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Perfection Salad presents an entertaining and erudite social history of women and cooking at the turn of the twentieth century. With sly humor and lucid insight, Laura Shapiro uncovers our ancestors widespread obsession with food, and in doing so, tells us why we think as we do about food today.


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Perfection Salad presents an entertaining and erudite social history of women and cooking at the turn of the twentieth century. With sly humor and lucid insight, Laura Shapiro uncovers our ancestors widespread obsession with food, and in doing so, tells us why we think as we do about food today.

30 review for Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    You've heard of Perfection Salad, right? Chopped or shredded vegetables, primarily cabbage, celery, carrot, and sweet pepper, embedded in plain (later tomato) aspic. "At the tail end of the 19th century (in the United States) the domestic science/home economics movement took hold. Proponents of this new science were obsessed with control. They considered tossed plates of mixed greens "messy" and eschewed them in favor of "orderly presentations." Salad items were painstakingly separated, organize You've heard of Perfection Salad, right? Chopped or shredded vegetables, primarily cabbage, celery, carrot, and sweet pepper, embedded in plain (later tomato) aspic. "At the tail end of the 19th century (in the United States) the domestic science/home economics movement took hold. Proponents of this new science were obsessed with control. They considered tossed plates of mixed greens "messy" and eschewed them in favor of "orderly presentations." Salad items were painstakingly separated, organized, and presented. Molded gelatin salads proliferated because they offered maximum control. "Salad greens, which did have to be served raw and crisp, demanded more complicated measures. The object of scientific salad making was to subdue the raw greens until they bore as little resemblance as possible to their natural state... The tidiest and most thorough way to package a salad was to mold it in gelatin. Of necessity, these women were proud of their lifeless palates. The naked act of eating was little more than unavoidable, as far as gently raised women of their era were concerned, and was not to be considered a pleasure except with the greatest discretion. Domestic scientists were inspired by the nutritive properties of food, by its ability to promote physical, social, and, they believed, moral growth. The flavors of food were of slight, somewhat anthropological interest. They did understand very well that many people enjoyed eating; this presented still another challenge. Food was powerful, it could draw forth cravings and greedy desires which had to be met with a firm hand. Their goal as a group was to transubstantiate food... Containing and controlling food, draining it for taste and texture, packaging it... Americans found a cuisine based on such principles very compatible with their fondness for mechanized and plastic substitutes of all kinds.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jen B

    Whoops! Finished this several weeks ago and simply forgot to log it. In all honesty, this started out well, got dry, and only became fascinating toward the end because of the Nanny-State tendencies of the women who near the end of the period covered gained control of the movement, and that just angered me, since these control-freak (at best) and tyrannical (at worst, and it's not so far from one to the other) types remain with us, always veiling their insistence that everyone eat the same, unifor Whoops! Finished this several weeks ago and simply forgot to log it. In all honesty, this started out well, got dry, and only became fascinating toward the end because of the Nanny-State tendencies of the women who near the end of the period covered gained control of the movement, and that just angered me, since these control-freak (at best) and tyrannical (at worst, and it's not so far from one to the other) types remain with us, always veiling their insistence that everyone eat the same, uniform diet, one often based upon mistaken data (Ancel Keys, anyone?) with various nice-sounding bromides. As a history buff, I read a lot of books that can be a bit on the dry side; a book about women and food was not one I expected to suffer this malady, and perhaps that made getting through it worse. Alas! I did enjoy the sketches of women like Fanny Farmer, and some passages are downright amusing—things were so different during these years, and there's a lot of innocent charm involved in the way the ladies devised their perfect meals. I can't deny that some of the things brought about by the women of the home economics movement were very good indeed; frankly, I would mind a bit seeing homekeeping returned to its once-admired status, as an honourable and important occupation (who likes living in or even visiting a filthy house?). Reading about the cooking schools, their goals, and their students was interesting as well, particularly concerning their reception by the public—and the way their menus often failed to satisfy, much less fulfill people's needs. Overall, it's...okay. It is not bad, but it is not great, unless this is perhaps your field of study or if you are interested in the way individuals, groups, and governments try to control others, down to the minutiae of daily life. I'll probably send my copy, upon which a few cups of tea were spilt, to one of my favourite Libertarians.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brigid

