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Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal Hardcover – September 10, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This history of American eating habits exposes how both native and foreign influences combined to shape popular folkways and attitudes about feeding ourselves over the course of the day. The first settlers had little choice but to eat much the same as Native Americans. With passing generations, colonists more and more adapted Britain’s familiar fare, including pudding and afternoon tea. Following revolutions on both sides of the North Atlantic, French ideas came to define the expected elements of a proper meal. Foods appeared on tables in courses, and words such as soup, dessert, and even picnic entered common English vocabulary. The greatest transformations of American mealtimes followed the Industrial Revolution’s regularizing of the workday, kitchen mechanization, and the rise of industrial food processing. The evening meal became the day’s most important since workers lacked time to return home in the middle of the day. Carroll also contributes to contemporary debates over family meals and snacking. --Mark Knoblauch

Review

Concord Monitor
“A fascinating, readable history.”

Kirkus
"An information-packed history of American eating habits… [An] enjoyable history of American food culture."

Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country & Coca-Cola and Uncommon Grounds
“In Three Squares, Abigail Carroll has filled a gaping hole in our fetish for food histories. There are books on peanut butter, pumpkins, pancakes, milk, fried chicken, chocolate—the list goes on—but now we have the big picture. Learn here how the Industrial Revolution, television, and Mad Men affected how, when, and what we eat. You’ll never look at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between-meal snacks the same way again.”

Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork
“I was enthralled by this account of how radically America’s meals have changed over time, from dinner pails to TV dinners. This vividly written book makes you see that the American way of life at any given moment has been formed by meals. We meet the ‘stander-uppers’ who ate quick cold working meals at lunch counters and the nineteenth-century critics who feared that six o’clock dinner would ‘destroy health.’ Three Squares shows that the tradition of an evening family meal, taken at a table, is a relatively recent innovation; but one with the power to improve not just our health but our vocabulary. ‘Family meals, it turns out, are more beneficial to children’s word banks than play or having adults read to them.’ With warmth and scholarship, Abigail Carroll persuades us that much depends on breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as all the snacks in between.”

Barbara Haber, author of From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals
“As Abigail Carroll so skillfully explains, the pattern of American meals—three squares a day—is not a static entity but rather a social construction that has changed over time. By using imaginative sources and asking pertinent questions, Carroll traces not only the evolution of meals but of the people who have consumed them.”

Andrew F. Smith, author of Eating History: 30 Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine
“Why do Americans eat what we eat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Abigail Carroll examines the American meal from colonial times to the present in Three Squares, providing delicious insights along the way. Three Squares is superbly researched, delightfully written, packed with insights—and easy to digest!”

Warren Belasco, author of Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food, and Visiting Professor of Gastronomy, Boston University
“Combining scholarly rigor with lively storytelling, Abigail Carroll offers a fresh look at American culinary history. Resisting the nostalgia often associated with discussion of family meals, Carroll argues that American dining rituals are relatively modern and are constantly evolving to meet contemporary needs and values. This masterful synthesis will delight both professional scholars as well as newcomers to the exciting new field of food history. Highly recommended!”

Sandy Oliver, author of Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Food at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century
“With Three Squares, Abigail Carroll gives us a very long view of American dining habits, beginning with life in colonial times and ending in the 21st century. With sometimes startling descriptions of the ad hoc eating that occurred on either side of a main noon meal in our earliest years, we witness the impact of away-from-home work in industry and commerce that appropriated the middle of the day and left us with ‘cold, quick, and cheap lunches.’ The story of breakfast cereal and snack foods and the erosion of the properly set, middle-class dinner table with everyone minding their manners caps this fascinating narrative.”

Anne Fishel, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School, and consultant to The Family Dinner Project
“You will never look at your three meals a day, or snacks throughout the day, the same way after you read this fascinating, well researched book. For anyone interested in food, this book is a must. It tells the historical stories and elucidates the business forces that underpin our current eating practices.”
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 8.11.2013 edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465025528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465025527
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Abigail Carroll delights in uncovering the stories behind the foods we eat. She is an author and food historian who has taught in the Gastronomy Program at Boston University and has published articles in a variety of publications, including the New York Times. She holds a PhD in American Studies from Boston University and makes her home in Vermont.

