Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Defining American Cuisine in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

In 1900, Americans had a favorite food: less meat and more meat. Additionally, they craved cakes and pies, perhaps only sometimes everywhere, but the dishes greatly defined American cuisine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. No meal is complete without meat, whether enormous steak, pork, and grits, crown rack of lamb, fat back in a sharecropper’s shack, or roast beef for Sunday dinner.

However, the king considered beef everywhere, no matter what area. Whether beef, lamb, poultry, or pork, they often serve baked, mashed, rice, grilled, or fried potatoes on the side. They require meat and potatoes and heavy desserts such as shortbread or meatloaf, cherry, apple, or berry pie topped with cream at an affordable price. They can serve sauces and condiments on the side and various fruits and vegetables they can place on the table.

Even breakfast would be foreign to late-20th-century Americans. Steaks and grills are probably on the menu, along with many oysters, grilled fish, hash browns, some scrambled eggs, crackers and rolls, and copious amounts of coffee. So it makes sense that males and females find the shape too fluffy for style.

Physical Strength as a Symbol of Health

Except in the South, working men tended to be stocky, while their wives had a maternal appearance. Presidents Grover Cleveland and J. P. Morgan set the standard for the upper and middle class by showing off their large bellies while wearing elegant waistcoats and large gold watch chains. Lillian Russell, a 200-pound actress with curvy waist, bust, and hips, was the femme fatale of the 1890s.

Before Thorstein Veblen, a sociologist, coined the term ostentatious consumption, Americans were rich and wannabe. They embraced it. Also, many people think that physical strength is a sign of health. Indulging in fatty meats and pitchers of beer, the working class tried to emulate the upper and upper middle classes. Because of the advances in food production, processing, and transportation that scientific and technological improvements have made possible, Americans of all socioeconomic strata had better access to beef and other foods in the 1990s.

A wide variety of large food companies process and package them effectively. A new, hardy, and abundant type of wheat became widely available as the railroads extended into the Great Plains, producing inexpensive bread and other baked goods. They quickly supplied better beef and other meats to stores and restaurants across the country in mobile refrigerators.

Theodore Roosevelt and Food Safety Reforms

President Theodore Roosevelt endorsed the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and took inspiration from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. It gives Americans more assurance about the caliber of their food. By using clever packaging and aggressive marketing for its brand name Uneeda Biscuits, the National Biscuit Company was able to achieve a similar monopoly in other food processing sectors, such as cracker soda.

Henry J. Heinz, meanwhile, expertly combined the latest developments in canning with energetic promotion to go beyond just popularizing his pickles. However, it was also to promote Heinz 57, a number he chose arbitrarily. In 1898, his rival, John T. Torrance, created the Campbell brand chowder. As canning technology boomed, Heinz and other entrepreneurs soon struggled for shelf space in grocery stores.

Social critics are interested in something other than America’s obsession with meat. With the help of a group of Bostonians, Brahmins, who showed admiration and derision, a new field called nutrition developed in New England. Brahmins were increasingly concerned about the diet of the working class and urged nutritionists to look at the essential elements of a balanced diet. The nutritionists thought the working class wasted money on expensive cuts of meat when less expensive cuts or other protein sources might be just as filling and delicious.

Promoting “American” Cuisine vs. Immigrants’ Food Preferences

Additionally, the dietitian ignored immigrants’ odd cravings for foods like pastrami, pierogi, borscht, or goulash when they began immigrating from southern and eastern Europe in the early 1900s. The dieticians are involved in a difficult conflict on two fronts. At first, they tried to get immigrants to start eating “American” cuisine and behavior. However, their efforts were only partially successful.

Second, they worked relentlessly to promote the use of beans and legumes and cheaper cuts of meat instead of the expensive cuts that the rich favored among working-born Americans. American-born employees abhor any attempt to deny them their right to consume expensive meat. They consider it the only big luxury in their life. Simply put, immigrants ignore dietitian warnings.

In the early 1900s, nutritionists concentrated on weighing the most basic food components, such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, and water. They give little importance to fresh fruit and even refuse to eat vegetables, arguing that they require more energy than the food itself. However, they promoted smaller and easier meals, setting the foundation for later nutritionists with a stronger scientific focus.

Young scientists began to delve deeper into food composition at the United States Department of Agriculture, specifically in the Office of Experiment Stations.

Introduction of Home Economics in Middle Schools and Colleges

Middle schools and colleges began teaching what we now know as home economics. As a result, a more precise measure of the nutritional value of different foodstuffs, particularly lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins, is obtained. Long-held food experts are the notion that a diet should contain a significant amount of protein. However, two well-known food experts, vegetarians John Harvey Kellogg and Horace Fletcher, who promote the idea of chewing each mouthful of food 100 times, challenged the idea.

