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Ask children where food comes from, and they’ll probably answer: “the supermarket.” Ask most adults, and their replies may not be much different. Where our foods are raised and what happens to them between farm and supermarket shelf have become mysteries. How did we become so disconnected from the sources of our breads, beef, cheeses, cereal, apples, and countless other fo Ask children where food comes from, and they’ll probably answer: “the supermarket.” Ask most adults, and their replies may not be much different. Where our foods are raised and what happens to them between farm and supermarket shelf have become mysteries. How did we become so disconnected from the sources of our breads, beef, cheeses, cereal, apples, and countless other foods that nourish us every day?   Ann Vileisis’s answer is a sensory-rich journey through the history of making dinner. Kitchen Literacy takes us from an eighteenth-century garden to today’s sleek supermarket aisles, and eventually to farmer’s markets that are now enjoying a resurgence. Vileisis chronicles profound changes in how American cooks have considered their foods over two centuries and delivers a powerful statement: what we don’t know could hurt us.   As the distance between farm and table grew, we went from knowing particular places and specific stories behind our foods’ origins to instead relying on advertisers’ claims. The woman who raised, plucked, and cooked her own chicken knew its entire life history while today most of us have no idea whether hormones were fed to our poultry. Industrialized eating is undeniably convenient, but it has also created health and environmental problems, including food-borne pathogens, toxic pesticides, and pollution from factory farms.   Though the hidden costs of modern meals can be high, Vileisis shows that greater understanding can lead consumers to healthier and more sustainable choices. Revealing how knowledge of our food has been lost and how it might now be regained, Kitchen Literacy promises to make us think differently about what we eat.


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Ask children where food comes from, and they’ll probably answer: “the supermarket.” Ask most adults, and their replies may not be much different. Where our foods are raised and what happens to them between farm and supermarket shelf have become mysteries. How did we become so disconnected from the sources of our breads, beef, cheeses, cereal, apples, and countless other fo Ask children where food comes from, and they’ll probably answer: “the supermarket.” Ask most adults, and their replies may not be much different. Where our foods are raised and what happens to them between farm and supermarket shelf have become mysteries. How did we become so disconnected from the sources of our breads, beef, cheeses, cereal, apples, and countless other foods that nourish us every day?   Ann Vileisis’s answer is a sensory-rich journey through the history of making dinner. Kitchen Literacy takes us from an eighteenth-century garden to today’s sleek supermarket aisles, and eventually to farmer’s markets that are now enjoying a resurgence. Vileisis chronicles profound changes in how American cooks have considered their foods over two centuries and delivers a powerful statement: what we don’t know could hurt us.   As the distance between farm and table grew, we went from knowing particular places and specific stories behind our foods’ origins to instead relying on advertisers’ claims. The woman who raised, plucked, and cooked her own chicken knew its entire life history while today most of us have no idea whether hormones were fed to our poultry. Industrialized eating is undeniably convenient, but it has also created health and environmental problems, including food-borne pathogens, toxic pesticides, and pollution from factory farms.   Though the hidden costs of modern meals can be high, Vileisis shows that greater understanding can lead consumers to healthier and more sustainable choices. Revealing how knowledge of our food has been lost and how it might now be regained, Kitchen Literacy promises to make us think differently about what we eat.