    Perfection Salad opens up the (mostly) forgotten world of domestic science - an attempt by social reformers to improve the lives of the poor through teaching the science of cooking and homekeeping. Additionally, however, it was an attempt to elevate the status of women by showing the rigor and intelligence needed to properly caring for a family and running a household. While the science of the 1890s has in some cases been disproved - it turns out that fruits and vegetable do have nutritional val Perfection Salad opens up the (mostly) forgotten world of domestic science - an attempt by social reformers to improve the lives of the poor through teaching the science of cooking and homekeeping. Additionally, however, it was an attempt to elevate the status of women by showing the rigor and intelligence needed to properly caring for a family and running a household. While the science of the 1890s has in some cases been disproved - it turns out that fruits and vegetable do have nutritional value! - the focus is rightly on how domestic scientists were using the most recent scientific information in their crusade. Their crusade was for nutrition and efficiency - they did not eschew modern technologies or prepared foods. To lesser extent there was an effort to create a sense of propriety through color coordination or other fashions of the time. This was to help young wives elevate their family's social status or to help immigrants assimilate into American culture. What there was not was any emphasis on was taste. Bland was the key to easy, healthful digestion. This also delves into the feminism of the time(s) - the domestic scientists at the turn of the twentieth century weren't concerned with changing women's roles - instead they wanted women's tradition role to be shown the proper respect. Looking at this a century later, it isn't lost of me that we are still struggling with that. Additionally, this book was published in 1986. The introduction includes references to how far feminism has come, but there is still work to do. I've considered myself a feminist for as long as I can remember, even as a small child. Yet, I distinctly had my own feminist wake up call in the early 1990s. The idea that in the mid-1980s people would've declared feminism unnecessary is mind-boggling. In many ways there are parallels to the roles of women then and now. The author however lets the reader draw their own conclusion rather than beat them over the head with that. One particularly striking parallel to today is the vigilance and responsibility for other people's actions that is thrust on women. In Perfection Salad the rise of consumer goods led to unscrupulous businesses selling dangerous products. Domestic scientists wished to arm women with the tools to detect these products and save their families from them. Wouldn't it have just been better for everyone if the focus had been on stopping businesses from selling tainted baking powder? (Eventually, the FDA was created, but that took some time.) When you think about it, that level of responsibility - of assuming that this insidious product can kill your family if you don't prevent it - isn't that far removed from having to be vigilant to save yourself from assault. The book leads up to the transition from domestic science to home economics, and touches on that briefly. (Home economics in all its post-war glory is another book, also by this author, for another time.) The focus on this very narrow window of social reform is enlightening, and shows how the American relationship with food has evolved for over a century.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    A look at the food science/domestic science movement that went from about 1880-1914, which tried to make science/chemistry/calories the driving force behind food and therefore revolutionize the future of women and the domestic sphere while improving the lives of the poor especially. (Essentially taste and preference were seen as bad, and food was merely chemical reactions forming proper energy.) The facts were interesting. The writing was dry. It's from 1986 and began with, "The domestic science A look at the food science/domestic science movement that went from about 1880-1914, which tried to make science/chemistry/calories the driving force behind food and therefore revolutionize the future of women and the domestic sphere while improving the lives of the poor especially. (Essentially taste and preference were seen as bad, and food was merely chemical reactions forming proper energy.) The facts were interesting. The writing was dry. It's from 1986 and began with, "The domestic science movement was a solution for its own time to the same problems ambitious women always faced. Indeed, the blind faith that characterized the domestic scientists and undermined their idealism is still with us. We live in a time when feminism is considered passe, when rational assessment tells us that all the battles have been won, all the laws are in place, and the only decision women have to make is where to jump aboard. But 100 years ago, people felt the same way." Things never ever ever change. I can see all of these moral reform underpinings from 1890 showing up today in gluten free/paleo/etc food blogs. The idea was to create models of the ideal housekeeper - their modern woman - someone serene, unhurried, and with a mind fix on eternal truths, who would move through a day of chores and challenges like an invisible force for good." Isn't that totally "mommybloggers"? There was a battle between should women do the cooking because it was up to them to save the world or should they do it to love it, and I see those battles still being waved. These are also the women, btw, who determined that women shouldn't like eating, and didn't really need it, and only liked lettuce and very light cakes and sweets (never cake or pie! These were evil!). And god help the boy who ignored his steak in favor of waiting for pudding, because that was feminine and must be stopped. Salads were for women - formed, molded, never loose or messy, always decorative and frail. I mean, it's all so insane and despite everything, those ideals are still with us. No, we don't use aspic or mayonnaise to mold things, and we're mostly past color theming, though those lasted decades past this movement, but men and women are still being pigeonholed into appropriate foods. I find the author's assertion that this was what bright women were allowed to do and so they poured all their energy into it absolutely fascinating. I appreciated seeing some of the differences in opinions and style (there's no wonder Fannie Farmer is the only one who is still known, she's the least crazy of them all), and seeing how things changed from the 1840s to 1920s and to my knowledge of the 1960s, but geez. We have got to get past this whole food as moral judgment crap.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Wagner

