Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Brief: The Food Of A Younger Land

As folks may be preparing for family meals in the next few days, here's some news on The Food of a Younger Land, a book by Mark Kurlansky that examines a national food culture project initiated by the WPA that included the likes of Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, and many local writers. Here's a portion of Maureen Corrigan's introduction to the work on NPR:
Nine years ago, when Kurlansky was doing research for an anthology of food writing, the author says he stumbled upon the dusty archives of the America Eats project — an undertaking of the Depression-era Federal Writers Project which was a wing of Franklin Roosevelt's WPA. The Federal Writers Project provided employment for over 6,000 out-of-work writers, among them Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston and Nelson Algren. During the 1930s, the Federal Writers Project produced those now classic guidebooks to all 48 states, but by 1939 it needed another assignment. That's when Katherine Kellock, the director of the program, came up with the idea of a guide to American food and eating traditions which would shed a light on everyday American society. 

A great idea; but America Eats was never completed. The deadline for all copy was Thanksgiving week, 1941; the writers, of course, dragged their heels and then Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II blew America Eats out of the water. The rough copy — typed, on onionskin — that writers across the country had sent into Washington was boxed up and shelved.

In this interview with Mr. Kurlansky in GOOD, offers a taste of America Eats:
Each entry offers a portrait of American custom and American food, before highways, modern agribusiness, or fast food. What people ate was seasonal and, above all, cultural-the traditions from one state to the next varied wildly, and reveal undiluted customs that are all but gone now. So, for example, you've got Choctaw, Sioux, and Chippewa foods; Nebraska pig fries; Florida hush puppies; Georgia possum and taters; and "Washington Wildcat Parties," whose signature draw was fresh cougar meat, which apparently tasted "a little like veal" with a "stronger odor."
Below, please find a link to an hour-long conversation with food columnist Rich Nichols, compliments of C-SPAN's Book TV: