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The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  153 reviews
For generations, people have proudly defined themselves and their values through their national cuisine. But American food, like its history, is a world of its own. This enticingly fresh book introduces modern listeners to lost American food traditions and leads them on a tantalizing culinary journey through the evolution of our vibrant cuisine and culture. Covering a ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Sourcebooks (first published November 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
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 ·  720 ratings  ·  153 reviews

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Oct 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
My thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks (non-fiction) for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.

I was waffling between a 4 or 5 star review while reading this book, until I got to the last chapter and epilogue. The book is titled, "The American Plate-A History of the United States in 100 Bites", which is kind of what the reader gets, except there is way too much preaching for my tastes. Yes, this country has had a lot of civil unrest with inequality, racism, sexism, etc. I don't see what
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr OConnell provides a wide-ranging overview of food in the USA, from pre-Columbian days to some comments about trends in the early twenty-first century. The narrative is clear and easy to read, often linking with ideological aspects of USA history. It argues that the USA is a country consisting mostly of immigrants, each group contributing to the complexity of the American plate - which makes us think about what the Trump administration is doing on the southern border of the USA. There are many ...more
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Reading The American Plate you cant help but feel that you are reading the source material for a cable TV series on a history or food network. No surprise as the author works for the History Channel and A&E Networks and produces documentaries. Lots of odd and interesting topics are thrown in. (Mmmm, beaver tail and syllabub.) But the place in history background for the foods chosen tend to the pretty basic and unnecessary. For example, theres a section on Cuban food that includes an entire ...more
Nathan Albright
Jul 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: challenge
It is singularly unfortunate that there should be so much in the way of bad social history being written by people who have no business calling themselves historians [1]. Had the author been more restrained in making dubious claims and advocacy, and less interested in combining the worst elements of decadent moral corruption from the left and elitist snobbery on the right, this could have been a great book. To be sure, there is still a lot about this book that can be enjoyed by those who are ...more
Aug 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I really enjoyed this book! I learned a lot, got some cool recipes, and I was entertained. I really appreciated the author's treatment of delicate issues (like the government-approved slaughter of Native Americans, slavery, women's rights, etc.) I thought she handled it well and appreciated that she didn't shy away from calling out the atrocities. My only issue is that some of the sections talked more about the time period than the food, which is fine, but sometimes it left me wanting to learn ...more
May 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I agree with reviewer Jen about the heavy-handed political correctness when it comes to recounting American history. And, this is pretty much a book about American history with sometimes-interesting factoids about the food we eat thrown in. I also agree that the beginning of the book with the facts about the "Three Sisters" corn, beans, and squash being the most interesting and enjoyable part of the book. Fun book to pick up and read here and there. As a whole, it's a lot to swallow.
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
Short "bites" of culinary history served up with a heaping serving of preachy progressive politics. If you like books where authors spend 4 pages trying to relate carrot-ginger soup to the AIDS epidemic (hint: soup is 'easy to drink' which is nice if you have AIDS, I guess) you'll love this one.
Oct 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
An interesting history of America through the food we eat, and a look at how that food has changed. I see some readers didn't like the social history interspersed with the food history, but I don't see how you could write this book without it, honestly. I mean, how can you talk about colonists' eating habits without talking about the knowledge they gained from Native Americans, and how can you talk about that without acknowledging the atrocities Native Americans suffered at the hands of the U.S. ...more
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
The author chooses 100 "bites" to show American history. These are not necessarily one food or one dish, but related items grouped together. Often an entry will have several short essays, showing different aspects of the food item(s) and/or the history the author has paired with them. While she jumps back and forth in time a lot, the organization is loosely chronological.

This book just drove me crazy (didn't help that the audiobook reader kept mispronouncing fairly common names and words--how do
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Entertaining. Made me hungry. Some of the history/food links seemed a bit of a stretch to me but I found it a very enjoyable read.
Nicole G.
This book has its pros and cons. Pros include the ability to pick it up and down at leisure, as the information (or bites, if you will) is separated very easily for that purpose. It was a good book to take on vacation. One big con, for me, was some of the author's source material. She cited Wikipedia quite a few times; now, I'll admit, I will use Wikipedia sometimes for a starter, but any well-sourced article is going to have primary sources you can use to your advantage. That was a bit ...more
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvelous gem of a book by Libby OConnell (chief historian for the History Channel, inter alia), who tells the stories behind the food and drink of America in 100 bites. But this is not just a culinary history; it is an excellent account of American history reflected through the lens of what we have been eating all this time, and why.

I am very critical when it comes to narratives about American history, but OConnell pretty much astounded me with her coverage and accuracy, though the
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I do enjoy the history of food but there are some historical errors and the elitism of the author with her luxury foods, summers on the river in Canada etc really detracted from what could have been an otherwise more interesting read.
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Anyone who has read and enjoyed Lila Perl's children's books from the 1970s about American history seen through the lens of the food eaten by our ancestors ought to mosey through The American Plate. It is a fascinating travel through our history from pre-Columban through present-day North America. There aren't many recipes -- only one per chapter -- but the ones chosen are truly representative of the era. They use natural ingredients (no mixes, no Bisquick!) and straightforward in execution.
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a great book. I thought the way they told the history of our country through the food we at was unique. Some of the food mentioned I remember my grandmothers, and great aunts fixing. It was the food of their childhood, and the food they made during the depression when they were trying to keep their families fed. Somehow it became favorite family meals that they only made when everyone was visiting. That part made me realize just how much of our history comes down to us through the food ...more
Rhiannon Johnson
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing

I was in nerd heaven when I read this book! The author is the lead historian at the History Channel and the information presentation is comparable to an Alton Brown cooking program. Think of your high school history book (I know *groan*) and think what were people eating during various decades?