    This was a re-read for me; I shouldn't have wasted time on books I've already read, but there it was, and it's fun to read. Horrified fascination, much like reading memoirs of bad families - the whole idea of scientific cooking, where taste and pleasure are not only unimportant, they are regarded as slightly dangerous, since they may interfere with getting people to eat a perfectly balanced diet - is sort of creepy, and the invention of the profession of home economics is certainly a horror stor This was a re-read for me; I shouldn't have wasted time on books I've already read, but there it was, and it's fun to read. Horrified fascination, much like reading memoirs of bad families - the whole idea of scientific cooking, where taste and pleasure are not only unimportant, they are regarded as slightly dangerous, since they may interfere with getting people to eat a perfectly balanced diet - is sort of creepy, and the invention of the profession of home economics is certainly a horror story to women of my generation, among the last ones to be FORCED to take home ec in junior high school, where we "cooked" some of the very same awful recipes described herein.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katina

    I would move this to my "read" or "2008" shelf, but that would be dishonest, because I couldn't finish the book. If I had been required to read it, for class or something, I might have gotten through more of it. I found the writing dense, much of the topical coverage uninteresting, and the 1/2 or 3/4 that I read largely scattered. I wish this book had lived up to its promise to "uncover[] our ancestors' widespread obsession with food [and] tell[] us why we think as we do about food today..." but I would move this to my "read" or "2008" shelf, but that would be dishonest, because I couldn't finish the book. If I had been required to read it, for class or something, I might have gotten through more of it. I found the writing dense, much of the topical coverage uninteresting, and the 1/2 or 3/4 that I read largely scattered. I wish this book had lived up to its promise to "uncover[] our ancestors' widespread obsession with food [and] tell[] us why we think as we do about food today..." but it didn't. Skip it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ami Stearns

    Loved this feminist/history/food book- so much fun to see how cooking and the kitchen were transformed by modernity at the turn of the century. Everything traditional, European, or made without recipes was thrown aside in favor of recipes which were standardized to always taste the same. Add ketchup and whipped cream to everything! This was really fun to read, not at all light reading but not too heavy. Could have gone a little more theoretical if she'd tried. :-) It makes me want to write a paper Loved this feminist/history/food book- so much fun to see how cooking and the kitchen were transformed by modernity at the turn of the century. Everything traditional, European, or made without recipes was thrown aside in favor of recipes which were standardized to always taste the same. Add ketchup and whipped cream to everything! This was really fun to read, not at all light reading but not too heavy. Could have gone a little more theoretical if she'd tried. :-) It makes me want to write a paper about the non-touching in food preparation...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Nonfiction book about basically the history of home economics, women, and cooking in America, in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century. You will see the origins of such bizarre foodstuffs as carrot-raisin-mayonnaise salad and other "old fashioned" dishes. At one point, there was a whole "white sauce" craze, where absolutely everything was doused in a sauce of milk, flour, and butter, I think? Lots of interesting little tidbits like that. I found this book a bit dry, but there were some very Nonfiction book about basically the history of home economics, women, and cooking in America, in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century. You will see the origins of such bizarre foodstuffs as carrot-raisin-mayonnaise salad and other "old fashioned" dishes. At one point, there was a whole "white sauce" craze, where absolutely everything was doused in a sauce of milk, flour, and butter, I think? Lots of interesting little tidbits like that. I found this book a bit dry, but there were some very interesting parts about how the history of attitudes towards food emerged. For example, salads used to be just deemed "messy," and back in the day, they were constructed as if they had to be "contained" in something, such as a bread bowl or hollowed-out green pepper. Back before anyone understood vitamins, eating lettuce and other vegetables just seemed kind of pointless to people. It was all about getting in your meat and potatoes, and proteins and fats in general.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anton Prosser

