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The Food of a Younger Land: The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America (The Food of a Younger Land)

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  1,469 ratings  ·  308 reviews
A remarkable portrait of American food before World War II, presented by the New York Times–bestselling author of Cod and Salt.

Award-winning New York Times–bestselling author Mark Kurlansky takes us back to the food and eating habits of a younger America: Before the national highway system brought the country closer together; before chain restaurants imposed uniformity an
Kindle Edition, 428 pages
Published May 14th 2009 by Riverhead
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The book cover says...."A portrait of American food - before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional". I was expecting a light read, with some humor thrown in - and I was blown away.

At the height of the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was developed to put many of America's jobless to work doing things such as building parks (Eagle Point Park with gorgeous Frank Lloyd inspire
Hot dog, this book was fun! It uses documents from the Federal Writer's Program(part of the WPA) to document regional American cooking after canning was introduced, but before fast food and frozen tv dinners became a way of life. I wish this book has been published before my father died. The first sections after the introduction are about Vermont and my father was born in Bennington in 1929. This is the food he grew up with. I remember him describing butternuts and stopped at elderly ladies' hom ...more
This book is a pretty neat idea - publishing long forgotten works from the Federal Writers project . But, alas,, much of that work deserves to remain in the dust bin of history.

I did enjoy parts of the book quite a bit. A few of the vignettes, such as the Italian feed, are quite charming. Some of the recipes are hair-raisingly gruesome - Indiana pork cake, combining ground pork and molasses comes to mind as a prime example, though lutefisk is obviously a candidate as well.

Problems, however, alm
Bill Hall
“The Food of A Younger Land” provides an interesting glimpse at a United States not all that far in the past, but one that seems very, very far away. The materials for this book were generated by the Federal Writers Project (FWP) seventy years ago—a time still within memory for tens of thousands of Americans. Yet the food landscape of the land has changed immensely, due in large part to improved technology and transportation and the spread of restaurant chains.

Kurlansky’s introduction provides a
Back before eating locally was trendy, it was a necessity. In Depression-era America, one of the WPA projects for out-of-work writers – including Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow and Zora Neale Hurston – was the documentation of regional food traditions. The bombing of Pearl Harbor cut the project short, and the unedited manuscripts were sent to the Library of Congress where they gathered dust for many years.
Fast forward several decades, and enter Mark Kurlansky (author of several outstanding books tha
Spotty is the kindest word I can use to describe this patchwork quilt of a book, drawn from source material gathered by FDR's Federal Writer's Project during the heyday of the Great Depression. It's great fun for the most part. Kurlansky's section and piece introductions are wonderful, of course. Eudora Welty's piece is, well, Eudora Welty. There are some passages from the Deep South that read as shockingly racist today. There are passages that make one understand how we have abused our fisherie ...more
Parts of this were very interesting but parts were not so well done; not surprising since the editor just included portions of the WPA files which were never published. Astonishing to read what some people used to eat. :-) One beef--the editor said that the Midwest had lost all connection with its regional food. Perhaps if one never ventures out of Omaha or Chicago or Kansas City. But lots of people out in the "real Midwest" still make their great-grandmother's potato salad recipe or fix pumpkin ...more
I first heard about the book when the author was interviewed on NPR and while I was interested in the topic (the subtitle is long enough to make description almost overkill – “A Portrait of American Food Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal”) I was particularly intrigued by the story behind the papers he describes - planned but never executed WPA writing project America Eats.

The book consists of a selection of t
So, way back during the Depression, did you know that the WPA also paid writers to write? One of their projects was to compile descriptions of regional foods and eating habits. The WPA disbanded before the project was completed, and the various drafts landed in the Library of Congress until Mark Kurlansky realized how badly they needed to be published.

I was a bit concerned about the size of the book -- a book 300+ pages long, full of unedited works has the potential to drag. Instead, the short
If you love food and love history and maybe also have a short attention span you will love this book. Mark Kurlansky is one of the best authors at books on food history and he did a spectacular job researching and writing Food of a Younger Land.

On the surface it may seem like an easy book, gather articles that were written for the Writers Project of America (one of the works projects around the time of the Great Depression) and put them into book form by the region where they were created.