30 review for Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anna George

    I consider myself a pretty savvy person when it comes to the problems with our modern food systems. I serve on the board of our nonprofit urban farm, for heaven's sake; I have to be able to explain why you should join a CSA, shop at your local farmers market, or eat seasonally. What I haven't done before, however, is consider all the societal forces that led to the corporate food system that currently reigns over America. If you're interested in the long historical/cultural/economic view, then K I consider myself a pretty savvy person when it comes to the problems with our modern food systems. I serve on the board of our nonprofit urban farm, for heaven's sake; I have to be able to explain why you should join a CSA, shop at your local farmers market, or eat seasonally. What I haven't done before, however, is consider all the societal forces that led to the corporate food system that currently reigns over America. If you're interested in the long historical/cultural/economic view, then Kitchen Literacy is a solid overview. It walks through the history of food in America, including production, selling, and preparation. This is a huge subject to tackle, so it isn't completely comprehensive, but it's a good background into how we ended up with the system we have. Ann Vileisis uses a mixture of sources to tell the story of America's food, starting with Martha Ballard, a midwife who lived in Maine at the end of the 1700s and kept a detailed diary of her farming and cooking. The book is at its best when using these first-hand accounts, whether Martha's journals or records from a butcher in the 1800s, as examples of national trends for the time. As she moves into the end of the 1800s and the 1900s, many additional voices are added to the mix--such as marketing executives or food scientists--reflecting the growth in the American food economy beyond growers and sellers. Unfortunately, these stories aren't exactly heart-warming, and they don't carry the weight that the early voices do. I would have loved to learn more about individual cooks from each time period, just to follow the first-person accounts. A few other quibbles--the book seemed a bit biased towards the Northeast to me, likely due to the bias towards urban settings where the change in food economies was the most pronounced. I know from my grandmother's stories that rural Southerners still had strong working knowledge of their foodsheds throughout the Great Depression, and lots of Kitchen Literacy doesn't accurately reflect experiences for those who were still living on farms. The writing is definitely a bit on the dry side, and it could be a struggle to read this book right before bed... However, I learned a lot reading this, and it caused me to reflect on both the good, the bad, and the ugly of American food production and consumption. **I received a free copy of this book from Island Press in exchange for writing a review, as part of their Valentine's Day "Blind Date with a Book." I indicated that I was interested in being matched up with a book from the farmers market, but did not pick out this book specifically (it was a blind date, not internet dating).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in food safety, economics, politics, or history--or just in a better understanding of what they eat and why. It's a very insightful history of the trends of food production and consumption, showing the evolution from local to global modes of distribution, from rural to urban culture, and from intimate consumer knowledge to a culture surrounding food consumption that promotes consumer ignorance. One of the main strengths of this book is that Vilei I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in food safety, economics, politics, or history--or just in a better understanding of what they eat and why. It's a very insightful history of the trends of food production and consumption, showing the evolution from local to global modes of distribution, from rural to urban culture, and from intimate consumer knowledge to a culture surrounding food consumption that promotes consumer ignorance. One of the main strengths of this book is that Vileisis takes a no-blame approach, acknowledging the strengths and time-period blinders of each new development in the food system while also pointing out the problems that persist into the present. The focus is on history, and the writing style is academic and slightly dry, but the subject is fascinating and highly relevant to today, detailing the synergies between advertising, feminism, perceptions of nature, corporate power, public safety, and numerous other fields as they developed in American culture.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Cooke

    This is an interesting book with a poorly constructed thesis. The historical anecdotes do lay out in snapshots how cooking has changed throughout the past 200 years - where the book falls massively flat is ascribing cause. There are a number of areas where the book goes astray, but first and foremost is the original sin of putting the rural homesteading lifestyle on a pedestal. This bias then pushes her towards a very poorly formed thesis that blames the entire shift from homesteading etc. to can This is an interesting book with a poorly constructed thesis. The historical anecdotes do lay out in snapshots how cooking has changed throughout the past 200 years - where the book falls massively flat is ascribing cause. There are a number of areas where the book goes astray, but first and foremost is the original sin of putting the rural homesteading lifestyle on a pedestal. This bias then pushes her towards a very poorly formed thesis that blames the entire shift from homesteading etc. to canned goods and prepared foods on urban development as she uses "city dweller" like a pejorative. The major problem with this theory is that the country was majority rural until the 1920s, and she does not bother trying to reconcile these two things. Sure, there could be a path that explains how urbanization was a greater commercial force owing to wealth or something, but she doesn't bother - she just blames everything on "city dwellers". I think perhaps the chapter that summarizes her massive blind spot on the early colonists is the chapter on game. She notes how New Englanders basically killed off local game because they were shit at living sustainably, and the only reason this is mentioned is to explain how city dwellers then got so excited when trains of game could be delivered from the West. She then blames the gradual continuation westward of this extinction process on not knowing where the game came from, which is obviously quite the dubious conclusion when just two pages earlier she explained that the o.g. homesteaders ate the game into oblivion with entirely unsustainable hunting practices. This book is just chock full of these types of poorly constructed theories, that mar the abundance of interesting research she clearly undertook. Another major flaw in the book is that Vileisis quite clearly limited her research to white women and white households throughout this book, without acknowledging the diverse culture that is the United States apart from the migrant maids. This doesn't necessarily diminish her theory -- to say that middle class white women were the target of commerce and that white people are the dominant lens by which everything was viewed would suggest they have an outsized influence in the process by which our foods have changed, and no doubt their perspective is the much more prolific when it comes to documentation. But the fact that this limited view is never acknowledged, or explained, or contrasted is just bonkers to me. That's an unacceptable shortcoming. The last flaw is perhaps one that ends up being a benefit to the book, which is that the past 100 years have seen a dawn of regulation, which provides a completely different dynamic at work - instead of being focused on the industry v. individual as in the first half, she begins to introduce an interplay of government and industry that begins to weigh in on the industry v. individual fight. The issue here is that she goes into lengthy discussions of the regulations at play which were both, for me more interesting (historical political fights are super fascinating) but also a departure from her thesis. She seems to get lost and the narrative she had constructed begins to fall apart as she continues to simply walk through the historical record. Since I think her narrative was flawed at the onset, this lack of focus isn't a bad thing exactly, but it is definitely bad from an overall readability and structural POV. Anyway, there's a lot of material here, but I can't recommend this book at all because the narrative the author chooses to construct is poorly formed and limited, and while I definitely learned things, I think the flaws overwhelm the value of the raw goods.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mundi

