider the Joy of Cooking) and find a recipe with a similar main ingredient. What do the two recipes share in common; where do they differ? How do you account for the differences? The effort required to obtain and prepare food will differ vastly, as was the technology used. You might look for several recipes that share common ingredients: explore and write about the patterns you see emerging in what and how Americans ate in the 18th and 21st centuries. Who had the healthier diet, and why?
  5. Use Pollan (and/or Singer) to analyze the perspective on food exemplified in Simmons’ book. How has our attitude towards food, especially food animals changed? Michael Pollan claims that Americans have a collective eating disorder based on what and how we eat.

Visit the following site:  http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20090323/7-rules-for-eating#1. It describes a talk Pollan gave to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and summarizes his seven healthy eating. For example, Rule #7 (don’t eat food where you buy your gasoline) is both funny and true, but it clearly would not apply to the 18th Century. You might want to create an 18th century version (Don’t buy food where you shoe your horse?). Review Pollan’s other suggestions. Use them to analyze your eating habits and the habits of people you know. You might want to keep a food diary for a week and then analyze what you ate at home and elsewhere (no cheating!). Use Pollan as a lens to analyze, based on the 18th Century guide, what and how Americans ate in 1796. Again, I ask, who more closely follows Pollan‘s rules for healthy eating: 18th or 21st Century Americans?