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How the Other Half Ate

How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working-Class Meals at the Turn of the Century

Katherine Leonard Turner
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    How the Other Half Ate
    Book Description:

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, working-class Americans had eating habits that were distinctly shaped by jobs, families, neighborhoods, and the tools, utilities, and size of their kitchens-along with their cultural heritage. How the Other Half Ate is a deep exploration by historian and lecturer Katherine Turner that delivers an unprecedented and thoroughly researched study of the changing food landscape in American working-class families from industrialization through the 1950s.Relevant to readers across a range of disciplines-history, economics, sociology, urban studies, women's studies, and food studies-this work fills an important gap in historical literature by illustrating how families experienced food and cooking during the so-called age of abundance. Turner delivers an engaging portrait that shows how America's working class, in a multitude of ways, has shaped the foods we eat today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95761-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. ONE The Problem of Food
    (pp. 1-27)

    IMAGINE SPENDING HALF OF YOUR income on food. If you were a member of the American working class in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, food would have been the largest item in your budget, more expensive than rent or the mortgage, than heating fuel, than clothes or schoolbooks or anything else your family needed. About fifty cents of each dollar went toward food. Imagine how carefully you would buy and cook your food if you spent so much on it: looking for bargains on wilted vegetables and stale bread, walking an extra mile to buy meat at a...

  6. TWO Factories, Railroads, and Rotary Eggbeaters: FROM FARM TO TABLE
    (pp. 28-50)

    The American foodscape was transformed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The industrialization of agriculture changed the size and nature of American farms, which were becoming larger, more efficient “factory farms” that required enormous inputs in the form of machinery and chemical fertilizers. Improvements in transportation changed the way food was bought and sold and lowered its price. Perhaps most importantly, the combined effects of industrialization and transportation worked together to reduce seasonality.

    These structural changes profoundly affected working-class diets by lowering food prices and making the purchase of out-of-season foods at least possible. These changes allowed everyone,...

  7. THREE Food and Cooking in the City
    (pp. 51-90)

    IMAGINE A WORKING SINGLE MOTHER who finds herself without much time for cooking, or even for shopping. She delegates the tasks to her older children, who buy mostly salty, processed “heat and eat” food along with plenty of sweets. A social worker studying the family is sympathetic to the difficulty of juggling family and job but points out that this food is really more expensive than home cooking. Part of the difficulty is that this family lives in a neighborhood where fresh food can be expensive and inconvenient to get.

    Although this tale sounds familiar to us today, it is...

    (pp. 91-120)

    THE YEAR 1918 WAS TRAGIC for the family of John Morris, a coal miner in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The family was one of thousands interviewed for the Department of Labor’s massive survey on the consumption habits of working-class families. An eight-page form about the family’s members, incomes, and expenditures provides a glimpse of their lives. Two of the family’s four children, a two-year-old and a three-month-old, had died during the year, possibly from the influenza epidemic that had ravaged the country that year, or perhaps from another common childhood disease. But the budget form reveals economic success as well as emotional...

  9. FIVE “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done”: COOKING, CLASS, AND WOMEN’S WORK
    (pp. 121-140)

    PROVIDING FOOD FOR A WORKING–CLASS family required cooperation from everyone, whether through wages, marketing, producing food through garden and livestock chores, acquiring cooking tools, or bringing in extra income by keeping boarders or a family business. However, cooking was inextricably linked to women’s identities. In popular thought and culture, cooking defined the identities of women, especially married women, who were expected to provide physical as well as emotional nurture for their families. As a central feature of femininity, cooking was seen as a test of moral character as well. Good women cooked well and were happy to do it;...

  10. SIX What’s for Dinner Tonight?
    (pp. 141-150)

    FOOD CHOICES ARE NEVER SIMPLE, and they do not exist in a vacuum. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, every part of working-class people’s lives affected what they ate: their cultural and ethnic heritage, but also their jobs, their family structures, their neighborhoods, the tools and utilities available to them, and the size of their kitchens. The process of industrialization transformed all these aspects of daily life, constantly changing the struggle for food. Individual preferences about what to eat were always constrained by material circumstances, and especially so for people with difficult lives and fewer choices. That is...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 151-180)
    (pp. 181-198)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 199-201)