    A good primer on how food moved along, and around, as the breadth of the United States grew; trends that created demands, which in turn created empires, as well as how growing city populations made other foods obsolete, or impractical. If you wish to know the history of your American food, this is a good source.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I only got to page 60 on this one and decided with all the good books waiting to be read I just did not have time for this one. This is the 8th book shelved in my abandoned bookshelf. I don't plan to return.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Savannah

    A surprisingly enthralling account of "the covenant of ignorance" between modern-day food producers and consumers, like the anthropology of the canning process - from industrialization to the effects of the war effort in the '40s - to the legal generation of the "organic" label and how the government responds to consumer concerns (most concerningly, the general answer seems to be that they don't). I find myself considering the origins of my food - especially the over-processed, murky ingredients A surprisingly enthralling account of "the covenant of ignorance" between modern-day food producers and consumers, like the anthropology of the canning process - from industrialization to the effects of the war effort in the '40s - to the legal generation of the "organic" label and how the government responds to consumer concerns (most concerningly, the general answer seems to be that they don't). I find myself considering the origins of my food - especially the over-processed, murky ingredients list kinds of stuff - almost every meal after having read this book. Altogether unique and an effective introductory point into the study of culinary anthropology, specifically from an American viewpoint, Kitchen Literacy is a great read for anyone looking to understand what food is best to buy... and how our perspectives on that have been changed by industry, government, and consumer standards across centuries.

  7. 5 out of 5

    deborah

    I stumbled upon this enchanting book about eight years ago. Each chapter is a story of a literary food setting of description in the context of a classic writing. I had just scene the movie EMMA, based on Jane Austen 's writing. The description of the repast that followed the Woodhouse whist card game ignited a need to read and discover more and more of all things Austen. Which, I came to find is considerable. There are many, and varied offerings in this gem, so if Miss Jane is not to your taste I stumbled upon this enchanting book about eight years ago. Each chapter is a story of a literary food setting of description in the context of a classic writing. I had just scene the movie EMMA, based on Jane Austen 's writing. The description of the repast that followed the Woodhouse whist card game ignited a need to read and discover more and more of all things Austen. Which, I came to find is considerable. There are many, and varied offerings in this gem, so if Miss Jane is not to your taste, perhaps Dicken's Christmas feast or Proust's madeleines would better suit. So many choices. It's a volume to turn to again and again for it's warmth and charm. Enjoy!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Melina Roise

    Definitely an intriguing look at how people on American land have become so divided from their food sources. I would recommend it for anyone with an interest in looking critically at America's food systems today, however, Vileisis's perspective as a white woman untouched by other systemic issues with America's food system is clear... it skirts around the undeniable fact that what we eat comes to us as direct exploitation of Black, brown & Indigenous people on this continent & around the world. S Definitely an intriguing look at how people on American land have become so divided from their food sources. I would recommend it for anyone with an interest in looking critically at America's food systems today, however, Vileisis's perspective as a white woman untouched by other systemic issues with America's food system is clear... it skirts around the undeniable fact that what we eat comes to us as direct exploitation of Black, brown & Indigenous people on this continent & around the world. She does make some interesting points on the erasure of women's knowledge as a foundation of food system shifts.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Wow. I can't imagine how much time and energy went into researching and writing this book. Gives one a whole new appreciation for the opportunity to eat locally produced foods grown and raised without chemicals. It's well organized and well written, easy to understand for such a comprehensive study of food.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    really interesting history of the rise of prepared vs fresh food.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tweit