Read my full review here:
Steven Thielking
Oct 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This is like a two and a half star book bumped up to three. I really enjoy food history and this worked as a collection of small easily digestible (pun intended) short stories about various dishes or food concepts. However the author severely overreached trying to link various food to various movements and it honestly just felt like padding to try and fill out the book or to make the history far more dramatic than it really was.
Jun 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
This was interesting, but ultimately very basic. I would have preferred more in-depth discussion of fewer topics.

Also, the chapter on "Ginger Carrot Soup" felt completely tone deaf and was trying way too hard to connect this food to current events. The beginning chapters were much stronger than the later chapters.
Ellen Taylor
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Not normally a nonfiction reader, this collection of "bites" of information on various foods in
American history kept my attention and interest throughout the journey from maize to sushi. Dr. O'Connell's selections of various food to highlight followed a thread connecting one decade and generation to the next. Excellent book for foodies!
Kim McGee
Nov 20, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is to food what Bill Bryson is to architecture and home life. Full of tasty morsels about the food we eat, it is fun to discover some of our most popular foods and how they came to be. A nibble down memory lane for those of us who remember TV dinners and TANG!
Dec 31, 2014 rated it liked it
What a fun book! Very informative. It's set up in "bites" of history, so depending on how hungry you are, you can nibble a bit or take huge bites in a sitting. There are even recipes that I definitely want to try.
Selena Beckman-Harned
Jun 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
A delicious combination of cultural and culinary history.
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fictiion
an interesting of american culinary history.
Prima Seadiva
Audiobook. Reader was annoyingly chipper and upbeat which did not enhance the book only emphasized the qualities I found annoying in the writing.
History book or food book? I like both but the author seemed not to be sure so didn't really excel at either subject or be able to connect them consistently in a way that made sense.
My own political leaning is in synch with much of hers but I found some of the correlations of the foods in question and the history to be a stretch.
Two of the most
Jackie Caldwell
Meh. I guess if youre really into in this kind of thing its okay. I was only mildly interested in the history of food going in, and this book failed to pique my interest as I read through it. Im not sorry I read it, but after I was about a quarter of the way through, I found myself just reading it for the facts (not the way they were delivered; a pdf would have sufficed and probably better). About halfway through I had to force myself to spend part of my day reading it. Its just not ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I needed to read a book from the 641s for a reading challenge (for all you non-library people, that's food/cooking), and a coworker had talked about this one so I thought I'd try it (especially since I'm rubbish with cookbooks). I found parts of this utterly fascinating. I felt the book was better when the author stuck to the history of the food, and it was weaker when she tried to shove social issues down our throats. Some of the reasons why a certain food was included just didn't make sense. ...more
Sep 28, 2017 rated it liked it
More for the history buffs than the foodie lovers.

Depending on what you are expecting when you open this book, it can be either a hit or miss. A book entitled The American Plate denotes chapters about food, aromas, discoveries, and all that tasty stuff. I was also intrigued by the history aspect of it. Where did certain foods come from? How is this an American tradition? Instead of getting a rich and intertwined history of the American Plate, you are instead treated to 100 sections of mini
Jenny Lee
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, and how much effort the author made to acknowledge the darker chapters of history (slavery, racism, Native American genocide, colonial history that only acknowledge white men as true citizens, Japanese internment, Jim Crow laws, Chinese Exclusion, etc...) that don't get the attention they should. Admittedly, there are a few times when the historical ties to certain foods is a bit of a stretch, but I'm still glad O'Connell went there. Other readers have complained ...more
Sarah Crass
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book solidly defines the origins of American cuisine. Only a few pages dedicated per bite, it gives just enough information to keep you interested. The origin of baked Alaska? Celery as a luxury food item? When did eel go out of fashion (not that I am complaining!)? When did California wine take over? How in the world did Cheez Whiz become a thing? The food we eat today is layered with cultural and historical influences. I enjoy food points of view and this was an intriguing American ...more
I adore food history, so this was right up my alley. Found this even more palatable (little joke there) as an audiobook.

I particularly enjoyed the exact portions of the book which other reviewers found most objectionable: when the author relates food to broad patterns in the development of American society. Of course American cuisine is related to patterns of immigration, and to the subjugation of America's indigenous population. Of course our foodways were influenced by the enslaved Africans
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Libby O'Connell is Senior Vice President of Corporate Outreach and Chief Historian to the History Channel. She is the author of several books, including "Save Our History, White House 200th Anniversary" and "History of Halloween". Libby lives in New York City.

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Well, here we all are, sheltering in place, buying canned beans, and generally trying to figure out how to stay inside and keep our minds busy....
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