Book of the Week: A Square Meal – Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe

Ziegelman’s last book, 97 Orchard, was a fascinating look at how immigrant cuisine shaped American food ways. The NYTBR called it “[h]ighly entertaining and deceptively ambitious.” Ditto here. In this new cultural history Ziegelman and co-writer Andy Coe look at government intervention in food distribution and preparation during the Great Depression. It’s a similarly beguiling and entertaining ride through American history by way of one of the most fundamental elements of our lives—food.

To me one of the most surprising—and in hindsight logical—revelations of the book is that the Great Depression is the point at which Americans started thinking of food as scientifically determined “nutrition” rather than a simple pleasure and sustenance. The book is packed with details like this. And a nice bonus is that popular period recipes are included throughout the book.

97 Orchard was a bit of a sleeper hit. This time out major media is already lined up. We’ll have coverage in the NYT and USA Today to start, as well as an interview on Fresh Air.

This absorbing history explores what Americans ate—and, even more, didn’t eat—during the Great Depression, an economic upheaval that devastated agriculture and food budgets….Welfare supports such as food stamps and the school lunch program inaugurated the enduring bureaucratization of food. The period also witnessed a sea change in how Americans thought about food, shifting the focus from taste and abundance to nutrition as scientists and home economists sought to prescribe adequately nutritious diets from the cheapest possible foods…and new convenience inventions such as frozen vegetables revolutionized cooking. Coe and Ziegelman have written an engaging social history illustrated throughout with historically authentic recipes. Even if the period cuisine doesn’t make the reader’s mouth water, the vivid recreation of American eating at a historical crossroads is engrossing.
  — Publishers Weekly

 “The authors give a fresh slant to the familiar but complicated history of one of America’s most difficult eras… A highly readable, illuminating look at the many ramifications of feeding the hungry in hard times.”
   — Kirkus Reviews

“The Great Depression has long been elusive in the history of American food and cooking: we’ve seen many snapshots from different viewpoints but never a full portrait. Now, with the deep, thoughtful research and lively writing for which they they’re both known, Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman at last open up this era. They show us the politics and the perfidy, the good intentions and the ignorance, the anger and the ingenuity — and they also show us that we can find all that and more in the creamed lima beans.”
— Laura Shapiro, author of Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (9780062216410) by Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe. $26.99 hardcover. 8/18/16 on sale.

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