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." American philosopher George Santayana's quote would be a perfect epigraph for Ann Vileisis' careful and fascinating look at the history of food and eating in America. (The quote is part of Santayana's theory about how knowledge is acquired, making it especially relevant to Vileisis' examination of how we've lost the stories we once knew of our food.) Here's how Vileisis opens the first chapter of Kitchen Literacy: "In the center of "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." American philosopher George Santayana's quote would be a perfect epigraph for Ann Vileisis' careful and fascinating look at the history of food and eating in America. (The quote is part of Santayana's theory about how knowledge is acquired, making it especially relevant to Vileisis' examination of how we've lost the stories we once knew of our food.) Here's how Vileisis opens the first chapter of Kitchen Literacy: "In the center of a wooden table on a pewter platter sat a baked leg of lamb. One earthenware bowl held a heap of steaming, fresh green peas, while another contained sliced cucumbers, likely drizzled with vinegar. The table was plain, but the savory smell of the roast meat made mouths water..." That sensory evocation of a meal prepared by Maine midwife Martha Ballard on August 15, 1790, hooked me right off. Vileisis draws on Ballard's diaries to show her intimate knowledge of her food, a relationship was once common in America. From that meal, Vileisis takes readers on the journey America's food has taken as the country's population shifted from farms to cities (and grew, and grew, and grew), as transportation allowed food to be shipped ever-longer distances, and as technology changed farming and food processing. Along the way, American's relationship with our food grew distant as well. Vileisis' background as a historian and her passion for food, cooking and the environment inform this intensely researched and readable story. I found sobering and surprising facts to chew on (sorry!) along the way, including how common wild foods were on tables from the ordinary to the rich in the 1800s, to the astonishingly early advent of the first canned foods ("initially developed as a way to feed Napoleon's soldiers on their interminable Russian campaigns, canning had come to the United States by the 1820s"), the history of synthetic food additives and the FDA--I had never imagined, for instance, that formaldehyde was once used as a commercial food preservative! Kitchen Literacy shows over and over how losing contact with the stories of our food--what it is, where it comes from, who grew it and how it was grown--is a tragedy not just for each of us personally, but for the planet we share. As Vileisis says in closing, "Today... we have the chance to rediscover some of that knowledge and awareness, and with it, we might just find a better way to live on Earth and, finally, to eat well." Hear, hear!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Loraine