Both men agree that Americans consume too much protein and eating less will promote health and longevity. First, the recommendations for reducing protein in the diet of scientists. By 1910, Russell Henry Chittenden, a graduate of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, had recognized the financial and physiological benefits of a low-protein diet. Although it took some time for Americans to accept the invention, it did as hemlines grew and a lanky Gibson Girl replaced Russell.

A lighter diet also resulted in the involvement of the country’s WWI, and the flapper’s ultra-slim figure gained popularity. Alfred Charles True exploited the state of a war emergency and the alarming health conditions of many conscripts to investigate the country’s eating practices thoroughly.

Middle Class and Minimal Losses during the Great Depression

The poll gives scientists much information for them to work with. The War Department also introduced easy and nutritious meals to American soldiers of all backgrounds. Interestingly, because Italy was a major ally in the war, the war prompted Americans to sample foreign foods, even in their most basic forms, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce. Different social classes experienced the Great Depression differently in the 1930s.

In 1933, between a quarter and a third of American workers were unemployed when the situation was worst. Inadequate and overburdened aid networks mean parents need more food to feed their children. Nevertheless, the middle class, who kept their jobs, suffered minimal losses and, in some circumstances, even fared better due to the decline in prices for food and other goods that reduced rational incomes caused.

Interestingly, despite increasing throughout the Depression, meat intake per person in the 1920s remained below average. The distribution of relief supplies, including canned meat, and the accessibility of selling cheap hamburgers may have contributed to the surge. Despite the expansion of refrigerated shipping, Americans consumed almost as much fresh produce as canned and dry food in the 1940s as they did in the 1930s.

Food Rationing Policy during World War II

Their policy of food rationing remained in place during WWII. Rumors of a shortage of sugar after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to panic buying and the introduction of ration books in May 1942. As more commodities were added to the restricted list, running out of the product was common. Due to hoarding, they also rationed coffee. Many Americans dislike rationing because they think it is unnecessary.

However, there is support for the government’s demand that people plant victory gardens. Many attempts to preserve vegetables failed due to inexperience, leading to jars exploding, rotting, and even poisoning. Due to WWII’s near-full employment, previously unemployed workers could purchase higher-quality goods. The shift of black and white people from Southern sharecropping to jobs that the war labor caused also increased the availability of food.

By the end of the war in 1945, most of the eligible men were serving in the armed forces. Medical professionals are concerned about the physical health of the majority of recruits. The military’s food is plentiful and nutritious, often in large portions, though sometimes with odd pairings such as ice cream on top of the potatoes on the food tray.

Disparity in Meat Consumption

In 1942, the average citizen ate 125 pounds of meat, compared to the average soldier’s 360 pounds. The early years of the school lunch program, which significantly improved the nutrition of disadvantaged children, were also the defining war years. Significant changes in American eating habits occurred during the last decades of the 20th century, especially regarding women’s work outside the home and the type of food and timing of meals.

Women who worked outside the home around the turn of the 20th century usually came from the lowest socioeconomic groups and performed domestic or low-skilled work. However, opportunities for women have increased due to technological developments and the women’s liberation movement since the 1950s. In 1982, more than 50% of adult women worked outside the home, and the trend has been strong since then.

The division of traditional work, such as cooking and housework, between men and women is increasing. In some situations, men learn to enjoy cooking, which results in a more equal distribution of household chores. In the 1950s, frozen meals became widely available, offering a practical substitute for working couples. After work, frozen dinners became easier with the invention of microwaves in the 1980s.

Dining out is also gaining popularity, offering a variety of options, including fast food and fine French, Italian, Thai, and Indian dishes.

Unprecedented Food Choices in the Early 21st Century

Fast food restaurants, representing a longer history than most people believe, first appeared in the early 20th century. At first, they catered to people buying drinks from carhops or saloons by serving short meals. In the 1940s, the McDonald brothers created a fast food delivery system. Quickly, McDonald’s expanded and adapted to its postwar suburban environment, emphasizing cleanliness and customer service.

Following suit, other fast food companies increased their revenues to $102 billion in 1998. As revenues increased in the 1990s, several families turned away from the hustle and bustle of fast-food restaurants for more sophisticated places to eat. Men were attracted to cooking at home, which led to a revival of the practice. Local grocers started selling their fully cooked food, while high-end chains stocked more expensive options.

For individuals on a moderate budget, frozen meals offer various options. The food choices available to Americans in the early 21st century were unprecedented. The transformation from eating meat and potatoes at the turn of the century to embracing a variety of cuisines is staggering. Americans increasingly consume pizza slices and breakfast sandwiches and even make Chinese stir-fries at home using a wok.

