We are what we eat, as the saying goes, but we are also how we eat, and when, and where. Our eating habits reveal as much about our society as the food on our plates, and our national identity is written in the eating schedules we follow and the customs we observe at the table and on the go.
In Three Squares, food historian Abigail Carroll upends the popular understanding of our most cherished mealtime traditions, revealing that our eating habits have never been stablefar from it, in fact. The eating patterns and ideals we've inherited are relatively recent inventions, the products of complex social and economic forces, as well as the efforts of ambitious inventors, scientists and health gurus. Whether we're pouring ourselves a bowl of cereal, grabbing a quick sandwich, or congregating for a family dinner, our mealtime habits are living artifacts of our collective historyand represent only the latest stage in the evolution of the American meal. Our early meals, Carroll explains, were rustic affairs, often eaten hastily, without utensils, and standing up. Only in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution upset work schedules and drastically reduced the amount of time Americans could spend on the midday meal, did the shape of our modern “three squares” emerge: quick, simple, and cold breakfasts and lunches and larger, sit-down dinners. Since evening was the only part of the day when families could come together, dinner became a ritualas American as apple pie. But with the rise of processed foods, snacking has become faster, cheaper, and easier than ever, and many fear for the fate of the cherished family meal as a result.
The story of how the simple gruel of our forefathers gave way to snack fixes and fast food, Three Squares also explains how Americans' eating habits may change in the years to come. Only by understanding the history of the American meal can we can help determine its future.
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About the Author
Abigail Carroll holds a PhD in American Studies, and her writing has appeared in a variety of journals and publications, including the New York Times. She lives in Vermont.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Three Squares Abigail Caroll The modern demise of the family dinner is much bemoaned these days. But how long has this really been a tradition? When did it start? Why did it happen? These and other questions are answered in fascinating detail in Three Squares. Caroll takes a historical view of thr American meal, beginning with pilgrim pottages and moving thru Victorian dinner parties and factory lunch pails to TV dinners and our current dinner habits. She draws on first-hand accounts of recipes and menus for a glimpse into what was considered acceptable dining across centuries of American gastronomic history. This book gives a broad view of dinner's development, illustrated with many interesting details. For example, did you know most pilgrims would've subsisted largely on one-pot meals of grain, suet and greens all boiled together (sounds awful!) Or that Thomas Jefferson was considered a bit odd for the variety of fruits and vegetables he grew at Monticello? Victorians threw elaborate dinner parties as measures of class and wealth but believed enjoying food too much was a moral weakness. Up until 100 years ago, steak was a popular breakfast food. All of these facts and more fit into an informative big picture story. Along the way, Caroll also writes about the roles of women/housewives towards food preparation. Our ideal of Mom making dinner for Dad when he comes home from work and the kids when they come home from school is actually a relatively recent concept, albeit a logical conclusion of the past 300 years of eating habits in America. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes food or books about food- or is just curious and wanting to learn something new. I certainly learned a lot, and enjoyed myself in the process. Now let me make myself a snack.... You might like: Omnivores Dilemma, Michael Pollan. At Home, Bill Bryson.
Fantastic read. Full of fun food nuggets to share with my friends and family!