Mark Kurlansky's new book takes us back to the food of a younger America. Before the national highway system brought the country closer together, before chain restaurants brought uniformity, and before the Frigidaire meant that frozen food could be stored for longer, the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional. It helped to form the distinct character, attitudes, and customs of those who ate it.While Kurlansky was researching The Big Oyster in the Library of Congress, he stumbled across the archives for the America Eats project and discovered this wonderful window into our national past. In the 1930s, with the country gripped by the Great Depression and millions of Americans struggling to get by, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Writers' Project under the New Deal to give work to artists and writers, such as John Cheever and Richard Wright. A number of writers - including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren - were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project was abandoned in the early 1940s and never completed.The Food of a Younger Nation unearths this forgotten literary and historical treasure. Mark Kurlansky's brilliant compilation of these historic pieces, combined with authentic recipes, anecdotes, photos, and his own musings and analysis, evokes a bygone era when Americans had never heard of fast food and the grocery store was a thing of the future.More
While doing research at the Library of Congress for one of his books, food historian Mark Kurlansky landed upon a "cache of unedited manuscripts" about America's regional eating habits in the pre-World War II 1940s. The collection was a creation of the Federal Writers' Project (FWP), a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), President Roosevelt's central "New Deal" response to the massive unemployment of The Great Depression. A stack of almost two feet high, this large mass of manuscripts was intended for a book of a mere 75,000 words, America Eats. The editing and publication were scuttled by the December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack and the U.S.'s entry into World War II.
"Ironically, the chaotic pile of imperfect manuscripts has left us with a better record than would the nameless, cleaned-up, smooth-reading final book," Kurlansky says. Citing the editor of the America Eats project "Emphasis should be divided between food and people" Kurlansky adds, "It is this perspective that gives this work the feeling of a time capsule, a preserved glimpse of American in the early 1940s." Critically important, Kurlansky chose "not always the best, but the most interesting pieces."
The Food of a Younger Land is a different kind of audiobook experience: less a forward flowing narrative and more of a cultural anthropological dig with its finest pieces selected by a master of the art, and put on display. The narrative challenges of an audiobook of such a subject are considerable. The book is a celebration, and narrator Stephen Hoye sets an optimistic, upbeat, and friendly narrative tone. There are a large number of sections in the book, with diverse styles and tones and many different WPA authors. Hoye orchestrates this array nicely with tonal variations of the book's major, celebratory key.
The direct reporting of food and recipes by the WPA writers are relatively straightforward. The narrative demands are greater in the depiction of social scenes easily the most interesting sections of The Food of a Younger Land. In the best of these sections, the narrative subjects seem to rise up from the ground, have their moment on the audio stage, and then fade out; returning to the stacks of carbon-copy print. This becomes mesmerizing, thanks to Stephen Hoye. David Chasey
"This extraordinary collection provides a vivid and revitalizing sense of the rural and regional characteristics and distinctions that we've lost and can find again here." (Publishers Weekly)
"Fun, illuminating, and provocative, this historic reclamation appears while we're in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the one Franklin D. Roosevelt fought [and] while we're grappling with a plague of unsafe food and environmental woes associated with industrial agriculture. But don't despair. Whip up Ethel's Depression Cake, and throw a bailout party." (Booklist)
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Perhaps better in print.
Great for history buffs and foodies
Yes, I'd listen to it again as I'm sure there are parts that would sink in better on a second listen.
Any of the WPA writers guides to the states.
Easy to listen to. Good pronunciation
yes. I found the history of the project fascinating and a great way to learn about food history in the US. I'm surprised how many foods which were common in the late 1930s are unknown today and how much food in the US has become homogenized over the last 70 years.
- Gene Bowker