Not by Bread Alone: America's Culinary Heritage

Corpulence, Leanness & Dietary Reform
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The irrational undercurrents of American life are nowhere more evident than in our efforts to attain an ideal weight and physique, and our changing concepts of what those ideals consist of. The 19th century in particular saw the advent of various diet reform movements and health regimens, including vegetarianism, the avoidance of spices and condiments, and the water cure (which involved being drenched in ice-cold water). Several of the diet reformers were also crusaders for temperance, abolition, and other societal reforms; and for them and their followers, the choice of foods readily took on moral overtones. At a time when any quack could pass himself off as a doctor, it was hard to tell the valid dietary claims from the rantings of crackpots.

In the 20th century, women have been buffeted not only by conflicting health advice but also by the changing winds of fashion, which have alternately favored a buxom hourglass figure or the slender tomboy look. Over time, our notion of a healthy weight has also changed, calling for greater leanness, even as our population has become heavier overall.

continue to Kitchen Technology

early cookbooks
american taste
the elegant table
temperance and prohibition
food nutrition and science
corpulency, leanes, and dietary reform
kitchen technology
food processing and manufacture


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