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Three Squares: The Invention of the American Mealby Abigail Carroll
Synopses & Reviews
We are what we eat, as the saying goes, but we are also how we eat, and when, and where. Our eating habits reveal as much about our society as the food on our plates, and our national identity is written in the eating schedules we follow and the customs we observe at the table and on the go.
In Three Squares, food historian Abigail Carroll upends the popular understanding of our most cherished mealtime traditions, revealing that our eating habits have never been stable—far from it, in fact. The eating patterns and ideals weve inherited are relatively recent inventions, the products of complex social and economic forces, as well as the efforts of ambitious inventors, scientists and health gurus. Whether were pouring ourselves a bowl of cereal, grabbing a quick sandwich, or congregating for a family dinner, our mealtime habits are living artifacts of our collective history—and represent only the latest stage in the evolution of the American meal. Our early meals, Carroll explains, were rustic affairs, often eaten hastily, without utensils, and standing up. Only in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution upset work schedules and drastically reduced the amount of time Americans could spend on the midday meal, did the shape of our modern three squares” emerge: quick, simple, and cold breakfasts and lunches and larger, sit-down dinners. Since evening was the only part of the day when families could come together, dinner became a ritual—as American as apple pie. But with the rise of processed foods, snacking has become faster, cheaper, and easier than ever, and many fear for the fate of the cherished family meal as a result.
The story of how the simple gruel of our forefathers gave way to snack fixes and fast food, Three Squares also explains how Americans eating habits may change in the years to come. Only by understanding the history of the American meal can we can help determine its future.
"Why do we eat a large dinner at night instead of a mid-day meal followed by siesta as our European counterparts do? How did our custom of consuming orange juice and cold cereal become an American staple? These questions of 'how, when, and why' of the distinctly American custom of consuming food is the subject of Carroll's newest book. By tracing the history of sustenance throughout the history of the nation, from the earliest settlers to today, Carroll makes the argument that perhaps 'our knives and forks may prove to be cultural tools more powerful than we have yet dared to dream.' Despite a well-researched and well-presented history of the concepts of the four main meal categories, 'dinner, lunch, breakfast, and snack,' the book reads more as an exercise in tracing what has passed without persuasive data for what will occur in the future. There is definitely more that went into how and why Americans consume their food the way they do, as Carroll demonstrates. However, by adding a conclusion that fails to take into account the modern age, with globalization and an America with a larger focus on uniqueness/authenticity in its food market, the conclusion that there is one specifically American way of eating does not feel satisfactory. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
We are what we eat, as the saying goes—but we are also how we eat, and when, and where. Our eating habits reveal as much about our national identity as the food on our plates, as food historian Abigail Carroll vividly demonstrates in Three Squares. Reaching back to colonial America, when settlers enjoyed a single, midday meal, Carroll shows how later generations of Americans abandoned this utilitarian habit for more civilized, circumscribed rituals, trading in rustic pottages and puddings for complex roasts, sides, desserts, and—increasingly—processed foods. These new foodstuffs became the staples of breakfast and lunch in the late nineteenth century, and even brought with them a new eating tradition: snacking, which effectively transformed the American meal into one never-ending opportunity for indulgence.
Revealing how the simple gruel of our forefathers gave way to cheese puffs and moon pies, Three Squares fascinatingly traces the rise and fall of the American meal.
About the Author
Abigail Carroll is an independent author focusing on American food history. She holds a PhD in American and New England Studies from Boston University, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, among other publications. Carroll lives in Winooski, Vermont.
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