Cooking up modernity: Culinary reformers and the making of consumer culture, 1876--1916
Fannie Farmer of the Boston Cooking School may be the only culinary expert from the Progressive Era who remains a household name today, but many other women took part in efforts to reform American foodways as well. Employing "scientific cookery," cooking based on the sciences of nutrition and physiology, these women paradoxically formed their careers within a prescribed culture of women's domesticity. At a time when the food industry was rapidly growing, culinary authorities engaged in commercial enterprise as intermediaries between producers and consumers by endorsing products, editing magazines and advertising recipe booklets, and giving cooking demonstrations at food expositions. This study examines the role of cooking experts in shaping the culture of consumption during the forty years beginning in 1876, when the first American cooking school based on scientific principles was founded in New York. Consumer culture here refers not only to advertising and a set of beliefs and customs regarding shopping at retail stores. Expanding the definition of consumption to include cooking (producing meals entails consuming foods) and eating, this dissertation also explores how cooking experts helped turn middle-class women into consumers of food. Drawing on cooking authorities' prescriptive literature, such as cookbooks, magazine and newspaper articles, and advertising cookbooks, this study takes a bifocal approach, illuminating the dynamic interplay between rising consumerism and foodways. Culinary experts not only helped develop the mass marketing and consumption of food. They also shaped a consumerist worldview, which exalted mental and physical exuberance, laying the groundwork for consumer culture, especially advertising, to grow. They adopted commercial aesthetics into their recipes and meal arrangements and, claiming that the appearance of foods corresponded to their wholesomeness, culinary authorities suggested eye-appealing dishes for middle-class women to make and consume. The entwinement of culinary and consumer cultures involved cooking teachers' insistence on the domesticity of women, especially their role of providing family meals. This gender expectation, along with consumer culture, characterized twentieth-century America. Culinary reformers helped modernize American society at large at the turn of the twentieth century.