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Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back 2nd Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1597267175
ISBN-10: 1597267171
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The rise of commercial farming and processed foods has given shoppers a tremendous variety to choose from, but this convenience has also fostered a "covenant of ignorance" among consumers and manufacturers, historian Vileisis (Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America's Wetlands) posits in this meticulous chronicle of the culinary disconnect. Persuasively arguing that manufacturers have prevented shoppers from knowing "unsavory details" about their foods and shielded producers from inquiry and public scrutiny, Vileisis highlights key events in this evolution. The booming populations of major cities, a reliance on servants or others to prepare meals and the ease and speed of rail transport were early contributors, she asserts, with the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars forever changing the way Americans bought and consumed food. Though the chapters covering developments since the 1970s feel rushed, Vileisis's well-researched treatise will give those interested in local and organic foods, food processing and American culinary culture plenty to chew on.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Vileisis's well-researched treatise will give those interested in local and organic foods, food processing and American culinary culture plenty to chew on..."
(Publishers Weekly)

"This book...gave me encouragement to keep on doing what I can to make our food world a happier, wiser, more truly sustainable one."
(Deborah Madison Real Simple)

"Kitchen Literacy provides a cautionary tale of how we got so far off the eaten path in the first place."
(eatingwell.org)

"Kitchen Literacy brings home just how essential it is for eaters to cultivate knowledge of their food."
(American Scientist)

"Vileisis gathers it all in one place, weaving a clear, easy-to-read tapestry whose meaning is plain by the end of the book: you are what you eat, so think about what you've been eating… This important and eye-opening book uncovers the machinery behind the modern food industry…"
(Library Journal)

"It is no exaggeration to say that the single most vital connection any of us has to the natural world is the food we eat. And yet the paradox of modern life is that over the past century, most of us have become profoundly ignorant about where our food comes from and the myriad ways it affects us. In her wonderful new book Kitchen Literacy, Ann Vileisis explains how we came to forget so much about the food we eat...and how much we gain by remembering the journeys it makes to reach our tables."
(William Cronon author of Changes in the Land and Nature's Metropolis)

"Kitchen Literacy goes to the heart of our disconnection from one of the most vital and intimate aspects of our lives—how we feed ourselves and our families. Accessible, entertaining, and enlightening, Ann Vileisis's new book has given us the historical context to understand what we have lost and how to bring food back to where it belongs—at the center of our families and communities."
(Michael Ableman farmer and author of Fields of Plenty)

"A 'must-read' for modern-day consumers in the post-family farm era."
(Midwest Book Review)

"[Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis] performs a valuable service in reminding readers that we were not always so clueless when it came to making food choices."
(The Washington Post)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; 2 edition (March 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597267171
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597267175
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By H. Laack VINE VOICE on March 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Whether you lived in a small town or rural area in the 17th, 18th, and even 19th centuries here in the US, it was likely that you would have been involved in some way with producing food for your family. People had their own gardens and many people, even in towns and cities, kept a few chickens or other poultry and perhaps even their own cows--remember Mrs. O'Leary in Chicago? When you sat down to eat, you knew exactly where almost every part of the meal had come from.

By the 20th century, however, all that had changed, as more and more food came from cans or boxes, and even fresh produce was shipped from far off states and even countries. People were removed farther and farther from their food, and their food was processed almost beyond being clearly identifiable (just what food group would you put Jello in? Diet soda?).

In Kitchen Literacy, Ann Vileisis has traced the changes that led to our having become a nation of *consumers* rather than *producers*, and her narrative is well-researched and entertaining. The gradual introduction of more and more processing to food is described, along with the generally valid reasons for these changes. Being able to buy a can of corn processed immediately after picking in the Midwest certainly was better than having to choose from three or four-day old tired ears of corn brought from southern New Jersey to midtown Manhattan.

Vileisis also provides a lot of hitherto uncovered explanations for why convenience foods first took off in the middle of the 20th century.
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Format: Hardcover
Award-winning historian Ann Vileisis presents Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back lives up to its title as a journey through the history of the simple act of making dinner. From eighteenth-century gardens and historic cookbooks to the rise of calculated advertising campaigns and the modern supermarket. As the distance between the creation of food and the table at which it was eaten grew, modern preparers gradually lost their understanding food's origins in exchange for believing advertiser's claims and government assurances. Today, most foods travel fifteen hundred miles before they are eaten. In this modern era of pesticide-drenched fruits, and meat from feedlots of fifty thousand animals, foodborne pathogens and water pollution loom as threats. A movement toward locally grown or raised food and organic fare offers a counterbalance, but now more than ever we need to know the basics about where food comes from in order to ensure optimal health for ourselves and our environment. A "must-read" for modern-day consumers in the post-family farm era.
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Format: Hardcover
Vieisis gives a very complete and thorough look at how the middle class has eaten in American history. I emphasize that this is about middle class America. Little comment is made about the poor (with the exception of some talk about bread), and this is an entirely American history. It is also very much a women's history, women being the cooks, growers, preparers, and ones making food decisions for families. It is not a feminist history, though.

Overall, this book was intriguing. It explored how women have viewed food, cooking for their families, and have gotten advice on growing, purchasing and preparing. The author begins by examining a single meal made by a woman in colonial Massachusetts. From there, the paths through immigration, mass production, wars, Westward expansion, women in the workplace, and an emphasis on variety and healthfulness are examined. I did learn quite a bit from this book-information ranging from how margarine was made to the formation of the Home Economics movement to how cake mixes were sold to women. It's almost amazing how the steps to covering up the steps to food preparation were taken-hiding how meat is butchered, how vegetables are transported, etc.

There were also some serious shortcomings in this book. The two most serious are that the author does little to consider how this change in food has effected the poor (whether for good or ill) and the author does not (IMO) do what she sets out to do in the subtitle of her book: explain why we need to know everything about our foods. I couldn't tell if she was promoting better consumer advocacy and information or if she wanted a back-to-nature approach to food or just constant vigilance on the part of the consumer. Most of the arguments she made seemed to be answered by watching Food Network, looking at labels, and not buying Easy Mac. I felt she needed to spend more time on current food issues. The history was a fascinating road, but it seems like she ignored the destination.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a fantastic book. As an academic specialising in agribusiness, this book gave me a great history of today's agribusiness system. It put the current trends that we see into its appropriate historical context. In some ways, it felt like she didn't know how to end the book, but that will be because history is still happening, so it is difficult to draw a line.

I would very highly recommend this book.
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