    This short history of the American kitchen and the changing ways we--the cooks--know our foodstuffs takes us from the late 1700s when a cook knew where her food came from to the present when what is promoted as food is . . . factory-made. Vileisis has done meticulous research, with nearly a hundred pages of footnotes to support her analysis of the changes in our understanding of what we mean by "food" and where it comes from. She writes: "As the distance between farms and kitchens had grown, and This short history of the American kitchen and the changing ways we--the cooks--know our foodstuffs takes us from the late 1700s when a cook knew where her food came from to the present when what is promoted as food is . . . factory-made. Vileisis has done meticulous research, with nearly a hundred pages of footnotes to support her analysis of the changes in our understanding of what we mean by "food" and where it comes from. She writes: "As the distance between farms and kitchens had grown, and connections between those who grew food and those who ate it were severed, methods of food production had increasingly come to reflect the priorities and outlook of those producing, processing, and selling foods rather than those buying, cooking, and eating them." (p. 183) Her narrative style is very accessible, which is a good thing, because those who have taken factory food for granted as well as those of us who are part of the move to eat locally and seasonally need to read this book. I've had great unease about our foods and the way they come to us for many decades. This history gives me the facts--even if they are even more unsettling than I had imagined--with which to encourage people to get back to real food! Cooking from scratch is a good thing, for me, for my friends, for local farmers and creameries and artisan bakeries . . . and for the planet. Reducing or eliminating cow and pig meat from our menus would be a big move toward addressing climate change if each and every one of us made that change. Reducing and (preferably) eliminating carbon-based fertilizers and pesticides from food production is equally important. This books shows you why, and points to pathways we can take so that we can get back our knowledge about where our foods come from and how we can cook them in our own kitchens.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I was very happy to read this as part of a 'blind date with a book' offer from the publisher, and I'm so very glad it was in a subject area I'm passionate about. Omitting the current resurgence in urban agriculture, for most city dwellers, knowledge of where food comes from is an abstract concept, at best. Visions of bucolic farms with the requisite chickens, cows and pigs as well as appeals to the 'natural' provenance of the contents, are standard fare in packaged and processed food. Vileisis h I was very happy to read this as part of a 'blind date with a book' offer from the publisher, and I'm so very glad it was in a subject area I'm passionate about. Omitting the current resurgence in urban agriculture, for most city dwellers, knowledge of where food comes from is an abstract concept, at best. Visions of bucolic farms with the requisite chickens, cows and pigs as well as appeals to the 'natural' provenance of the contents, are standard fare in packaged and processed food. Vileisis has done her research exceedingly well. Her book easily could have been a Ph.D. dissertation. It's very evident in the first couple chapters where she cites source materials, rare diary entries from the late 18th century, regarding the ways in which a wife and mother grew, gathered, rarely purchased, slaughtered, planned and prepared food for her family. She knew the terroir or her region intimately, and recognized the differences between one valley, one stream, one farm and another. From this point on, knowledge of one's foods' origins becomes increasingly abstracted as food purchasers became progressively reliant on advertising and marketing and the 'advice' of food experts. Whilst the book is weighty in its informational content, it's informationaly dense and would be appropriate for a class on food history and food systems development. Knowledge is power, and Vileisis' book definitely is a must for the dedicated foodie wishing to learn more about how we arrived at the current mess we are in today as we take back control of our food system.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Kitchen Literacy reads almost like a dissertation and has the copious endnotes to complete this presentation of research on the evolution of the American meal from colonial times to the present. Historian Ann Valeisis' goal, as noted in the subtitle, is to explain "how we lost knowledge of where food comes from and why we need to get it back." Valeisis begins in colonial New England with Martha Ballard, a herbalist and midwife who kept a detailed diary of her daily life and work. Everything eaten Kitchen Literacy reads almost like a dissertation and has the copious endnotes to complete this presentation of research on the evolution of the American meal from colonial times to the present. Historian Ann Valeisis' goal, as noted in the subtitle, is to explain "how we lost knowledge of where food comes from and why we need to get it back." Valeisis begins in colonial New England with Martha Ballard, a herbalist and midwife who kept a detailed diary of her daily life and work. Everything eaten by Martha's family was produced on their farm or a neighbor's. In the next few decades, industrialization -- particularly the advent of rail -- begins to distance Americans from the source of their food, and the process accelerates in the 20th century as more people move to cities and suburbs. The author provides much detail, some of which can seem repetitive or distracting and warrants skimming. The last chapter -- the prescription for restoring kitchen literacy -- will not be a newsflash to anyone even marginally acquainted with the work of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, the Organic Consumers Association, the Slow Food movement, etc.: buy organic, patronize farmer's markets, cook, plant a garden and avoid heavily processed foods. If the reader needs additional incentive for doing those things, Valeisis provides it with a history of food regulation and consumer protection in the 20th century. Reading about the failures of regulatory apparatuses to protect consumers from harmful substances made me want to keep my foodshed as close to home as possible.