Why the Food Movement Should Focus on Trade Organizations

This guest post is published around the American Society for Environmental History conference in Riverside, occurring March 14-18, 2018. #ASEH2018

by Anna Zeide, author of Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry

In the last six months, as reported by Politico and NPR, many major food companies—such as Campbell Soup, Mars, Tyson, Hershey’s, Cargill—have bowed out of the ranks of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, signaling a huge shift in how the food industry does business. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is the sort of body that is way more important on the production side than most consumers are aware of. You may not have heard of it, but it has heard of you. That is, the GMA works endlessly behind the scenes to influence consumer choices and to get all of us to buy more processed food. Much of the power of the food industry comes from its ability to band together to influence legislation, resist regulation, and set agendas that benefit a broad range of companies. For the past decade, and, in a different form, for more than a century, it has been the GMA that has been that consolidated voice of power.

The GMA was born in 2007, when the similarly-named Grocery Manufacturers of America joined with the Food Products Association to create an unprecedented force in the world of food. Before that, though, both groups had existed as independent organizations for a full century beforehand. Both trace their origins to those heady days after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, when industrial manufacturers recognized a need for more formal organization in the face of federal intervention in food production. The Grocery Manufacturers of America formed in 1908 under that same name, which they carried proudly until the 2007 merger. The Food Products Association, however, began under a different time, back in 1907: the National Canners Association. As I write in my new book, Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry, it is with this body of organized canners where the broader story of industrial food really begins.

From its inception, the National Canners Association (NCA) was a pioneer in many of the foundational elements of the modern food industry. The NCA formed among the earliest scientific research laboratories in the food industry in 1913, investigating agricultural production, bacterial contamination, and food safety outbreaks. In so doing, they helped seal the marriage between science and food industry. Later, in 1927, they formally established the NCA Publicity Bureau, which devoted itself to marketing and advertising canned products to a sometimes-reluctant consuming public. The Publicity Bureau commissioned pro-canning works from celebrity chefs, lobbied newspapers to retract stories that blamed canned foods for cases of food poisoning, and published free promotional cookbooks to encourage housewives to embrace canned foods. Beginning as early as the 1930s, the NCA began to get more directly involved in using its leverage to resist government regulation, and to lobby the federal government for more industry-friendly policies. These strategies intensified in the 1970s, culminating in a name change to the National Food Processors Association in 1978 (and later to the Food Products Association in 2005).

By the time this body became the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2007, it was a behemoth, with more than 300 member-companies, representing nearly all the major brand names in America.

Throughout all of it, though, even as the NCA grew in reach and strength, it always remained particular attuned to and concerned about one particular group: its consumers. The desire to win over consumers has driven this large trade organization from the very beginning.

The defection of some of GMA’s largest members in recent months, then, should not be dismissed as insider politics without larger ramifications for consumers or for the food movement. No, the weakening of this group that has been the foundation of the food industry for over a century means that there is significant space for consumers to voice their concerns even more forcefully. Throughout its history, it has been in moments of weakness that the food industry has been most willing to change its ways in response to consumer concern.

In this moment we must recognize and take advantage of these shifting sands of the industry’s fortune to make our calls for healthier food and a more transparent food system heard.

Anna Zeide is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice at Oklahoma State University, where her research, teaching, and community activism focus on food and food systems.

Untold Histories of San Francisco’s Restaurant Landscape 

The latest issue of California History, guest edited by Leonard Schmieding (Georgetown University) and Shana Klein (Georgetown University), explores the surprisingly untold histories of San Francisco’s restaurant landscape in the twentieth century. The following is an excerpt from the guest editors’ introduction, which is freely available at ch.ucpress.edu, along with the rest of the issue, until February 21.

“This is how watermelons grow in California.” Cover of California History Vol. 94, No. 4.