American food is familiar for its openness to experimenting with different foods and flavors.

Food as an Indicator of Class in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries

Future generations will benefit from nature’s bounty as long as American agriculture and animal husbandry continue to produce a variety of foods and other countries continue to supply a wide variety of goods. Food is so much more than just a basic need. It is rich in theological, emotional, psychological, and even cultural importance. It establishes a collective identity and embraces social and religious customs.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw the use of food as an indicator of class in Europe. A separate court culture developed that distinguished the social elite from the common people through sophisticated table manners and gourmet meals. Food evolved to be a key component in defining national identity in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is amazing how many foods we associate with certain countries, like American hamburgers or tomato-based Italian spaghetti sauce, they made in the 19th or even 20th century.

Europeans’ discovery of the New World marked an important turning point in the history of food. While other food supplies, previously unknown to people in America, such as pigs, sheep, and cattle, traveled west, foods previously unknown to them in Europe and Africa, such as tomatoes, potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, cassava, and various other foods, migrated eastward.

Dominance of British Culinary Customs for Over 200 Years

They built the first truly global consumer-oriented industry on New World production of sugar, coffee, and chocolate. The history of food in America until the end of the 19th century is the story of somewhat diverse regional customs that the British generally passed down. Early English, Scottish, and Irish Protestant immigrants to the country tended to stick to earlier culinary customs.

However, the introduction of new materials and, in particular, interactions between different ethnic groups will eventually encourage experimentation and innovation. For more than 200 years, British culinary customs have dominated American cuisine. With the heavy use of spices and concentration on frying and boiling, Southern cuisine is a fusion of African, British, French, Spanish, and Indian culinary traditions.

The cuisine tended to be straightforward and focused on stews, particularly puddings and boiled dumplings, in areas of the mid-Atlantic influenced by Quakerism. In the inland border areas, people eat many foods that the rest of the English use as fodder, such as potatoes, corn, and other vegetables. Pork, hominy, greens, and pancakes are staples of the outback. The quantity of meat and distilled alcohol was one of the distinctive aspects of the early American diet.

The rich soil allowed early settlers to grow corn, use it as animal feed, and refine most of the crop residue into whiskey.

High Alcohol Consumption in the Early 19th Century

In the early 19th century, adult males consumed more than 7 gallons of pure alcohol yearly. German immigrants were one of the first significant movers for nutritional change. Their particular emphasis on beer, marinated meats, sours, wurst, and pastries is increasingly being absorbed into the standard American diet in the form of barbecue, cole slaw, hot dogs, doughnuts, and hamburgers.

Other Americans draw inspiration to make food the focal point of holiday celebrations because of German food’s association with celebration. Industrialization became a stronger force for change. The new industrial method we know as freezing and some of the first cafeterias, lunch counter chains, and fast food restaurants emerged during the 1920s. Foods that are widely available and more and more processes are taking over the country’s diets.

However, unique regional and ethnic cuisines continue to exist. In the early 20th century, food developed into a significant cultural flash point. They introduced new foods to the United States during the Progressive Era through massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. Residential home workers, food nutritionists, and domestic scientists all worked to put America on an immigrant diet and impart American cooking and shopping techniques to immigrant wives and mothers.

Eating as a Marker of Class

As a result of crooked journalists and reformers raising concerns about food safety, quality, and wholeness, the first federal laws banning harmful food additives and requiring inspection of their meat were passed. Although there was a steady stream of immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the change in the American way of eating was gradual. Changes in eating habits have increased substantially since WWII, particularly since the 1970s.

A major factor in the cosmopolitan nation of American cuisine was WWII. While population changes at home exposed people to more of the American food line, service abroad exposed soldiers to various foreign cuisines. The American diet became more diverse due to postwar developments in foreign trade and the year-round availability of fresh fruit and vegetables. In determining ethnic or religious identity today, food seems to matter less.

Americans consume Thanksgiving bagels, curry, egg rolls, salsa, and turkey regardless of their region or religion. Still, eating has become a marker of class, as it was for European aristocracies. The meals often combined fine wine and delicious food, which they prepared with expensive ingredients for the wealthier sectors of society. There are several trends and changing tastes in the world of fine dining.

Shift in Food Preferences among Wealthier Americans

Wealthier Americans today are more likely to eat foods that have an Asian or Latin American influence and less likely to eat German or even French cuisine. Politics becomes more important to food. It is becoming common to consciously demonstrate resistance to corporate food by choosing to follow a vegetarian diet or eat only natural foods. At the same time, choosing to eat certain foods has developed into a deliberate method of expressing one’s ethnic identity.

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