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    Not sure where I found out about this book, but the title & subtitle was intriguing enough to make it worth checking out from the library. Vilesis takes her readers back to the late 1700's to show how we as individuals have moved from being intimately familiar with the food we eat - growing, harvesting, tending and slaughtering nearly every foodstuff, to the modern, processed, advertising-driven industry. Along the way we read excerpts from an 18th century farmwife, discuss how sugar became one Not sure where I found out about this book, but the title & subtitle was intriguing enough to make it worth checking out from the library. Vilesis takes her readers back to the late 1700's to show how we as individuals have moved from being intimately familiar with the food we eat - growing, harvesting, tending and slaughtering nearly every foodstuff, to the modern, processed, advertising-driven industry. Along the way we read excerpts from an 18th century farmwife, discuss how sugar became one of the first non-native foodstuffs the average person ate in any quantity (discounting spices). Vilesis examines the development of cookbooks and how they become more complex and precise as domestic servants become more common (85% of US households in 1860) and the housewife took a more supervisory role in choosing and preparing food. She also explains how canning food required labeling - therefore leading to the advertising industry. Oleomargarine and maraschino cherries are presented as manufactured food and how we now tend to "eat with the eyes" - allowing the visual appearance of food to override the taste and nutrition aspects. This book covers some of the same ground as The Omnivore's Dilemma and the like, but I still found it a worthwhile read and learned some new tidbits along the way.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Synthesis of detailed personal records was the most interesting part of this book. We followed a midwife in the 1700s and a butcher in the 1800s, so I'm not sure why this strategy was not maintained throughout the book. Contemporary kitchen literacy could certainly be tracked through blogs, and would make a much more interesting final chapter than the rehash of Pollan/Kingsolver/Waters statistics and government actions. Interesting: The theories and issues common in current conversations about foo Synthesis of detailed personal records was the most interesting part of this book. We followed a midwife in the 1700s and a butcher in the 1800s, so I'm not sure why this strategy was not maintained throughout the book. Contemporary kitchen literacy could certainly be tracked through blogs, and would make a much more interesting final chapter than the rehash of Pollan/Kingsolver/Waters statistics and government actions. Interesting: The theories and issues common in current conversations about food ( Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, The Omnivore's Dilemma, etc.) were also common in 1840. Love the integrated worldview of the 1800s-era midwife and butcher, contrasted with the essentially dis-integrated philosophies of both industrialists and conservationists. Disappointing: Despite the opening illustration of a 1700s midwife participating in household production *as well as* working outside the home, we are later presented with the well-worn argument that convenience foods supported women's liberation from traditional gender roles.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Well researched, with lots of endnotes and directions for further reading on the topic. I loved the first few chapters about what it was like procuring food from the colonial to turn-of-the-19th-century eras; these chapters were not only interesting, but provided a detailed look inside the 19th century kitchen that I haven't seen before in books of this genre. The remaining chapters (covering roughly 1900 to the present) were well done, but the history of the industrial agriculture complex has a Well researched, with lots of endnotes and directions for further reading on the topic. I loved the first few chapters about what it was like procuring food from the colonial to turn-of-the-19th-century eras; these chapters were not only interesting, but provided a detailed look inside the 19th century kitchen that I haven't seen before in books of this genre. The remaining chapters (covering roughly 1900 to the present) were well done, but the history of the industrial agriculture complex has already been covered by lots of other books (Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It, The End of Food, etc etc). Unlike the bright packaging of cereals at the supermarket, Vileisis' treatment of this time period did not jump out at the reader from the sea of others.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I learned some fascinating history about our relationship to food in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, as well as the relationship of advertising to food, and the processing that has developed over the decades. While I enjoyed the book and its plethora of factoids and examples, I wouldn't necessarily give it high ranking for prose. We have a complex history with the business of food and grocery, and Vileisis taps into a lot the minutiae of some of America's favorite brands. S I learned some fascinating history about our relationship to food in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, as well as the relationship of advertising to food, and the processing that has developed over the decades. While I enjoyed the book and its plethora of factoids and examples, I wouldn't necessarily give it high ranking for prose. We have a complex history with the business of food and grocery, and Vileisis taps into a lot the minutiae of some of America's favorite brands. She does bring your attention to some details that many of us may not realize about the processing of food (or we choose to ignore). The bulk of the history is centered in Yankee New England, so perhaps a bit of the cultural history is still missing. I do recommend history buffs and foodies alike to pop their heads into this book. It's a good jumping off point for a lot of deeper research, and she gives you plenty of places to go given that over a fifth of the pages in this book are dedicated to foot notes and citation.

