Superficial, research-skimpy overview of middle-class American innovations in the 20th-century kitchen.
Freelance journalist Gdula’s warm-and-fuzzy chronological narrative of America’s industry-driven tastes barely takes into account the history of cooking before 1900 and largely neglects this country’s staggering regional and class differences. Frequently settling for such lazy summaries as, “changes were occurring so quickly in American society,” he always means middle-class, white society. Suddenly, by 1900, the “down-hearth fireplace” of prairie living was replaced by the freestanding cook stove, transforming the kitchen from a hot, dangerous place into a welcoming center of the house to which even guests were invited. The new century’s lady of the house saw herself as a domestic scientist, thanks to cooking primers by Sarah Tyson Rorer and Fannie Farmer. Guesswork was eschewed in favor of measurement, and public awareness of food contamination spread thanks to Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) and others. The U.S. government passed the Pure Food Act of 1907, and sanitary measures became de rigueur, as evidenced by the advent of better lighting, linoleum and the Hoosier cabinet. The consolidation of industry during World War I ushered innovations into the kitchen: canning, calorie counting, Borden’s condensed milk and Pyrex. Boxed cold cereal and sliced bread miraculously appeared in the 1920s, the Waring Blender, SPAM and Fiestaware in the Depression. Victory gardens and vitamins helped Americans stay healthy during World War II, and wartime experiments such as Teflon and aluminum foil ended up in the kitchen. Access to refrigeration, plastics and frozen French fries promised to make the kitchen less of a scullery in the 1950s. From the ’60s onward, Julia Childs and others familiarized Americans with the preparation of international cuisine.
From dieting to genetically modified foods, Gdula skates through a century of America’s eating habits, regurgitating articles from magazines and offering few fresh ideas.