The “Global Domination” of Pizza


I couldn’t resist this piece at History Today.  The author is Alexander Lee, a fellow in the Centre for the Study of Renaissance at the University of Warwick.   Here is a taste of his “A History of Pizza“:

Pizza is the world’s favourite fast food. We eat it everywhere – at home, in restaurants, on street corners. Some three billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States alone, an average of 46 slices per person. But the story of how the humble pizza came to enjoy such global dominance reveals much about the history of migration, economics and technological change.

People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: “Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!”

But it was in late 18th-century Naples that the pizza as we now know it came into being.

Read the rest here.


The Religious History of Corn Flakes


Last night I was reading some old posts at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and I was reminded about that time in the 2016 presidential campaign when Donald Trump attacked Ben Carson for being a Seventh Day Adventist.

Politics aside, do you know about the connection between Seventh-Day Adventism and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes?

Howard Markel explains at

Fewer still know that among the ingredients in the Kelloggs’ secret recipe were the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist church, a homegrown American faith that linked spiritual and physical health, and which played a major role in the Kellogg family’s life.

For half a century, Battle Creek was the Vatican of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Its founders, the self-proclaimed prophetess Ellen White and her husband, James, made their home in the Michigan town starting in 1854, moving the church’s headquarters in 1904 to Takoma Park, outside of Washington, D.C.  Eventually, Seventh-day Adventism grew into a major Christian denomination with churches, ministries and members all around the world. One key component of the Whites’ sect was healthy living and a nutritious, vegetable and grain based-diet. Many of Ellen White’s religious experiences were connected to personal health. During the 1860s, inspired by visions and messages she claimed to receive from God, she developed a doctrine on hygiene, diet and chastity enveloped within the teachings of Christ.

Read the rest here.

Christian James on Digital History, Slavery, Food, and Archives on Day Two of the 2015 AHA

Christian James weighs in one more time.  Thanks, Christian!  It was great hearing from you this weekend! –JF
Saturday at AHA packed in more great programming on archives, digital history, and public history. I started with the Contested Archives panel about national and international archival controversies. Bruce Montgomery discussed Iraqi government archives that the U.S. seized from Baghdad in war, as well as missing Kuwaiti archives from the Gulf War and repatriated Kurdish documents. Erin Mosleydiscussed the Genocide Archive Rwanda as an example of an “atrocity archive,” “deeply political” collections that are created to help prevent war crimes but complicate context and authenticity. Todd Shepard discussed the Algerian national archives, its struggle with France for repatriation of colonial records, and national archives as sites for the construction of national identity.
These panelists were a welcome extension of Derek Peterson’s talk from Session 1 that I wrote about yesterday, which addressed complicated origins and contexts to archival sources internationally. Commenter Francis X. Blouin, though, asked for more discussion of the evidential nature of these archives (what exactly do the records in question actually document?). I also wished that there was more discussion of digital records; might cyberwarfare in the age of Stuxnet and the Sony hack complicate any of the panelists’ arguments, or underscore them?
Next, I got to see some of the Digital Histories of Slavery projects. (Some of these projects are still in development, and panelists asked not to link out to the beta versions they demoed.) These projects included a collection of runaway slave ads, a collection of mapped voting records to show the centrality of slavery to Alexandria, Virginia in the 1850s, a visual and conversational history of sexuality in slavery, and a collection of slave freedom petitions in Washington, D.C. I especially enjoyed how these digital histories enabled access to individual documents and narratives, but also allowed aggregation and distant reading. And, since the history of Washington, D.C. is one of my specialties, I loved that two of them focused on the region.
As I made my way through Times Square for lunch, it started to snow – definitely a magical NYC moment (even if it seemed fake at first). I returned to AHA for one more sessionon Food History and Public History, which are both central to my work in progress at the National Agricultural Library. This panel tied together outreach work, blogging, and organizing kitchen demonstrations and museum exhibitions.
The food history session emphasized that food connects to public audiences viscerally. Some public programming stakeholders might find food history to be “fluff,” but food ties into supposedly more ‘weighty’ topics like diplomatic history, and fears of “fluff” can sometimes speak to historians’ anxieties or the difficulty of public history in general. If you are interested in the topic, check out two of the major online works discussed, American Food Roots and Not-So-Innocents Abroad. I left the panel with some great ideas but an expansive to-read list – surely an occupational hazard.