Iowa City Public Library
The Food of a Yonger Land : A Portrait of American Food–Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal, Regional and Traditional — from the Lost WPA Files is a fascinating compendium of what Americans ate in the 1930s. The book is edited and illustrated by Mark Kurlansky, best selling author of Salt : A World History and Cod : A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World among many other titles. In The Food of a Younger L ...more
This book is an excellent social history of the eating and cooking habits of America in the period before and including the 1930s. Kurlansky didn't write this, he edited the raw manuscripts from the 1940 Federal Writers' Project of the WPA, rescued these essays, recipes, and poems on food, cooking, and eating, from their Library of Congress oblivion, and wrote the introductory material.

While the social history aspect is fascinating (there is not even a mention of wine until you get to the Southw
Jess Michaelangelo
This is going to be a difficult and probably rather contradictory review for me to write.

Did I like this book? Yes. Did I want to put it down 200 pages ago? Yes. See what I mean?

Okay, first of all, the idea of this book is really cool. I'm sure everyone has heard of and knows a little bit about FDR's New Deal. Well, part of that New Deal was the Federal Writers' Project, which would create jobs for writers. The FWP's most successful endeavor was probably the travel guides that they published f
Mary Molinaro
Very interesting look into American life in the 1930s through the food of the country. Food at that time was very regionalized - that was before any chain restaurants. One could only get certain foods in certain places. These stories and recipes were collected by writers in the WPA era Federal Writers' Project. After the writers completed the American Guide Series they moved on to a project entitles America Eats. The manuscripts were to be turned in to the editors around Thanksgiving 1942. Short ...more
I’m ashamed to admit I dropped my Kansas Folklore class in college. In some ways I think I was too young to really appreciate the topic, but in other ways I enjoyed it too much. Or I enjoyed it in the wrong way, rather. It was fascinating and fun, not academic, so I listened and read with rapt attention but never really took notes or consolidated my learning, and when it came time to take tests over facts and details I realized I was totally unprepared. To preserve my GPA, I dropped it halfway t ...more
This is a collection of essays and recipes from the WPA writers' project. The collection itself is a bit of a mishmash and feels incomplete. But that's because it is incomplete, as the project ended before completion. But it's an interesting collection of glimpses into regional culture.

Many pieces seem biased, either in favor of the region presented (did Vermont really invent strawberry shortcake?), or in a condescending fashion (the portrait of a chitlin' feast is just awful by today's standar
Christopher Newton
Takeaway: we're better off today. That home-cooking was a brave attempt at making meals out of a few ingredients used over and over. People weren't eating their veg because there wasn't any except in the summertime - or out of a can. Thai, Italian, Mexican -- all unheard of foods, except in the Southwest for Mex. Chinese food meant chop suey. Meat and potatoes, and lots of it, cooked very plainly - that was the order of the day. The book is a collection of regional essays originally planned to b ...more
I love the idea of this book. An abandoned WPA project discovered and researched by Kurlansky, then published virtually untouched with essays added by Kurlansky himself. And it is interesting to see how regional foods came into their own. But the book becomes dry at times, due in large part, I think, to the fact that these essays were published in their original form, which in the best case were hastily completed and, at worst, simply a listing of ingredients. But I feel the book's true merit li ...more
Once you read the introduction of this book, you don't really need to read the rest - at least not in the way you read a novel or a theory book. The historical background of the WPA project is the most interesting part. The rest is a regional ethnography of food in the U.S. It is disjointed but that is because it was born from an incomplete writer's project.

So much of the food we know now was born out of custom and festivities. This book made me crave local cuisine such as clam bakes and maple
This review is for the audiobook edition.

While I'm normally the guy screaming "make more books audiobooks!!", in this particular case I sort of which the publishers had chosen otherwise.

First, the Narrator has a moderately annoying voice. Not the worst I've ever heard (not bad enough to give me headaches, like one author-narrator), but bad enough to make me want to turn the sound down and tune him out. I found myself struggling to listen to this book for more than 20 minutes or so at a time. Nor
Jeni Enjaian
Disclaimer: I did not listen to the last section of the book thanks to forgetting to stop my iPod when I put it away. I wasn't really into the book especially not enough to try to figure out where I had left off. This review is based on the first two thirds or so.

I did not like the narrator. It's one that I've heard before and while he isn't awful, he is not engaging and has a cadence almost perfectly tuned to lull a reader to sleep.

When the book first started I really enjoyed it. The author s
Jan C
This is probably more like ★★★ 1\2. A little heavy on the recipes ... which might be fine in a physical book. But I was listening while driving and recipes came close to driving me off the road.

Big surprise though was hearing about America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food, which I am reading on my phone.

