Monday, May 12, 2008

Kitchen Literacy

In "Kitchen Literacy,", Ann Vileisis reviews the past few centuries of Americans' relationship with food, to tease out what we have lost along the way. We've lost knowledge and understanding of how what we eat gets from field and farm to our plates. Her insight helped me get a grip on the overview of a subject that has often seemed overwhelming.
She starts back in the 18th century, with a terrific resource: a woman who kept a diary of what happened in her life for 27 years. Martha Ballard's diaries have been chronicled in "A Midwife's Tale" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,, and is available online through the George Mason University Center for History and New Media: Her accounts open a window into the everyday life of our forebears. Vileisis grounds her account in Martha Ballard's tales of how she fed her family: from vegetables and fruit grown in her garden, some of which fed the livestock that provided meat, eggs and milk. She knew every detail about every bite she and her family ate.
From those agrarian days, Ms. Vileisis brings us forward through time, noting the influence of wars and calamities (food was first canned to bring provisions to Napoleon's armies), the waves of immigrants who brought their own food preferences and styles, to the marketing and advertising of centralized corporations that inform us about our food today. It's a long journey and she has extracted the significant to help us understand how we became ignorant of the processes and routes by which our food travels.
Ms. Vileisis footnotes every fact and supports every assertion. The bibliography alone deserves a place on the bookshelf of every person who is curious about our food system and willing to change. Much of our journey has been a passive one, accepting the decisions of business and government as to what is appropriate. This book can inform what she calls Kitchen Countertrends against corporate food.
I purchase only books that I will refer to and rely on. This is definitely one of them. Check your local bookstore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We have definitely lost touch with where I food comes from. I'm happy to be raising chickens, which will help our sons learn more about where our food comes from. I'm thankful to live on a farm for that reason--I feel more in touch with life here.