Customer Reviews

Information is great, and very well written.
F. Bailey Norwood
I liked the "where we started our eating habits" parts and the history of certain foods, but the book took a sharp preachy turn at the end an sort of raced to a stop.
Bo Gregory
By reading this book, you will understand much of why we eat as we do.
Johnnie B.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Weinstock on September 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
MThree Squares: The Invention of the American Meal

I haven't enjoyed a food book so much since MUCH DEPENDS ON DINNER by Margaret Visser. In THREE SQUARES, Abigail Carroll has brought together thousands of facts about American foodways, most of them new to me, and woven them into a coherent and fascinating story. Now I know the lost history of toast at breakfast and what was so wondrous about Wonder Bread. (It was sliced!) Carroll lays bare the anti-French politics of Thanksgiving dinner, and recounts recurring waves of food fads, theories, and movements that shaped how we eat and how we talk about it, long before this moment's controversy about the Neolithic diet. THREE SQUARES is a good read. No recipes, but I'll keep it in my kitchen.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Dickerson on September 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Carroll does an excellent job of engaging and informing the reader on the history of our meals and the role of snacking. She covers the evolution of our eating habits from colonial America through the Industrial Revolution up to the present, as well as the impact of advertising surrounding the culture of eating and American's love affair with pastries of all kinds (and especially pie). I recommend this book to those who care about eating (every one) or enjoy American history. This has been one of my favorite reads of 2013.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jenn A on September 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I enjoy watching food documentaries and eating well, but have never thought to ask the question this book poses: How did we as American come to eat the way it does? I was recently gifted this book and although I'm not a voracious reader, I can't wait to finish the book! I look forward to the fun conversations that are springboarded from this thoughtfully written American food history review :)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By DPHBrooklyn on March 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This review was originally published on 205Food.com:

The term "square meal" may have originated in Britain, but its meaning is thoroughly American. In an 1856 newspaper advertisement in the Placerville Mountain Democrat, a restaurant called the "Hope and Neptune" averred that it had "secured the services of an excellent cook, and can promise all who patronize us that they can always get a hearty welcome and a 'square meal'…"

Over time the meaning of a "square meal" became more expansive. Such a meal was a good value, a proper and appropriate meal, filling, simple, but containing a variety of foods necessary to good health. The two words "square meal" pretty much summed up Americans' attitude toward food -- for most, food was simply ample and high quality fuel.

As Abigail Carroll shows in her excellent book, what we eat and how we eat has been shaped mainly by changes in our capitalist economy and to a lesser extent by moral and health concerns. But in America, the sheer love of food and eating has not really been a major part of the equation.

For America's first settlers food was scarce, and the colonists had to adapt their customary eating habits to circumstances. New foods (squash, corn, vegetables) necessarily substituted for meat and grain. The settlers may have deplored Native Americans' propensity to eat several meals a day without any set schedule, but the new Americans were pretty crude themselves. Tables and chairs were lacking. Meals were often eaten without utensils. Family members may have dined together, but there seems to have been little conversation. As the author notes, "they remained mainly focused on the task at hand: refueling.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Johnnie B. on June 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In this wonderful, well researched book Abigail Carroll shows us how and why American eating habits have changed since colonial times. By reading this book, you will understand much of why we eat as we do.

The only issue I have with this work is for the most part the author ends the story in the 1940s. From my own experience with my family, I know our eating habits did not freeze in place in this period. From discussions with my grandmother (born in 1904) her family subsisted on mostly pork, chicken on special occasions and boiled vegetables in three daily meals; pretty much exactly as Ms Carroll describes for this time period. But then I think to my current family diet which the author only partially explains. So she explains perfectly well why we eat fairly light breakfasts and lunch in place of dinner, but the meals we eat include items my grandmother hardly knew existed such as pineapple, spaghetti, sushi, kimchi, bulkogi. I suspect the change I describe can be chalked up to tech advances such as refridgeration along with cultural infusions, but Ms Carroll only touches on these matters in passing. But even with these omissions, this book will definitely give you the "big picture" of how our eating habits have changed over the years.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gail P. Morrissette on November 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an avid student of culture, food origins and all that goes with such, it filled the ticket for me. A lot of questions/theories were answered for me. The information was written and delivered in a very non-scientific way. That is to say the book was a delightful read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pat on July 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book tremendously. As a serious cook, a serious eater, and a serious historian to boot, I was fascinated by the assumptions Ms. Carroll laid bare and the tying of cooking, eating, taste, and convenience to the changes in lifestyle and livelihood our society has experienced over the 400 or so years just past.
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