    Fascinating look at the development of women's place in American society through the changing landscape of cooking in the late 19th and early 20th century. Thought provoking and seriously entertaining at the same time. I experienced true horror at some of the "salads" popularized by cooking schools in the 1890s. Also the idea of chicken in banana sauce on a bed of popcorn!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ngaire

    The story was pretty new to me - I knew the general story of women becoming active in professional reform organizations near the turn of the 19th Century, such as Jane Addams at Hull House, but I'd never heard much about this aspect of it. It certainly explains many things about American food - such as the weird propensity for mixing stuff with mayonnaise and calling it a salad - like the thing my mother-in-law calls Ambrosia Salad, which is some monstrous combination of canned fruit, nuts, and The story was pretty new to me - I knew the general story of women becoming active in professional reform organizations near the turn of the 19th Century, such as Jane Addams at Hull House, but I'd never heard much about this aspect of it. It certainly explains many things about American food - such as the weird propensity for mixing stuff with mayonnaise and calling it a salad - like the thing my mother-in-law calls Ambrosia Salad, which is some monstrous combination of canned fruit, nuts, and marshmallows, all drowned in mayonnaise (in America, the word salad has a much looser meaning than it does in New Zealand, where it pretty much means a mixture of greens, vegetables, and possibly some meat, with a dressing. A NZ salad might have a few cranberries sprinkled on it, but it could never, ever be sweet. Or contain marshmallow. Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, the minute you put marshmallow in something, it becomes a dessert). Now I know that it's probably straight out of Fannie Farmer's Cook Book from 1905. Perfection Salad is really about the origins of the domestic science movement, or what later became known as home economics. Women in the late nineteenth century, denied access to careers in biology, chemistry, or business, made a space for themselves in their communities and in academia by elevating house work to a science. Cooking schools opened by the dozen, their aim not the production of chefs, but well trained housewives and cooks who would elevate their families and homes by cooking solid, "nutritious" food, using scientific methods to keep their houses immaculate, and generally making sure their children and husbands were kept out of the borstal and the alehouse, respectively. Eventually, many colleges opened domestic science or home economics departments. Depressingly, university administrators often supported home economics departments as a method of keeping women out of the liberal arts, science, and business courses that were supposed to be the domain of men. I had many aha moments while reading this - it's fascinating, and explains a lot of the terrible food that became common in the USA (and other Western countries) in the 20th Century, such as canned meats, cake mixes, the disgusting thing they call French Dressing in the US (which is about as French as I am), and white sauce on everything. It's also depressing because although the pioneers of domestic science thought they were uplifting the American public to new heights of good nutrition, cleanliness, and morality, what they ended up doing was sentencing women to the kitchen and several generations of Americans to bland factory-made food. Many of the domestic science pioneers went on to have careers as testers and recipe creators for food companies, but sadly, many of them didn't think other women would be up to the challenge of careers in food science. One of the good things I think Shapiro does in this book is unpack the motives and methods of the domestic scientists. Many of them were genuinely interested in helping women improve the health of their families, but many were also obviously unnerved by the increasing foreignness of the people crowding into cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. They saw food as a way to Americanize immigrants, and it frustrated the shit out of them that most immigrants ignored their advice and kept on eating their good Italian cheeses, and preferring olive oil over industrial vegetable oils, and paying more for choice cuts of meat and salami. Shapiro addresses that old saw that gets trotted out about poor people being poor because they don't know how to eat right (if only they would learn to love lentils, damn it, they could dig themselves out of the tenements and become fabulously wealth members of society!). Oh, god, and the white sauce. They were obsessed with white sauce. They were obsessed with making food white, actually, whether it was with white sauce, mayonnaise, or marshmallow. Funny that they should be into making things white right at the time when America as a nation was deciding which people were white or not (you know, all those people who were considered non-white in the 19th Century, like the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, and Slavs etc). Of course, they were also into making foods green on St Patrick's Day, and pink and white on Valentines Day and other bizarre things like that. People were, and continue to be, pretty strange.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is Laura Shapiro's overview of the domestic science movement, tracing it from the late 19th century into the 1920s, with a conclusion that fast forwards to the implications of the presence. Shapiro traces the logics of the movement as emerging from both a nascent feminist approach to education and a new validation of women's spaces under the purview of industrial technology and modernity. Her central focus in each chapter is looking at how women’s behaviors around food and cooking (and hygi This is Laura Shapiro's overview of the domestic science movement, tracing it from the late 19th century into the 1920s, with a conclusion that fast forwards to the implications of the presence. Shapiro traces the logics of the movement as emerging from both a nascent feminist approach to education and a new validation of women's spaces under the purview of industrial technology and modernity. Her central focus in each chapter is looking at how women’s behaviors around food and cooking (and hygiene) defined the parameters of feminine knowledge, behavior, morality, and responsibility, and while initially seeming to uplift women’s work, ultimately reinscribed domestic labor as the sole purview and moral foundation of femininity. It is particularly interesting how Shapiro frames the inscription of women’s knowledge of cooking as drawing from an era of nostalgic sentimentality (the cult of domesticity, as explored in literature) into the realm of scientific experience, instructional training, standardization of recipes, and finally educational development. These were not simply spaces in which women learned how to master skills, but where women were also implicitly taught how to be better women, moral reformers acting to spread a particular concept of American (highly New Englandized) food and American progress. The emergence of home economics as a field was to both modernize the American home and ennoble the American homemaker; but as Shapiro notes, only one of these two things truly came to pass. If women “wanted a career and needed a cause,” they only seemed to get one out of the home ec movement. This argument doesn’t dominate every chapter, but Shapiro weaves it in seamlessly, showing us how the work is both professionalized and then gendered in each period of innovation. This volume is very valuable for the overview it provides of key figures and forces in the food world: Catherine Beecher, Ellen Richards, Fannie Farmer, and the Boston Cooking School (badly in need of a revival), as well as for the prominence of several primary sources that documented women’s attitudes about food throughout the late 19th/early 20th century.

