During the Depression, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) dispatched scribes to sample the fare at group eating events like church dinners, political barbecues, and clambakes. Its America Eats project sought nothing less than to sample, and report upon, the tremendous range of foods eaten across the United States. Camille Begin shapes a cultural and sensory history of New Deal-era eating from the FWP archives. From "ravioli, the diminutive derbies of pastries, the crowns stuffed with a well-seasoned paste" to barbeque seasoning that integrated "salt, black pepper, dried red chili powder, garlic, oregano, cumin seed, and cayenne pepper" while "tomatoes, green chili peppers, onions, and olive oil made up the sauce", Begin describes in mouth-watering detail how Americans tasted their food. They did so in ways that varied, and varied widely, depending on race, ethnicity, class, and region. Begin explores how likes and dislikes, cravings and disgust operated within local sensory economies that she culls from the FWP's vivid descriptions, visual cues, culinary expectations, recipes and accounts of restaurant meals. She illustrates how nostalgia, prescriptive gender ideals, and racial stereotypes shaped how the FWP was able to frame regional food cultures as "American."
A fascinating archive on how American eating shifted during the years of the Depression. It provides a kind of hidden history of early-twentieth-century eating, documenting the role of different non-white middle class groups in shaping the American palate in ways that continue to resonate.--David E. Sutton, author of The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat
"Who knew that modern food writing originated in the New Deal's Federal Writers' Project? Camille Begin convincingly shows how the FWP ™s sensory concerns linked food to race and place. Her lively account recognizes the importance of food writing in drawing the boundaries that transform modern culinary nationalism, ethnicity and regionalism into 'sensory economies.'"--Donna Gabaccia, author of We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans
"Her five chapters do read like a gourmet five course meal within a sensory archive with no detail too small, beginning with her wonderful introductory courses of 'Romance of the Homemade' and 'Tasting Place, Sensing Race' and concluding with a thoughtful and well-placed chapter titled 'A Well-Filled Melting Pot'. Bon Appetit!"--Journal of Contemporary History
"Taste of the Nation offers fascinating insights into how regional culinary traditions were incorporated into the New Deal's nation-building project."--Journal of Southern History
"Taste of the Nation is a valuable addition to the literature: a sophisticated reading of the sources that shows the importance of race, gender, and ethnicity in shaping our attitudes toward food."--Journal of American History