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A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) Paperback – November 26, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
"[T]he way [colonial] Americans thought about food was integral to the way they thought about politics," McWilliams persuasively argues in this survey of the creation of American cuisine. The Texas State University–San Marcos history professor explores what the colonists ate and why, how that affected their emerging political and cultural values, how their farms and their rights intersected and how "food remained at the core of America's Revolution." At the root of American cuisine, McWilliams finds, is the immeasurable impact of Native American agricultural practices. He explores the effect of the staple crop peculiar to each area of colonial America upon the development of regional foodways, as well as upon their economic and social practices. With remarkable clarity, he delineates the technical aspects of various agricultural tasks, from crop cultivation (sugar cane, rice, tobacco, corn, wheat) to more domestic work (building a kitchen garden, churning butter). The broad range of scholarship, the smooth weaving of political and social history and the full notes and fat bibliography will inform historians, while the lucid style and jaunty tone (the Quakers were "a people who made a virtue of frugality while making frugality more elaborate than anyone could have imagined") make this accessible to all. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The lucid style and jaunty tone...make this accessible to all. (Publishers Weekly)
Delicious from start to finish. (Kirkus Reviews)
Meticulously researched and packed with fascinating detail, this book provides an excellent account of the culinary development of Colonial America. (Library Journal)
A Revolution in Eating, a lively new tour of Colonial American 'foodways.' (Joshua Glenn Boston Globe)
Flexibility, even tolerance may well have contributed to the uniqueness of American food, according to historian McWilliams in this extremely rich, readable book. (The FOOD Museum Online)
Fascinating...Anyone curious about the cultural history of that meatloaf on the dinner plate will gobble it up. (Tina Jordan Entertainment Weekly)
McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of culinary attitudes, tastes, and techniques through out colonial America. (Staten Island Star Reporter)
McWilliams's examination of the culinary history of Colonial America is more than a... gastronomic tour... A lively and informative read. (New Yorker)
[A] fresh perspective is well worth the read. Instead of learning our origins through a well-worn trail of war and peace on a time line, it takes us on a more pleasant route from pewter spoon to mouth. (Shelley Preston Ledger)
A Revolution in Eating gives its readers much to chew over, and whets the appetite for further work on the development of American Cooking. (Claire Hopley The Washington Times)
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James McWilliams’s book A Revolution in Eating very articulately uses the Anglicization model to depict the evolution of colonial American edibles and the process of production. The first half of the book consists of chapters that detail the specific food culture of particular British American colonies or regions, such as the Chesapeake Bay region (Chapter 3), the middle colonies (Chapter 5), and New England (Chapter 2). The sources he uses for these formative years in Colonial America are in great abundance and range from the journals of colonist John Winthrop to modern peer reviewed articles, all of which can be seen in the extensive endnotes(319, to be exact) at the end of his book(granted, the lack of associated superscript in the book’s text makes it much harder to find what you are looking for). Partially evident by his regional division, and in line with the Anglicization theory, McWilliam’s argues that the American colonies first developed unique food cultures that were distinct both from England and the other colonies.
Once he has gone though his overview of distinct colonial American food ways, he artfully pulls all the regions together and depicts how, as the American Revolution neared, the colonies became more like their British masters and more like one another. Starting in Chapter 6, McWilliams makes ample use of period cookbooks and often details how colonial products were made to detail how the Colonies were becoming Anglicized. For the layman reader, these historic recipes are just as insightful for McWilliam’s overarching thesis as they are a quaint pleasure to read.. He argues that rum, for example, “…might be called the first genuine colonial product”(pg. 264) and there is satisfaction in knowing how an important piece of Americana was manufactured.
The book concludes by devoting a chapter to post-revolutionary American food and how the trend towards simplicity. Like the rest of this book it is full of delectable quotes, descriptions, and recipes that manage to be both scholarly and entertaining.
I would suggest this book to anyone interested in the development of culinary culture in the United States, especially in regards to the influences of Slavery and Native Americans. My only critiques are the repetition of detailed recipes, especially in the section of chapter three about William Byrd’s dietary selection. Otherwise McWilliams shows how regional developments of food shaped national identity.