My thirty hours in New York were jam-packed with conversations on archives, libraries, digital history and public history. The diversity of programming was a great success, and while I couldn’t attend any of the strictly academic history panels, the #AHA2015hashtag and social media coverage have been amazing (almost overwhelming, in fact). Thanks to John Fea for the opportunity to contribute to it! 

What Did Revolutionary War Soldiers Eat?

The blog of the Museum of American History answers this question with its latest post.  Here is a taste:

Even before a food supply system was organized, on June 10, 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Council set the daily allowance or ration for its troops in Boston as:

  1. One pound of bread
  2. Half a pound of beef and half a pound of pork; and if pork cannot be had, one pound and a quarter of beef; and one day in seven they shall have one pound and one quarter of salt fish, instead of one day’s allowance of meat
  3. One pint of milk, or if milk cannot be had, one gill [half a cup] of rice
  4. One quart of good spruce or malt beer
  5. One gill of peas or beans, or other sauce equivalent
  6. Six ounces of good butter per week
  7. One pound of good common soap for six men per week
  8. Half a pint of vinegar per week per man, if it can be had.

What Did Abraham Lincoln Eat at His Second Inaugural Ball?

Abraham and Mary arrived at 10:30pm and feasted on a menu that included oyster stew, pickled oysters, terrapin, beef, veal, turkey, chicken, grouse, pheasant, quail, venison, ham, tongue, chicken salad, lobster salad, almond sponge, macaroon tart, pound cake, sponge cake, lady cake, “fancy small cakes,” calfsfoot and wine jelly, vanilla ice cream, strawberry ices, grapes, almonds, raisins, coffee, and chocolate.

Read all about it at

Did Feminism Kill Home Cooking?

Progressive food writer Michael Pollan thinks so and he is not the only progressive who does.  There is even a small movement of “punk neo-feminist housewives” who are reclaiming the role of homemaker.

Writing at The Atlantic, Emily Matchar argues that the current craze with all-natural domesticity–backyard chickens, localism, farmer’s markets, urban knitting circles, home births, and homeschooling–can result in progressives having some “very odd attitudes” about gender.

Here is a taste:

It’s hard to know what to make of all this. Crunchy progressives are arguing that quitting your job to become a homemaker is a radical feminist act, far-right evangelicals are talking about “women’s empowerment” via Etsy, lefty liberal writers are excoriating the First Lady for hating to cook, and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are giving birth in their bathtubs with midwives and self-hypnosis tapes.

Both sides of the political spectrum turn to domesticity for many of the same reasons: distrust in government and institutions from the EPA to the public schools to hospital maternity wards, worries about the safety of the food supply, disappointment with the working world, the desire to connect with a simpler, less consumerist way of life.

The fact that domesticity is so appealing speaks to the failure of these systems. Until these things are fixed, I predict we’ll see an increasing number of people from all parts of the political spectrum deciding to go the DIY route with their food, their homes, their children. And yes, this will mean more progressive people opting for lifestyles that seem uncomfortably retro. But maybe too we’ll see Rush Limbaugh at the farmer’s market.

Dispatches from Graduate School–Part 41

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here.

I first read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals in 2007, just after I graduated from Messiah College. For those unfamiliar with Pollan’s New York Times bestseller, the part memoir/part history/part exposé charts Pollan’s quest to answer a simple question: What should we have for dinner? Pollan follows three contemporary food chains—industrial, organic or alternative, and what might be best described as Paleolithic, or a hunt and gather approach—in order to reflect on every day decisions about what and why we eat. The book, in addition to top ten book of the year awards from the New York Times and the Washington Post in 2006, won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

