Cindy R. Lobel
Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York
University of Chicago Press 2014
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FoodNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network February 6, 2016 Keith Duhamel
New York City’s growth, from colonial outpost to the center of the gastronomic world is artfully crafted by Cindy R. Lobel, Assistant Professor of History at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center, in her tome Urban Appetites: Food & Culture in Nineteenth Century New York (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Lobel examines the evolution of the metropolis as gastronomic capital through the lens of public markets, grocers, restaurants, dining rooms and kitchens as they rose and fell in popularity through the nineteenth century.
Lobel’s attention to poignant historical moments, such as the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of middle/leisure class culturalism demonstrate the importance New York City has, and continues to play on gastronomic evolution. Not short on the politicizing of the market industry in the early to mid-nineteenth century, we are taken on the journey through the gritty dairy and meatpacking mills of the city, leading us into the bright light of reform, and healthier and affordable food choices.
The “creation of a new urban culture” is explored in chapter four, “To See and Be Seen.” The restaurant, as the new social center of life in the city pointedly addresses the inequalities of gender, class, and ethnicity in the development of this consumer leisure experience. Lobel next takes us into the intimate dining rooms of the emerging middle class, centering the reader in the ideology of “Domestic Goddess.” Gender roles, consumerism, leisure class and capitalism are central to this new “designated space to enact rituals of cohesion and inoculate children with middle class values.”
The final chapter all things that make a modern urban setting unique are conflicted with Lobel’s honest examination of immigrant diversity and cultural differences. “Issues of race, class, and ‘perceived’ Anglo-American superiority” coupled with the ongoing regionalization of the cityscape are put on the plate for us to indulge in what makes an urban setting the unique tapestry of difference we have come to appreciate. This journey of nineteenth century New York City is both colorful and satisfying to all who seek gastronomic fulfillment. Enjoy!