A century and a half ago, when the food industry was first taking root, few consumers trusted packaged foods. Americans had just begun to shift away from eating foods that they grew themselves or purchased from neighbors. With the advent of canning, consumers were introduced to foods that were produced by unknown hands, packed in corrodible metal, and seemingly defied the laws of nature by resisting decay.
Since that unpromising beginning, the American food supply has undergone a revolution, moving away from a system based on fresh, locally grown goods to one dominated by packaged foods. How did this come to be? How did we learn to trust that food preserved within an opaque can was safe and desirable to eat? Anna Zeide reveals the answers through the story of the canning industry, taking us on a journey to understand how food-industry leaders leveraged the powers of science, marketing, and politics to win over a reluctant public, even as consumers resisted at every turn.
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.
“From the miracle of canned milk to the troubling presence of BPA in tomato soup, Anna Zeide’s revealing history shows how the ever-increasing power of the processed food industry has profoundly shaped policies that affect what all Americans eat. This important book is useful food for thought for anyone interested in reforming our modern food system for the better.”—Ann Vileisis, author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back
“Canned serves up food history at its finest, but its implications extend far beyond the pantry. Zeide persuasively demonstrates how the canning industry’s rise owed as much to skillful manipulation of science and politics as to technological savvy. Readily digestible by undergraduates, Canned should have a long shelf life.”—Kendra Smith-Howard, author of Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History since 1900
“This is a nuanced, robust, elegantly written history. Zeide establishes canning’s importance to consumers, food systems, and business history. It will stay in your mind long after you put it down.”—Tracey Deutsch, author of Building a Housewife’s Paradise: Gender, Politics, and American Grocery Stores in the Twentieth Century
“Canned looks inside a seemingly unassuming device to reveal an unseen world of complex relations between people, food, technology, and their environments. With grace and clarity, Zeide has written a fascinating and important history showing how canning’s ‘food engineering, marketing, and politicking’ led to the processed and packaged foods of today’s kitchens.”—Benjamin R. Cohen, author of Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil, and Society in the American Countryside
“In Canned, Zeide treats us to a savory history of how canned food, on its journey from the farm to the supermarket shelf, reshaped American food and life. It is a story of changing agricultural production, marketing science, public health, consumer confidence, and food habits. After reading this book, you will never open a can of peas, tomatoes, or tuna and take for granted the history contained inside.”—Gregg Mitman, author of Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes