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Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet

(California Studies in Food and Culture #7)

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  95 ratings  ·  18 reviews
In this wide-ranging and entertaining study Harvey Levenstein tells of the remarkable transformation in how Americans ate that took place from 1880 to 1930.
Paperback, 314 pages
Published May 30th 2003 by University of California Press (first published 1988)
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This book was a bit more interesting than I'd feared, but still dry as a bone. It was about how the post-civil-war diet was mainly grains and meat, and over the next 50-60 years we started adding more dairy and vegetables/fruits to our diet. Also about the integration of new immigrant tastes to the American palate (met with reluctance at best) and about the discovery of vitamins and such. It also examined the social engineering of home economics and how in order to change the diets of the poor ...more
Jenn "JR"
Oct 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-ag-history
In the late 19th and early 20th c, the US was a country with so much food that the biggest problem was trying to teach people to differentiate between types of food and to get across the basic concepts of nutrition.

Up until the early 20th c, it was assumed that all food was the same - that you could eat whatever - and your body would use it as fuel. Then scientists started identifying carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals -- and a whole business of nutrition was born.

This book
Apr 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
A scholarly history of changing food habits in the 20th century--especially informative and fascinating in Levenstein's accounts of the profession of home economics (the kind of chemistry women were encouraged to do!); the collaboration between the food industry, mass media, and nutrition scientists in the 1920s; and the changes in restaurant culture caused by Prohibition. Levenstein structures his book through short, engaging, pointed chapters, and his account of technological, economic, and ...more
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grad-school, thesis, own
Oh man, this book is great. It covers food culture and history in America from 1880-1930 and seems quite thorough. Levenstein is a good writer - he's engaging and funny and humble. There were a couple sentences where he seemed pretty biased one way or another, but that's bound to happen. He seems like he's mostly done archival and anecdotal research. His background is in labor history and I think that serves him well here, since he offers a good discussion of class and wealth and what that means ...more
Camille H
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: academic foodies
Shelves: food, non-fict
David Kamp, author of "The United States of Arugula," referred to "Revolution at the Table," as "a droll study of early-American dietary habits." I call it boring. Try "United States..." instead.
Apr 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: foodies
one of the best food novels available, although it only concentrates on middle-class, white, northern cuisine from the 18th century to the present.
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-17
Gosh! I'd never dreamed of all the history behind our crappy American diet. wasn't always as crappy as it is now. The book leaves off in the 70's, so it doesn't fully comprehend our fast food and convenience food explosions. It doesn't mention the extremes of over-processing that makes so much of the food in a grocery store not really food at all. It omits how nutritional qualities and flavor were whittled away as industrial agriculture learned to grow things bigger and faster. And ...more
Libby Beyreis
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not for everyone, but I really liked this book. It traces the history of the American diet and how it evolved, with tons of fascinating stories and insights into how various events (immigration, the world wars, the Depression) affected that diet, often in ways that I wouldn't have expected. If you're interested in why we eat the way we eat, this book should be on your list. Do note it was written in the eighties, so it leaves off some of the modern changes that have happened, but you can ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Classic book on the American diet which focuses on the period between 1880-1930. Well worth it, to remind us that most of what we think of as "new" trends are just the same old fads packaged new ways. I was particularly struck by the observation that for American's to embrace American food, it had to become popular in Europe and then get reintroduced to us; sort of like blues music. While there have been more detailed specific studies since this one, it's still a landmark worth visiting.
Dec 29, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Immigrants' resistance to formal and informal pressures to Americanize their food habits varied. Only the most frugal could resist taking advantage of the greater availability of high-status foods which had rarely graced their tables in Europe. They commonly ate more meat in America, particularly beef but also poultry, lamb, and pork. They also indulged more in sweets, particularly sweet cakes and rolls, something many regarded as a peculiarly American habit. Coffee drinking, which perplexed ...more
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
not super exciting but there were some very interesting parts. i read this for a class and so I sort of skimmed but i did appreciate Levenstein pointing out that the "recent" changes in the food system started way back in the end of the 1800s.
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
A great history of the changes in the American diet from 1880-1930; changes which Levenstein argues are the roots of our modern diet. I'm excited to move on to his work on the American diet in the modern age.
Mega Janis
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's about the transformation of American eating habits from the early times to the days before WWII. I use this book as a reference to write my final paper.
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-history
I think I might actually be in love with Harvey Levenstein.
Apr 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cannot-finish
Made it to page 93. Started out thinking it would be interesting, but it is very detailed and technical. Not interesting enough for me to continue reading.
Duncan Mchale
Sep 26, 2011 marked it as to-read
Recommended by Brent Cunningham in a Lapham's Quarterly podcast 7/25/11.
Beth Barnett
History of food and agriculture topics from colonial times to the 1930s Depression in the US.
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