  12. 4 out of 5

    cynthia Clark

    Not as good as I expected. Very repetitive at times. Most valuable insight was just how unscientific cooking used to be, before the days of gas ovens with temperature controls or standardized measurements. And, not that I'm supporting mass-production and distribution of food, it must have been even trickier to get predictable results when local ingredients like eggs, butter and flour varied greatly in style and quality. The relationship between the "scientific homemaking" and the feminist moveme Not as good as I expected. Very repetitive at times. Most valuable insight was just how unscientific cooking used to be, before the days of gas ovens with temperature controls or standardized measurements. And, not that I'm supporting mass-production and distribution of food, it must have been even trickier to get predictable results when local ingredients like eggs, butter and flour varied greatly in style and quality. The relationship between the "scientific homemaking" and the feminist movement is hinted at throughout the book, but with no coherent thesis behind it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I thought this would be better. I loved Ruth Reichl's introduction. I was all set for a fabulous, interesting book. Instead, I found it rather dry. I did learn some things and there were some good parts but all-in-all, the introduction was the best part of this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Except I didn't like this book. I thought it would be interesting, but it was all about green jello. I am exaggerating here, really, green jello is not food.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    America has been royally screwed up in how it relates to food for way longer than I ever imagined. Yikes!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pancha

    A really interesting look at the birth of "domestic science" and how it changed the way Americans eat. It reminded me of Medieval humoral cooking, and the way "science" trumped taste back then too.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    My conclusion, at the end of this book, is that America has always had an unhealthy relationship with food. Whether its restriction, gluttony, additives, you name it; we can't seem to get it right. This book is actually about the history of women and cooking at the turn of the 20th century. During this time there was a rise of cooking schools, science, and mayo in everything. Seriously, I can't think of much they didn't put "salad dressing" on and call a salad. It's actually kind of gross. But th My conclusion, at the end of this book, is that America has always had an unhealthy relationship with food. Whether its restriction, gluttony, additives, you name it; we can't seem to get it right. This book is actually about the history of women and cooking at the turn of the 20th century. During this time there was a rise of cooking schools, science, and mayo in everything. Seriously, I can't think of much they didn't put "salad dressing" on and call a salad. It's actually kind of gross. But that's ok, they weren't going for good taste. In fact, that was kind of bad, because it would make you eat out of sync with your nutritional needs. These schools focused mainly on science. And while it was encouraging to see that there was such a strong push for learning about science as a part of these cooking schools, the women weren't able to go too far with it as jobs in the sciences were limited to teaching other women about cooking and the rest were for the men. And then, the movement kind of died out into what we know as home economics today. You learn to bake cupcakes, sew an apron, and from what I can recall, there is no mention of biology, bacteriology, chemistry, etc. The writing itself was pretty dry. While there were tons of interesting facts, it was hard to get through because it had a droning quality to it. And I think the history of the cooking schools itself was a bit too detailed. I didn't care about every single class that was taught, or Mrs. Whoevers thoughts on graham crackers. I would have much rather seen more dishes of what they were cooking (even if it was all mayo), and what people who weren't in the cooking schools were doing so there was a comparison to be made. Interesting facts, but dry book. Read only if you are really interested in historic cooking schools and won't mind the tedium. Review by M. Reynard 2019

