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Monday, February 25, 2013

Putting Meat On the American Table by Roger Horowitz~★★★★★

Author: Roger Horowitz
Title: Putting Meat On the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation
Release Date: November 16, 2005
Publisher: The John Hopkins University Press
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Engagingly written and richly illustrated, Putting Meat On the American Table explains how America became a meat-eating nation---from the colonial period to the present. It examines the relationship between consumer preference and meat processing---looking closely at the production of beef, pork, chicken, and hot dogs. 
Roger Horowitz argues that a series of new technologies have transformed American meat. He draws on detailed consumption surveys that shed new light on America's eating preferences---especially differences associated with income, rural versus urban areas, and race and ethnicity. 
Putting Meat On the American Table will captivate general readers and interest all students of the history of food, technology, business, and American culture."

Taryn's Review: In the past I have worked summers at an 1820s living history farm. The farm provides visitors with the opportunity to witness life as it was in the 1820s (minus the gross parts, ha!). Food is a popular subject the visitors bring up and they often ask what sorts of meats people on the 1820s frontier ate. According to historical documents, wild game and fish were prevalent as well as pork products, but beef and chicken seem to have been rare eats saved for special occasions. While the reasonings behind this are too numerous to list here, a question I wasn't very good at answering was, "What changed? Why do we eat so much beef and chicken now?"

Enter Roger Horowitz and his book. This book went beyond my expectations in its explanation of the transition to a nation that can eat beef, pork, and chicken at every meal if we so desire. The vast technological advances changed the way animals could be slaughtered and preserved and transportation technologies could move frozen foods quickly and easily. An eating revolution took shape and is still seen on our tables today. Horowitz wanted readers to really ponder over the idea if producers truly dominated nature with the new technologies since producers celebrated their conquest over natural processes. Another book that discusses this in great depth is Nature's Metropolis by William Cronon

This book is useful not just because it provided the history of why the changes occurred and how they were accepted, but also because it touched on concerns from the turn of the century about the artificial additives added to foods, which mirror the concern over processed foodstuff today. The book also contained some awesome pictures (some of which could be a bit gory for the weak-stomached person) and Horowitz's discussion of advertising was very enlightening, too. Did you know there used to be bacon girls who cooked and served bacon to the public as to ensure the public conjured up a positive image of the food...but only white women could be bacon girls? This book has so many interesting and thought-provoking facts!

As a history student I enjoyed this book so much and there are so many groups of people who would enjoy this book and benefit from reading it. As a foodie the book helped me to understand why I have the selection of meats in front of me at the supermarket and it also made me realize how products like ham and bacon most likely do not taste the same way as they did 150+ years ago. People who are interested in local food movements could use this book to explain why modern tablescapes appear as they do today and how the nation moved from eating locally to nationally. Horowitz did an amazing job researching this book and it's one I highly recommend to all.

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