It was interesting finding out about how people used to eat, especially when they didn't have any money -
An almost perfect selection of food related articles from the late 30s. Every piece has at least some value, whether anthropological, historical, or humorous. Anyone interested in the small details of life before World War II should pick it up. Any student of writing should at least flip through it to see how so many different writers dealt with similar assignments. I adored this book, warts and all.
An absolute delight.

Three stars for just a great book and an extra star for being of absolutely personal interest, combining American cultural/political history (especially pre- and immediate-post-World War II) with a nod to the mind-boggling imagination, creation, and achievements of the WPA and FOOD, glorious food! If you enjoy Jane Ziegelman's 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement and/or Ruth Riechl's first two memoirs and/or M.F.K. Fisher's works
A fascinating snapshot of America's diet, before refrigeration enabled mass distribution of foodstuffs around the continent. A WPA project, this book brings together a lot of short articles about many regional food customs, with recipes ranging from fried beaver tail and prairie oysters to smelt fries and depression cakes; 'A Los Angeles Sandwich called a Taco' and Indiana Persimmon Pudding, includes a glossary of Automat phrases and colloquilisms (eg: 'Chewed Fine with a Breath' means a Hamburg ...more
Michael Lewyn
This book is a set of mildly interesting essays about American foodways in the 1930s- before national fast food chains, before Mexican and Italian food (let alone Thai or Indian) were known to most Americans. The quality of the essays varies sharply; nevertheless, on balance I feel like I learned something.

If the essays are any guide to what people actually ate (a big if), Americans ate a lot more pork, a little more lamb, a little more wild game, and perhaps a lot more cornmeal than they do tod
"True Barbecue, like true love, cannot be bought but must always be given."

This wisdom and much more bursts forth from The Food of a Younger Land. Kurlansky does justice to the WPA's food writing project, despite its demise after Pearl Harbor. I really enjoyed the old recipes and intricate descriptions of past food-related events. This book will surely inspire many of my future parties.

For preserving a special collection of food history in a succinct, fun-to-read book, Kurlansky gets 5 stars fro
For what it was, it was interesting enough, and good enough for a bed-time read, with loss of short pieces. Kurlansky edits the unpublished WPA Food of America project, in which writers traveled around and wrote essays about the regional foodways of America during the first decades of the 20th century.
t was perfect bed-time reading, with nothing to keep me awake for long
I will remember the rather basic, unrefined diet described almost everywhere. Lots of good fresh food, and few interesting way
This collection of essays on the foods eaten in America prior to WWII is definitely worth the read. The essay on the Automat in New York is written in such a grand style that I half-expected Captain America to wander in with a handful of nickels. Kurlansky's selections of the submissions that were intended for a never-published book titled "America Eats" draws a picture of a very different country, one more diverse in many ways in its foods than the America of today.

As a life-long resident of th
This was a fascinating history lesson in more than just a culinary sense. It encompassed culture, language, and politics (the WPA was part of the New Deal created to employ out of work writers, editors, reporters, etc.). I realize that it was limited in its scope by what was turned in almost 70 years ago, but I kept wishing there were more essays or entries representative of other parts of the country.

I liked the controversy discussed in the Northeast section regarding the proper style of clam c
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Powell Branch Lib...: "The Food of a Younger Land" Book Discussion 1 12 Jun 21, 2012 02:07PM  
  • Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors
  • 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
  • Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats
  • Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (California Studies in Food and Culture, 24)
  • Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (California Studies in Food and Culture, 8)
  • Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal
  • Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food
  • Top Secret Recipes--Sodas, Smoothies, Spirits, & Shakes: Creating Cool Kitchen Clones of America's Favorite Brand-Name Drinks
  • Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages
  • An Edible History of Humanity
  • A Book of Mediterranean Food
  • Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back
  • Bacon: A Love Story: A Salty Survey of Everybody's Favorite Meat
  • In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
  • Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food
  • Quick & Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes
  • The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice
  • Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent
Mark Kurlansky (born 7 December 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut) is a highly-acclaimed American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt.

Kurlansky attended Butler University, where he harbored an early interest in theatre and earned a BA in 1970. However, his interest faded and he began to work as a journalist in
More about Mark Kurlansky...

Other Books in the Series

The Food of a Younger Land (6 books)
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Far West Eats Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Northern California, Oregon, Washington
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The South Eats
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Southwest Eats New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Southern California
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Northeast Eats Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York City, New York State, Pennsylvania
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Middle West Eats Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota
Salt: A World History Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

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