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Krueger

    You know how you look back at old cookbooks and you see some recipes that can generously be described as interesting? Well, this book dives into the changes in cooking and the reasons and philosophy behind it at the turn of the century. This is a hell of an interesting ride, diving into the “science” and “innovation” behind it (and I use those terms as loosely as possible here). Unsurprisingly a lot of it has to do with paternalism towards women, ethnic minorities and the poor, with the encroach You know how you look back at old cookbooks and you see some recipes that can generously be described as interesting? Well, this book dives into the changes in cooking and the reasons and philosophy behind it at the turn of the century. This is a hell of an interesting ride, diving into the “science” and “innovation” behind it (and I use those terms as loosely as possible here). Unsurprisingly a lot of it has to do with paternalism towards women, ethnic minorities and the poor, with the encroachment of corporations and capitalism and additional emphasis on extending man’s “progress” to women. The Crisco recipes will make you shudder. Objectively, it’s fascinating to see how this came about, but it also makes you cringe a bit. Definitely worth a page through.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Perfection Salad is a prime example of what historical writing should be: dense and packed with detail and depth, but also quick-flowing and engaging. Shapiro's greatest success is with her handling of agency. Often women's histories struggle since there is a lack of written history and authors make the subjects seem like a faceless mass of powerless victims of trends and patriarchal standards. Shapiro avoids this. She explores how individuals interacted with norms and expectations as well as gi Perfection Salad is a prime example of what historical writing should be: dense and packed with detail and depth, but also quick-flowing and engaging. Shapiro's greatest success is with her handling of agency. Often women's histories struggle since there is a lack of written history and authors make the subjects seem like a faceless mass of powerless victims of trends and patriarchal standards. Shapiro avoids this. She explores how individuals interacted with norms and expectations as well as giving adequate respect to the power norms had in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A great read for anyone interested in women's, food, social, or scientific history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    This history of home economics from its Boston beginnings to its demise in the 1960's is a lesson in unexpected consequences. We learn that people really do not care for Indian pudding or the bland Yankee diet promoted by these women; that white bland food was thought to be morally elevating even though it was soft and tasteless; and that these women actively encouraged the big business of food which led to the homogenous diet of the 20th century.

  21. 5 out of 5

    William

    I finally finished this after three months of on and off reading. The work provides fascinating historical context into the American food industry and the history of home economics. Ellen Richards, a famous name here at MIT, has a central role, and I enjoyed learning more of the nuance to her story. This book, although a bit academic, is a must read for those wanting insight into how Americans eat and the relationship between American women and food.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

    Ok, if this is a subject your interested in. The writing is dry at times and it didn't really cover the subject I was most interested in, and the time line at times could get a bit muddled. With that said, this movement is a bizarre and unique bit of history which depending on your interests, may be worth reading about.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paige

    Really well-researched and honestly, grim depiction of Turn of the Century/ long 18thC food science. Pretty clinical but the material made me quite emotional. Some of the dishes described genuinely turned my stomach (and I try not to be squeamish because I think it's a smug distancing technique)....

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Actually gave up on this one before the end because my enthusiasm for the topic didn't match the extensive level of research. An interesting examination of women in America at the turn of the last century. Home economics has had a weird and lasting impact on our culture.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

