Eating History Project (Fall 2010)

Andrew F. Smith, Eating History: 30 Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, Columbia University Press, 2009.


Each student will choose a chapter from Eating History and do a short presentation to the class on the material, as well as handing in a written discussion. Each student will pick a book from the footnotes of their chapter to read, write a review of, and use as the basis for another presentation to the class. The presentations are a requirement of the assignment but will only be a small portion of the grade; in other words, a poor presentation will hurt your grade very little, but failing to do the presentation will result in significant loss of grade. You are not required to purchase the book — I will have copies of individual chapters for students to borrow — but it is available in electronic formats as well as hardback.


Due Dates

word limits

Chapter Selection 9/20
Chapter Presentations 10/4, 10/6
Chapter Summary 10/6 400-600
Book Selection 10/6
Book Presentations 12/5, 12/8
Book Review 12/10 1500-2250

Chapter Selection

At 6 AM on Monday, September 20th, I will post a copy of the list of chapters on the course website (actually, two copies: one for each section, and be careful that you comment on the right one!). Indicate your selection by leaving a comment on the post (you do not need to register with edublogs in order to comment, but you do need to put your name on it, so I know) indicating which chapter you want. First come, first served, and no duplicates, so you might want to have several possibilities in mind. After the selections are made, I will make copies of the chapters available, though you are always welcome to purchase the book from other sources.


This is a large class, so the presentations will have to be short (about 3 minutes, max) and will have to move quickly; given our time constraints, powerpoint or other presentation software will not be permitted. Your presentation needs to get to the point, cover it clearly, and give enough detail to be convincing. Hint: You’ll be able to cover a lot more ground by explaining things in your own words than with quotations, and you’re presentation will be more natural, as well.

Chapter Summary

Each chapter has a very clear focus on a technology, individual or idea: explain what it is and why it matters. Focus on the long-term effects of the change being discussed. Look through the footnotes and pick a book to review for the second half of the project: list the full bibliographic information on your assignment, and do what you need to in order to get hold of the book and start reading it (library, interlibrary loan, etc).

Book Review

The purpose of a book review is a critical reading and analysis which reveals the strengths, weaknesses, usefulness and quality of your subject. Assume your reader is a college student, like yourself, intelligent but with little background in history. The review should give the reader a clear sense of the potential knowledge or enjoyment to be gained from your book: this is your thesis. Remember that this is not a book report: be both critical and appreciative, but come to your own conclusions. Like a good book, your review should have a thesis and a supporting argument with evidence. You should always strive for fairness, clarity and vigor in your writing. If you want examples, look at journals in history, or your own field, or even newspaper reviews of books and movies.


  • The Chapter Summary and Book Review will be given letter grades. The presentations are required, but quality will be a small portion of the grade.
  • Assignments are due in class. Lateness will be penalized. Serious illness or equivalent excuses will be accepted only in advance (i.e., call or e-mail before class), with documentation; other classes’ assignments, sporting events and recreational travel do not constitute acceptable excuses for lateness.
  • Grammar and spelling count: lapses distract the reader from the impact of your argument.
  • The word limits should be taken seriously: They represent the minimum necessary to adequately address the assignment, and a reasonable maximum beyond which you may be losing focus. I don’t grade on the basis of length, but something outside of these limits. Do not try to make the assignment look longer or shorter than it is: stick to a reasonable, readable font and normal margins.
  • Be very careful when taking notes and writing so that you do not unintentionally plagiarize the work you are reviewing. It is very important that you be able to communicate the meaning and importance of these readings in your own words.

The elements of a good review:

Summary: a concise and clear restatement of the basic content of the book. It should include the author’s thesis, if it is a scholarly work; the plot, if it is a novel or drama; some idea of how the book is structured, and what is contained within. The summary should take up no more than 1/3 of the text of the review. Remember that more detail can be included in the analytical sections of the review; this is just introduction.

Context: What is the background of the author? Is their personal background relevant to the subject of the book? What is the historical context, the time period discussed by the book? What other books discuss the same kinds of things, and how does this book compare? Note that your textbook is an invaluable resource for comparisons and context.

Thesis: What is the point of the book? What conclusions does it try to reach, or, what is the underlying message? Is this an ambitious or radical idea, or is it conservative, unexciting?

Argument and Evidence: What kind of evidence or data is presented? Where does the evidence come from? Is it reliable, and is it interpreted reasonably? What kind of conclusions are reached along the way, aside from the main thesis? What is the logic that leads from evidence to conclusion? Does the evidence support the thesis and conclusions? Is there evidence missing, or is it interpreted in a one-sided way? How does the author deal with alternative arguments or scholars who have reached different conclusions?

Evaluation: Does the author achieve the desired effect? Are you convinced by the argument? How much have you learned and is what you learned what the author intended? Are the conclusions strongly supported by the evidence? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How does this work compare or contrast to other works written on the same subject, or around the same time, or by the same author?

Personal Reaction: How did this book affect you? Why?

Recommendation: What would another reader get out of this book? What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the book? Would you recommend this book to a fellow student? Why or why not?

Your grade will be based on the quality, clarity, completeness and effectiveness of your writing. Most important is the quality of your review: is your analysis of the book thorough, balanced and convincing? Is your analysis presented with sufficient evidence, and with an appropriate structure? Is it pasted together assignments, or is it a coherent essay? Can your reader learn from your review what is in a book and whether it would be worth reading for their purposes?

Eating History Chapter list (with clarifications)

  1. Oliver Evans’s Automated Mill (mechanical flour milling)
  2. The Erie Canal (transportation)
  3. Delmonico’s (French cuisine)
  4. Sylvester Graham’s Reforms (health food)
  5. Cyrus McCormick’s Reaper (agricultural mechanization)
  6. A Multiethnic Smorgasbord (immigration)
  7. Giving Thanks (Thanksgiving Holiday)
  8. Gail Borden’s Canned Milk (canning)
  9. The Homogenizing War (Civil War)
  10. The Transcontinental Railroad (refrigeration)
  11. Fair Food (1876 & 1893 World Fairs)
  12. Henry Crowell’s Quaker Special (packaging and marketing)
  13. Wilbur O. Atwater’s Calorimeter (nutrition science)
  14. The Cracker Jack Snack (snacks and candy)
  15. Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook (standardization)
  16. The Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (breakfast cereals)
  17. Upton Sinclair’s Jungle (food safety)
  18. Frozen Seafood and TV Dinners
  19. Michael Cullen’s Super Market
  20. Earle MacAusland’s Gourmet (food magazines)
  21. Jerome I. Rodale’s Organic Gardening
  22. Percy Spencer’s Radar (microwave ovens)
  23. Frances Roth and Katherine Angell’s CIA (Culinary Institute of America)
  24. McDonald’s Drive-In (fast food)
  25. Julia Child, the French Chef (television and cuisine)
  26. Jean Nidetch’s Diet (Weight Watchers)
  27. Alice Water’s Chez Panisse (local food)
  28. TVFN (cable food network)
  29. The Flavr Savr (genetically modified foods)
  30. Mergers, Acquisitions, and Spin-Offs (food industry)