Since the Gold Rush, in 1849, San Francisco has always been known as a food city. In the beginning, San Franciscans imported canned goods from all over the globe in order to feed the population of gold miners, and soon after, local agriculture demonstrated that farmers could grow anything—bigger and better, as they were proud to brag, than anywhere else in the United States. With the completion of the transcontinental railway system, San Francisco could export its Northern Californian abundance to the rest of the country and established its great reputation as a culinary paradise. While San Francisco foodways reached the Midwest, the South, and the East Coast, its immigrant populations changed these foodways. For example, Italians, who controlled the city’s farmers markets and dominated the local agriculture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, exposed San Franciscans to a great variety of produce. Chinese played an important role in distributing the produce by buying large quantities at the markets and then carrying them up the steep hills of the city to sell them to residents who did not go down to the markets. Furthermore, immigrant chefs in hotels and restaurants started using seasonal produce for their dishes and coined the term San Francisco cuisine—with Austrian immigrant Victor Hirtzler, chef at the St. Francis Hotel, becoming most famous for his cookbook of California cuisine. A number of dishes like Crab Louie, Cioppino, and also various versions of Pacific abalone were thus made into San Francisco signature dishes.

One major component of San Francisco’s culinary signature could be found in the city’s bohemian culture, which in turn consisted of the desire to eat both cosmopolitan and affordable meals. In their quest for exotic and filling meals, bohemians like Clarence Edwords scoured the local landscape of restaurants and found them in French, Japanese, Chinese, German, Italian, and other ethnic eateries. In view of San Francisco’s reputation as a food city, as a home for bohemians, and as a cosmopolitan metropolis on the Pacific coast, the lack of food historical studies of the city’s restaurant landscape is surprising. This special issue therefore intends to shed more light on San Francisco’s German, Chinese, and Indian restaurants in the course of the twentieth century.

Inside the issue

San Francisco Cuisines: Global Flows in the Food City of the West
Leonard Schmieding, Shana Klein

Johnny Kan: The Untold Story of Chinatown’s Greatest Culinary Ambassador
April Chan

Chinese and Indian Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1960s
Laresh Jayasanker

German Restaurants in San Francisco in the Wake of World War I
Leonard Schmieding

Public History: Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA 
Stephanie Narrow

Book Review: Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community by Marne L. Campbell
Michael Slaughter

Book Review: Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom by Mireya Loza
Frank Barajas

CALL FOR PAPERS: California History, the premier journal of historical writing on California and the West, invites papers for review and possible publication. Click here for more information about submitting your article.

A History of Cookbooks: American Cookbooks and National Identity

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverIn 1776, many years before the aforementioned European nations started to fight for independence, a new independent country had been created in North America: the United States. After the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War, a growing national consciousness was observed among the inhabitants of the nascent state. This new patriotism was strengthened by new national symbols; before the turn of the century, the United States had a flag, the Great Seal, and a national bird, the bald eagle. The first cookbook written by an American is also from this period: American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, was published in 1796. The subtitle claimed that the book was “adapted to this country.” There are recipes for Independence Cake and Federal Pan Cake, but more important is the use of indigenous foodstuffs, such as corn, squash, and Jerusalem artichoke.

The language of the book has many interesting features. For example, it introduced several Americanisms that had not yet been referred to in American dictionaries. One of them was “slapjack” (a corn pancake), a word probably based on a misreading of the English “flapjack”; at the time, the f and the long s (∫) were very similar in print. The book was also the first to use two words borrowed from Dutch: “cookey,” from the Dutch koekje, used for what English cookbooks called “little cakes,” and “slaw” from the Dutch sla, meaning “salad.”

The author—of whom we know nothing more than we can read in the book—presented herself on the title page as “An American Orphan.” Why did she give this peculiar biographical information? Some scholars have interpreted it as a national metaphor. The author had to support herself without any help from a parent, just as the United States needed to survive without England. If this interpretation is correct, the book is an even stronger proof of national attitudes.

It should be mentioned that not all the recipes in Simmons’s book are American. She included traditional English recipes, many of them taken verbatim from English books. But the American recipes in Simmons’s book were noticed by both readers and publishers; in the following years, new editions of old English books were printed with the addition of American recipes, many of them taken directly from American Cookery. The title of her book also heralded a period when the American angle was emphasized. In the years leading up to the Civil War, more than twenty cookbooks used the word “American” in their titles: for example, The American Housewife, American Domestic Cookery, American Receipt Book, and Modern American Cookery.