    There is so much interesting in this book, and - unlike with a lot of 'history of American eating' books - almost all of it was information I've never heard before. The domestic science movement was strange and fascinating, and Shapiro's writing about it is, as always, smart and quietly funny.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Super rich, dense, detailed history of popular attitudes toward cooking and nutrition. Shapiro effortlessly weaves in how women's roles in the home were vital in shaping food culture and aesthetics. If you want to really know why jello salad exists, read this!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    1968 was a signal year for my culinary development. There may have been rioting in Chicago and unrest on college campuses, but I was learning to cook in small town Kentucky. My librarian aunt gave me the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, and I carefully penned some favorite recipes on the endpapers, including ones I recorded that year while observing/assisting a Chinese professor make lunch (stir fry chicken, pepper steak, sautéed cabbage; I continue to make the recipes today sans MSG). Fanny Farmer, stain 1968 was a signal year for my culinary development. There may have been rioting in Chicago and unrest on college campuses, but I was learning to cook in small town Kentucky. My librarian aunt gave me the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, and I carefully penned some favorite recipes on the endpapers, including ones I recorded that year while observing/assisting a Chinese professor make lunch (stir fry chicken, pepper steak, sautéed cabbage; I continue to make the recipes today sans MSG). Fanny Farmer, stained and rebound in green buckram, still sits on my ever diminishing cookbook shelf. Fall 1968 brought required (girls only) high school home economics class where we learned to make buttered toast and peach cobbler. Reading this book brought back all these memories. It described the way my grandmother and aunts cooked and how their kitchen habits were shaped. Recently I read an old newspaper clipping that recorded my grandparents’ wedding at home circa 1901. “Dainty” refreshments followed the ceremony. Perfection Salad explores how the post industrial revolution and big food companies influenced American cooking. Food became a scientific endeavor, home economists started out as scientists, white sauce was de rigueur, and Fanny Farmer was the kitchen expert long before anyone had ever heard of Julia Child. Toasted marshmallows stuffed with raisins, anyone? This is a great read for anyone who remembers her/his Victorian grandmother and her cooking style or had aunts who perpetuated this type of cooking into the 20th century or who is interested in American food history or wants to know what the modern locavore food movement is all about. The meat of the message here is sandwiched between disconnected first and last chapters that don’t relate well to the book overall. If not for this disconnect, I’d give the book a solid 5 stars.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Somewhat of an interesting read historically but often found it tedious and had to skim to get though

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    The only edition listed here in Goodreads is 2001, but the edition I read was published in 2009 with a new afterword by the author. Honestly, I didn't expect this subject to be so interesting. I started it years ago and finally got back to it thinking that I was going to have to force myself to get into it. The writing is delightful and kept pulling me through what could have been very dull material. I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to the book is because I am a history enthusiast and thi The only edition listed here in Goodreads is 2001, but the edition I read was published in 2009 with a new afterword by the author. Honestly, I didn't expect this subject to be so interesting. I started it years ago and finally got back to it thinking that I was going to have to force myself to get into it. The writing is delightful and kept pulling me through what could have been very dull material. I think one of the reasons I was so drawn to the book is because I am a history enthusiast and this author had found a narrative in the era of the late 19th and early 20th century which isn't often addressed. Historic records are quick to forget the details of daily functions as unremarkable. This author found the voices of women in the "trenches" of home life and food and brought them to the forefront. Starting with my tiny budget in college and continuing the various phases of income over a growing family, I consider myself quite proficient at bargain shopping and basic cooking in the supermarket landscape I'm familiar with. What would I have done 100 years ago? How did women find new ways to feed their families without Food Network and Pinterest? "Perfection Salad" tells the story of methods and recipes being spread by traveling lecturers and demonstrations. There were numerous publications which couldn't rely on glossy photos and actually had to write about the food. It's a window into the chapters which are missing from history books which focus on politics and industry. Our culture might be better understood if we studied the history of our love/hate relationship with food and its preparation.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Northrup

    I'd already read Shapiro's follow-up to this, Something From the Oven, and it was a hoot. This one was much drier. In part, probably, because it wasn't as goofy an era. I did bog down a few times, but then it would pick up again. There weren't as many specifics on the food as I would have liked. You heard over and over again what the home economists were assigning people to eat, but not much about what the public was eating instead and really not much about the reasoning behind those healthy sel I'd already read Shapiro's follow-up to this, Something From the Oven, and it was a hoot. This one was much drier. In part, probably, because it wasn't as goofy an era. I did bog down a few times, but then it would pick up again. There weren't as many specifics on the food as I would have liked. You heard over and over again what the home economists were assigning people to eat, but not much about what the public was eating instead and really not much about the reasoning behind those healthy selections. It was particularly frustrating to hit the bit near the end that described the big fad to sweeten up all the food (marshmallows in everything) but not why it happened and who was behind it. The social analysis was still interesting, however. Especially the overall thesis that home economists had pretty low opinions of both food and women, and ended up doing neither any favors. One factoid that stood out due to current events was the belief that it was the responsibility of the homemaker to have a chemistry set at home, and know how to use it, in order to check purchased foods for dangerous additives, like say melamine.

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