  19. 5 out of 5

    John

    Kitchen literacy takes the read on a quick tour through over 200 years of American's relation to their food. Starting in Colonial times, Ann Vileisis describes how women were accustom to growing and knowing their food sources, a comfort that was hard to break up to the first World War. From the Industrial Revolution up to today the book looks at how manufacturing and advertising were able to convince the country that canned and packaged food was a safer (and cheaper) alternative to the farmers m Kitchen literacy takes the read on a quick tour through over 200 years of American's relation to their food. Starting in Colonial times, Ann Vileisis describes how women were accustom to growing and knowing their food sources, a comfort that was hard to break up to the first World War. From the Industrial Revolution up to today the book looks at how manufacturing and advertising were able to convince the country that canned and packaged food was a safer (and cheaper) alternative to the farmers markets and rustic food sources. An interesting if short look at how Americans relationship with food has evolved with the modernization of the world. I found the later chapters a little too short and shallow. I wish the author focused more on the Colonial time period and ignored up through the 20th Century (which really deserves it's own book). Of interest to academics looking for an introductory text to food history.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sandy D.

    Since I've read "Omnivore's Dilemma", "Perfection Salad", "An Edible History of Humanity" and many other books on agriculture and food in history, I thought this book would just recap stuff I already knew. To some extent, it did, but it presented it in a new and interesting way, looking at what Americans knew about their food and where it came from in the years 1790-2005. I was thrilled to see my old friend Martha Ballard in the first chapter (whom I blogged about here), and especially enjoyed t Since I've read "Omnivore's Dilemma", "Perfection Salad", "An Edible History of Humanity" and many other books on agriculture and food in history, I thought this book would just recap stuff I already knew. To some extent, it did, but it presented it in a new and interesting way, looking at what Americans knew about their food and where it came from in the years 1790-2005. I was thrilled to see my old friend Martha Ballard in the first chapter (whom I blogged about here), and especially enjoyed the chapter on "A New Longing for Nature" and how it chronicled the origins of food advertising in the US. Occasionally, Vileisis's writing made me wish for an editing pen, but her material is fascinating and well-researched, and the writing was usually pretty good. If it were just a bit more inspired, this would have been a five star book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It's interesting to think of your personal "food shed"...kind of like a watershed and all its tributaries, but instead focusing on the winding channels that bring the food stuff of today to our tables. And a great retrospective...our food shed has grown progressively larger over the centuries, while our understanding of the food itself has become less. I loved the imagery that a woman a century ago had to plan a year in advance for a simple meal...she had to plant her veggies, breed her livestoc It's interesting to think of your personal "food shed"...kind of like a watershed and all its tributaries, but instead focusing on the winding channels that bring the food stuff of today to our tables. And a great retrospective...our food shed has grown progressively larger over the centuries, while our understanding of the food itself has become less. I loved the imagery that a woman a century ago had to plan a year in advance for a simple meal...she had to plant her veggies, breed her livestock, anticipate drought and flood and ...oof...winter. I'm not sure I could do it, myself...but I love the locavore food movement, and I'm loving my own experience testing out my own gardening prowess on our little patch. ...tomatoes, anyone?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I have read a lot of things about the history of food production and agricultural issues, so many things in this book were already familiar to me. What I thought Vileisis did well was to bring it all together in a coherent and readable way. Things that surprised me: how very early our current ideas about food were fixed. 1907 is when consumers started accepting packaged foods and precut meat. It was interesting to learn about the early problems with food safety and the dodgy use of the term "nat I have read a lot of things about the history of food production and agricultural issues, so many things in this book were already familiar to me. What I thought Vileisis did well was to bring it all together in a coherent and readable way. Things that surprised me: how very early our current ideas about food were fixed. 1907 is when consumers started accepting packaged foods and precut meat. It was interesting to learn about the early problems with food safety and the dodgy use of the term "natural"--the very same issues are still with us about 100 years later. The first chapter on a 18th century midwife's concept of her "foodshed" was a standout. Well worth reading--it sharpens your understanding of an essential part of life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    A bulk of this book is about how marketing (which differs from the original definition of going to the market to shop) has transformed long held beliefs on food production from close-to-home, in-house to "sanitary is better" factory foods and back again. The section on house Chicago beef producers convinced shoppers that the meat shipped from afar was not "dead beef", but a cheap, quality, and easy thing to buy. I also enjoyed reading how DDT became so prevalent as an insecticide. The book has m A bulk of this book is about how marketing (which differs from the original definition of going to the market to shop) has transformed long held beliefs on food production from close-to-home, in-house to "sanitary is better" factory foods and back again. The section on house Chicago beef producers convinced shoppers that the meat shipped from afar was not "dead beef", but a cheap, quality, and easy thing to buy. I also enjoyed reading how DDT became so prevalent as an insecticide. The book has many examples of the ads of the periods discussed and has been well-researched. It was also very interesting to see how much the admen thought that women were so easily manipulated. Nice read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Bell

    This book is an interesting historical account of Americans' social attitudes toward food throughout the history of the United States. Beginning in the late 1700's and running through present time, Kitchen Literacy addresses what we eat and why, as well as Americans' attitudes toward changing food production methods and agricultural techniques. These are topics of great interest to me, so I enjoyed reading Kitchen Literacy. I'm only giving it 3 starts because, at times, I found the book to be a This book is an interesting historical account of Americans' social attitudes toward food throughout the history of the United States. Beginning in the late 1700's and running through present time, Kitchen Literacy addresses what we eat and why, as well as Americans' attitudes toward changing food production methods and agricultural techniques. These are topics of great interest to me, so I enjoyed reading Kitchen Literacy. I'm only giving it 3 starts because, at times, I found the book to be a bit tedious and lengthy. On the whole, though, I think Ann Vileisis did as good a job as can be done in telling this unique historical story.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

