I am a cultural historian who writes about food, gender, technology, and ideas in America. I am interested in the meanings we assign to the quotidian and how those meanings get used in the marketplace.
I was born in Oakland, California but raised in Brooklyn, New York, by an English mother. I graduated from Saint Ann’s School, Cornell University (BA), San Francisco State University (MA) and the City University of New York Graduate Center (PhD).
My dissertation and first book (Stir it Up: Home Economics in American Culture, Penn Press, 2008) were about the home economics movement. In researching the emergence of food science and nutrition as part of this story, I became interested in food history and specifically in portrayals of and discourse about food. I noticed that there was a popular tendency to believe that nutritionists were opposed to people finding pleasure in food, that all they cared about was calories and vitamins. In my own research I had found nutritionists and food scientists deeply interested in flavor and also frequently willing to think beyond their own culture’s foodways. I wondered why this misperception had flourished and what it might say about an intellectual history of food in the U.S.
Writing a book about American food from the end of the nineteenth century to just before the middle of the 20th (Food in the United States: 1890-1945, Greenwood Press, 2009), I became intrigued by how much material cookbooks contained that had nothing to do with cooking. Long introductions were rich with assumptions and expectations about all aspects of American life. Gender was a topic, as we might expect, but so were nationalism, regionalism, and other kinds of cultural politics. Wanting to understand the arc of these conversations about food, I wrote a history of American cookbooks (title tbd), which will be published in Spring 2017 by Penn Press.
Along the way, I have also written a history of lunch (Lunch: the History of a Meal, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Lunch intrigues me because it is our most public meal and so offers an opportunity for us to speak through our food choices to an audience beyond our families or other cohabitants. Jonathan Deutsch and I co-wrote a global history of barbecue (Barbecue: A Global History, Reaction Press, 2015), for which we sadly had no travel budget, though we did get to talk about the book on the BBC.
Research for my book about lunch introduced me to a series of tiny guidebooks about running various kinds of business in the 1920s. Several of these were about hotel work, and this led me into my current project, which uses the life of Conrad Hilton to answer the question, “how did hospitality become an industry?”