As of last week, I was struggling with ideas and trying to make a thorough research survey that wasn’t 20 minutes and a lifetime long. In the mean time? I got to pick the brain of Bill Esparza (nothing says “cool” like scribbling notes over a cocktail), have my survey dissected by my whole class, touch base with “Uncle” Felix Gutierrez (an amazing USC professor handling his own bundle of historical research work) and go to Disneyland.
That last one was particularly important to my academic progress. Obviously.
What I’ve discovered is that while I’m a PR major and decidedly not a History nor Politics nor International Relations nor anything that will remotely help me with my research, food history is something I’m interested in tackling.
As far as the research itself, I pointed last week to the Imperialism of the Calorie article by Nick Cullather. It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and outlines the major paradigm shifts, culturally and politically, introduced by Mr. Wilbur O. Atwater and his concept of measuring energy in foods (and penchant for sealing students into air-tight basement chambers)
While we can see the legacy of these shifts today in the form of justifying aid to other countries, for example, what I continue to find fascinating is just how much our relationship with the calorie has changed. Thanks to Atwater, we were suddenly able to not only categorize our food based on visible and tactile characteristics, but rank it in value. In the 19th c, that meant wheat, potatoes, meat and milk take home the gold, while vegetables play second fiddle, if they play at all.
This is quaintly illustrated by Mrs. J. Hoodless’ 1998 textbook, Project Gutenberg’s Public School Domestic Science, a lovely how-to for all young women looking to understand nutrition and recipes. Mrs. Hoodless outlines the basic applications of Atwater’s guides to various foods, instructs which are the best and worst foods to prepare, and then offers recipes for even the most base home cook to prepare.
“Butter will not support life when taken alone, but with other foods is highly nutritious and digestible,” instructs Mrs. Hoodless. However, “Cucumbers are neither wholesome nor digestible.”