    I read this book very slowly and didn't quite finish because I had to turn it into the library already. I did like it, though I like a quicker read usually. What I really loved about this book is that the author researched and references throughout the book many different types of sources of the eras she is writing about. She cites cookbooks, magazines, memoirs, advertisements, etc. The author did her homework, and throughout the book you get a good sense of the historical events and societal ch I read this book very slowly and didn't quite finish because I had to turn it into the library already. I did like it, though I like a quicker read usually. What I really loved about this book is that the author researched and references throughout the book many different types of sources of the eras she is writing about. She cites cookbooks, magazines, memoirs, advertisements, etc. The author did her homework, and throughout the book you get a good sense of the historical events and societal changes in the U.S. that lead to our current knowledge of food.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I really wanted to like this book. But it fell flat. The writing style was just very dry and boring, even though I am quite interested in the subject matter. I don't feel that the "Why We Need to Get It Back" part was covered nearly enough. The only bit I found really interesting in this book was the part about the founder of Home Ec, and how she was the first female chemistry major at MIT. And the only thing I came away from the book wondering was, what was the recipe for the pasta dish the auth I really wanted to like this book. But it fell flat. The writing style was just very dry and boring, even though I am quite interested in the subject matter. I don't feel that the "Why We Need to Get It Back" part was covered nearly enough. The only bit I found really interesting in this book was the part about the founder of Home Ec, and how she was the first female chemistry major at MIT. And the only thing I came away from the book wondering was, what was the recipe for the pasta dish the author describes at the end?

  27. 4 out of 5

    Regina

    Most comprehensive look at American food that I've read so far. Absolutely fantastic! Thoroughly researched, wonderfully written and engaging to history-buffs, foodies and book-worms alike. Very useful to read such a book when grappling with/thinking of/making judgments about American food today. I'm starting to think that knowing how we got here is perhaps even more important than knowing the "in's and out's" of the current ag industry-related dilemmas. I cannot recommend this book enough!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joy Weese Moll

    A history of food in America from the midwife in the 1700s who knew the best place in her garden for planting cabbages and the personality of the chicken that provided meat for the stew pot, through the necessary disconnection with the source of food brought on by urbanization, through the industrialization of food and the gradual awareness of the problems caused by that. The recommendations at the end are similar to what you would get from Michael Pollan’s books or Mark Bittman’s Food Matters, A history of food in America from the midwife in the 1700s who knew the best place in her garden for planting cabbages and the personality of the chicken that provided meat for the stew pot, through the necessary disconnection with the source of food brought on by urbanization, through the industrialization of food and the gradual awareness of the problems caused by that. The recommendations at the end are similar to what you would get from Michael Pollan’s books or Mark Bittman’s Food Matters, but the journey getting to the conclusion is rich and varied and very readable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    A really interesting and worthwhile read. Vileisis looks at changes in what Americans know about their food and how they know it (basically a shift from first-hand experience to relying on food scientists and food advertisements), especially in relation to social and economic trends (urbanization, industrialization, the growth of the advertising industry, women's changing roles in the home and in society at large). She has an agenda, as the final chapter makes very clear, but she uses documentat A really interesting and worthwhile read. Vileisis looks at changes in what Americans know about their food and how they know it (basically a shift from first-hand experience to relying on food scientists and food advertisements), especially in relation to social and economic trends (urbanization, industrialization, the growth of the advertising industry, women's changing roles in the home and in society at large). She has an agenda, as the final chapter makes very clear, but she uses documentation rather than polemic to make her points and it's pretty powerful.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    It took me several months to get through this book. It was very interesting to read the history of our food sources and how that has changed, but this book was not like reading an intriguing mystery that I couldn't wait to find out who the murderer was. Although, where our foods are raised and what happens to them between the farm and the supermarket has become a mystery. Ann Vileisis goes into the details of how this has occurred, from the 18th century to present times and how important it is t It took me several months to get through this book. It was very interesting to read the history of our food sources and how that has changed, but this book was not like reading an intriguing mystery that I couldn't wait to find out who the murderer was. Although, where our foods are raised and what happens to them between the farm and the supermarket has become a mystery. Ann Vileisis goes into the details of how this has occurred, from the 18th century to present times and how important it is to know where our food comes from.

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