His awards aren’t for naught. In lively prose, Pollan deftly exposes the horrors of the industrial food system. He pays special attention to the treatment of cattle. Ruminants by nature, the cows are fed a diet of animal parts, corn products, and antibiotics and forced to idle in their own feces until fattened for slaughter. Graphic, yes. After my first go-round with Pollan I avoided meat for three years. His all too colorful portrait of industrially raised cattle, chickens, and pigs led me toward a diet high in tofu and legumes and low in animal protein, milk and cheese included. For years I considered myself a quasi-vegetarian. Only recently did I reintroduce meat and dairy back into my daily regime. I credit Pollan for making me a better-informed eater. Rather than purchase products of the industrial system, I choose grass fed and pastured animals from nearby farms. In other words, I prefer my animals in their most natural, God-created state eating biologically appropriate foods and grazing or pecking in a field.

Pollan’s journalistic style, although it inspired in me a radical life change, has severe limitations. Only upon reading Omnivore’s Dilemma again, this time for a graduate readings course, did I recognize its weaknesses. Pollan ends his three- part journey through the food system with the most intimate of experiences—his own adventures of hunting wild boar and foraging fungi in the hills of northern California’s Marin County. He invites the reader into his kitchen while he prepares an elaborate meal: wild California pig (served two ways), bread baked with wild yeast from the San Francisco Bay, homemade egg fettuccine with hand-picked morels sautéed in butter, garden salad from Pollan’s own backyard lettuces, and a cherry galette with Bing cherries picked from a Berkeley neighborhood tree. Equal parts delicious and pretentious.

His decision to close the narrative with his personal choice to eschew the modern food system ignores the implications for society at large and escorts the reader down an individual, if not exclusive, path. Who can afford the time, the money, or the expertise to hunt and forage? Pollan admittedly notes the unrealistic nature of such an endeavor, but he fails to acknowledge social organization and questions of access when crafting his “perfect” foodscape. California, boasting the lush ecosystem necessary for the success of Pollan’s meal, also claims one of the highest food insecurity rates in the country (15.9% in 2009-2010). The national average is not much better; 14.6% of Americans live in food insecure households, and studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture find rates of food insecurity substantially higher among black and Hispanic households and those with incomes near or below the federal poverty level. While Pollan enjoys his perfect meal, hundreds of thousands of Americans struggle to put food on the table, often times forced to eat the very food Pollan so strongly condemns. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, or the choice of what to eat and why, is thus limited to those with a particular level of social and economic capital.

Further, Pollan focuses almost entirely on a consumer oriented politics. Not until 162 pages in does Pollan mention farm workers, and he completely glosses over supermarket and warehouse workers. In so doing, Pollan circumvents a more important conversation about class and racial divisions in the American food system.

Many credit Pollan with reinvigorating food studies (some even compare him to Upton Sinclair), but the absences in his narrative cannot be ignored. That some people can choose to protect themselves from the dangers of the American industrial food system and others cannot is the real problem. When food studies can reconcile the disparities in food access, the exploitation of farm workers, and the hazards of the industrial food system, then talk about the perfect meal can really begin. 

Eating on Research Trips

I am a terrible eater on research trips.  I always start my research excursions with good intentions. I go to the grocery store and buy stuff to create healthy meals.  This lasts for a few days and then I find myself at the local pizzeria ordering a steak and pepperoni stromboli or something similar.

I am thus glad that I recently came across Rachel Herrmann’s article, “Eating on the Road to the Archives.”  She offers some helpful tips for eating right while you are traveling the world conducting historical research. 

Here is a taste:

If you do not enjoy cooking, at least allow yourself to enjoy food when you have time to eat it. Food is your break from the archives, in the middle of the day—if you’re of the sleepy weeper category—or at day’s end. Food is my way of marking the time when I can come “home” for the day and stop working.

Don’t be afraid to eat alone; people do it all the time outside of the United States. The difference in places like Europe is that no one brings you the check there until you ask for it, but so long as you leave a nice tip, there is no need to feel rushed while stateside.