The United States was a society dominated by immigrants from many European countries, and one of the characteristics of cookbook publishing, like other fields of publishing, was the high number of books in languages other than English. The first French cookbook in the United States was published in 1840, the first Spanish in 1845, and the first German (Pennsylvania Dutch) in 1848, and they were followed by cookbooks in Italian, Yiddish, and Scandinavian languages, mirroring the country’s different immigrant groups. Some of the books were printed in two languages—for example, Yiddish and English, or French and English.

Most cookbooks in foreign languages catered to large immigrant groups who wanted to preserve their culinary heritage, but there were also foreign-language cookbooks with a very different intention. A particular genre consisted of works with recipes written in two parallel columns, one in American English and the other in Danish, Swedish, or Finnish. They were meant to help American housewives communicate with their Scandinavian servants—of which there were a large number in the United States around 1900. The housewife would point out the dish she wanted prepared (the dishes in these books were American, not Scandinavian), and the servant would then use the cookbook as a manual for cooking in addition to as a textbook for the English language.

Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.

A History of Cookbooks: Recipes in Verse

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverDidactic works in verse go back to Hesiod’s Works and Days, written around 700 BCE, and are found in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Several versions of Regimen sanitatis were circulated in verse starting in the thirteenth century, many of them written in a Latin close to the vernacular Italian. In England, there were John Russel’s treatise on household duties, The Boke of Nurture (ca. 1460), and Thomas Tusser’s A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry (1557). According to the German scholar Bernhard Dietrich Haage, the bound form is used in practical literature as a mnemonic aid, but it might also have been used to give material an aesthetic value.

Several early cookbooks open with a verse, either written by the author to serve as a preface or written by someone else as a recommendation for the book, but there are also examples of rhymed recipes from the fifteenth century in German and English manuscripts. According to the historian Hans Wiswe, however, one of the German recipes is “a humorous Intermezzo in a book that is otherwise so matter-of-fact.” This can be explained by what Haage said about versification of practical literature for the upper levels of society: “It is mainly for fun” (Aus reinen Spieltrieb).

There is a long tradition in European literature of verses about food, often with a comic or playful element, and the humor is quite obvious in the collections of rhymed recipes (“poetic cookbooks”) from the eighteenth century onward. The first of these books was the French Festin joyeux, printed in 1738. One of the recipes is for perdreaux aux écrévisses (partridges with crawfish) and it starts like this:

First you cook everything well,

And mix with a light ragoût,

Add sweetbreads and truffles too,

And let cockscombs and champignons swell.

Typical for the recipes in this book is that they can be sung, as they were written to well-known tunes from light and popular music genres. Referring to himself as a cook, the alleged author made excuses for the bad rhymes in his verses, which he said were certainly not as Scarron would have written them. By referring to the seventeenth-century burlesque poet Paul Scarron, the suspicion is strengthened that the verses belong to the century before the book was printed, and it has been suggested that the real author was the aristocrat Louis de Béchameil, although this has not been confirmed.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, French, German, Spanish, American, Danish, and Norwegian books of recipes in verse were published. A Norwegian book from 1833 versified the recipes of the first printed cookbook in Norway, published only two years earlier, and the verses were written to melodies used for national anthems, drinking songs, and hymns. By using tunes for hymns in these merry songs, the author, a church warden and rebellious publicist, did the opposite of men such as Martin Luther and William Booth, who wrote religious hymns to popular, secular melodies.

Were these recipes intended to be used to help in the kitchen? Some of them did in fact emphasize that that was the basic idea. The Danish Kogebog for musikalske husmødre (Cookbook for musical housewives) professed in verse in the preface:

The housewife now can cook her meat

While singing from a music sheet.

But in spite of the declared intentions, these books were probably made more to amuse readers than to instruct them. Most of the verses were rather amateurish, with clumsy rhymes and hobbling rhythms, and could not hope for a glorious afterlife in the history of literature. There are, however, recipe poems that were written by authors with acknowledged literary qualities. They followed the same chronological progression as the ordinary recipes, giving step-by-step instructions, but they added aspects and elements that were generally absent in cookbooks. Here follow five examples in five languages and from different literary contexts.

