Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Ann Vileisis is a writer and historian. She is the author of Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of Americaand#8217;s Wetlands (Island Press, 1997), which won prestigious awards from the American Historical Association and the American Society for Environmental History. An avid gardener and cook, she lives on the Oregon coast.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Missing Stories
Chapter 1. A Meal by Martha
Chapter 2. To Market, To Market
Chapter 3. Mystifying the Mundane
Chapter 4. Denaturing the Senses
Chapter 5. A New Longing for Nature
Chapter 6. Rise of the Modern Food Sensibility
Chapter 7. The Covenant of Ignorance
Chapter 8. Kitchen Countertrends
Epilogue: Returning Stories to the Modern Kitchen