If I am going to a restaurant, I read reviews online beforehand, keeping in mind that postings from sites such as can be biased. I sometimes go to places that are reviewed most frequently, rather than those with the best ratings but only a few comments. If I am looking for a nicer-than-usual restaurant to reward myself for work well done, I use to find special deals in the city where I’m staying. I also have to remind myself to find a restaurant before I am hungry, or else this activity devolves into my looking at menu after menu while bemoaning how starving I am.

If you absolutely cannot imagine eating alone in public, get takeout, hole up in your apartment or hotel, and indulge in a massive reality-TV marathon. If you are staying at a really cheap hotel, as any self-respecting graduate student should be, take Styrofoam plates from the breakfast buffet, and save them to warm up your takeout leftovers.

Research is a solitary business, and food is one way to break up the monotony. While my interests have shifted from food to food’s absence, the fact remains that eating is still deeply important to me.

Working in archives has simply changed how I dine. I eat less, but I also try to enjoy food more when I have time to find it. I exercise if I can, but having suddenly found myself displaced in an East Coast climate, and unwilling to buy cold-weather workout clothes that make me look like a sausage wrapped in its casing, I revel in the fact that I am eating less for the sake of my research, and thus do not have to go for thrice-weekly runs. I walk to the archives when I can. And I’ve bought a pair of “research pants.”  Just in case.

Super-Sizing DaVinci’s Last Supper

The Los Angeles Times reports on a study that shows how the portion sizes in DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” have been growing consistently larger over the years. While one might think such a study would appear in a scholarly art journal, it actually was published in the International Journal of Obesity.

The Christian faith holds several acts of “super-sizing” to be miracles accomplished by Jesus Christ — a handful of fish and loaves of bread expanded to feed thousands; a wedding feast running low on wine suddenly awash in the stuff. Now a new study of portion expansion puts Jesus once more at the center.

In a bid to uncover the roots of super-sized American fare, a pair of sibling scholars has turned to an unusual source: 52 artists’ renderings of the New Testament’s Last Supper.

Their findings, published online Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity, indicate that serving sizes have been marching heavenward for 1,000 years.

Gelatin and White Middle Class Life

This afternoon was the inaugural lecture in the Messiah College History Department’s annual Alumni Lecture Series. Since our history graduates are doing such great things we thought it would be a good idea to invite them back and share some of their work with us.

Our inaugural lecturer was Janet (Kraft) Vogel, a member of the Messiah College class of 2003. After graduating, Janet earned her MA in Public History from Loyola University in Chicago and her Masters in Library Science from the University of Illinois. Currently, she serves as the Children’s Services Supervisor for the Thurmont MD Regional Library System.

Janet’s lecture was entitled “‘Cheese-Aspic Peaks’ and ‘Sunshine Salad’: Gelatin in American Life.” It’s was based on research she did as a graduate student on representations of middle-class American culture in the 1950s. In a very engaging talk, complete with slides of turn of the century advertisements she found in American ladies’ magazines, Janet took us on a tour of the relationship between gelatin and the American life. Gelatin went from being a delicacy for the upper-classes in the late nineteenth century to a popular food product for all Americans after the Knox Food Company released it in granular form around the turn of the twentieth century.

Janet was particularly interested in the way that gelatin become synonymous with the white middle class in the 1950s. After the World War Two, gelatin was colorized in an attempt to bring some brightness to kitchen tables everywhere in the wake of the Great Depression. By the 1960s, the popularity of gelatin waned in America as more and more people began cooking with fresh foods (in explaining this shift Janet points to the popularity of Julia Child), but it seems to be making a comeback today thanks to people like Martha Stewart.

The Q&A session following the presentation was lively. Everyone seemed to have a jello story that they wanted to share with Janet. One student asked about jello-molds as collectibles. Another told a story about how her grandmother inadvertently dropped a jello mold down the sink during the Great Depression. I wondered what Janet’s advisor at Loyola thought when she first told him that she wanted to write a paper about jello. (Answer: he wasn’t too excited about it and thought Janet would never be able to pull it off). One student asked Janet to speculate on the “future of Jello in America.”

It is always good to see former students return to campus and talk about the things that they are passionate about. Janet is looking to get her work published in article form soon.