The first was by a representative of Polish romanticism, Adam Mickiewicz, who in his epic poem Pan Tadeusz actually used a 1682 cookbook to describe an old Polish dinner. But he also gave, as part of his description of old national traditions, the “recipe” for bigos, a dish still popular in Poland. He admitted that words and rhymes—he used thirteen syllable lines with caesura and rhymed couplets—were not sufficient to transmit a real appreciation of “the most wonderful flavor, the smell and the color.” He listed the ingredients of the dish—good vegetables, chopped sauerkraut, morsels of meat—and explained that they should all be simmered in a pot. But he did not follow the traditional recipe form; his recipe is a narrative told in the third person and without the particular verbal forms indicating a request.

Other writers, however, chose the imperative. The French dramatist Edmond Rostand included in his most famous play, Cyrano de Bergerac, a scene where the protagonist’s friend, the rôtisseur and pâtissier Ragueneau, proudly declares that he has versified a recipe: “J’ai mis une recette en vers.” The recipe is for tartelettes amandines and is written in a light, elegant poetic form that plays with the rhymes and rhythm, making it very difficult to translate.

While Rostand kept the imperatives in the second-person plural, which was typical of most French culinary recipes at that time, the Argentine-born Spaniard Ventura de la Vega—who wrote many occasional poems—chose the first-person singular when he described his method of making garlic soup, sopa de ajo. The Voltaire-admirer-turned-Catholic paid tribute to the soup as a dish for Lent, but he also declared it the basis of the Castilian diet. The personal tone in the poem creates an atmosphere similar to the one in Pablo Neruda’s Odas elementales (which is about tomatoes, potatoes, and other foodstuffs), combining the solemn and the ordinary: In a casserole, boil salt, pepper, and small bits of bread in olive oil, and in this swelling mixture, “I will hide two well-peeled cloves of Spanish garlic.” Instead of Neruda’s free verse, Vega chose the bound form, and the Spanish composer José María Cásares later composed music for it. The text and the notes were printed in Angel Muro’s original cookbook, El practicón (1894).

Another original and much praised cookbook, Modern Cookery, by Eliza Acton, included a recipe in rhymed verse in the 1855 edition. In a note, Acton wrote that this was the first time the poem was printed, after it had been circulated among the friends of the author, the poetic reverend Sidney Smith. But in contrast to the serious, almost religious tone in Vega’s verse, Smith’s poem is filled with the light-hearted humor he was famous for. The ingredients for his salad dressing are enumerated with the common imperatives, but they are not always used in the traditional manner: “Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,” he instructed readers in one line, and in another, he told them to add “a magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.” He even resorted to alliteration: “Of mordant mustard add a simple spoon.” And then he expressed his enthusiasm for the result: “Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbacious treat!”

A final example, which also raises theoretical questions, is a poem the German romantic poet Eduard Mörike wrote about Frankfurter Brenten, a type of small cookies. The first surprise is perhaps his use of the imperative second-person singular, a dated and very uncommon form in the mid-nineteenth century:

Start with almonds, I suggest,

Take three pounds, or four at best.

This poem, which is included in Mörike’s collected works, was originally published in a German journal for ladies, Frauen-Zeitung für Hauswesen, weibliche Arbeiten und Moden, in 1852, and Horst Steinmetz used it as an example of how context may decide the reception of a text. The readers of Mörike’s complete works may have considered the recipe as a poem on a par with the other poems in the book, which describe feelings and phenomena of the human universe. The ladies who read “Frankfurter Brenten” in the journal may have looked at the text as a practical instruction—a recipe—even if they observed and appreciated the form as an amusing variation and perhaps made no practical use of the recipe in the kitchen. Yet a closer reading of Mörike’s text reveals that it has elements not expected in recipes. Consider, for example, these lines:

Now put all this while it is hot

Onto a plate (but poets need

A rhyme here now, and therefore feed

The finished stuff into a pot).

With this ironic remark, which breaks up the sequence of instructive steps, the poet seems to make fun of his own role; it is a kind of Verfremdung, or alienation, that creates a distance between Mörike as a poet and as a cooking teacher.

These rhymed recipes seem to have been written with very different intentions: to inform, to instruct, to entertain, or to create art. This is of course also true for recipe poems in unbound form by Günter Grass and others. But there is a noticeable difference in intention when recipes appear in prose works other than culinary works.

Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.