Benjamin R. Cohen et al., "Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food" (MIT Press, 2021)


The modern way of eating—our taste for food that is processed, packaged, and advertised—has its roots as far back as the 1870s. Many food writers trace our eating habits to World War II, but this book shows that our current food system began to coalesce much earlier. Modern food came from and helped to create a society based on racial hierarchies, colonization, and global integration. Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food (MIT Press, 2021) explores these themes through a series of moments in food history—stories of bread, beer, sugar, canned food, cereal, bananas, and more—that shaped how we think about food today. Contributors consider the displacement of native peoples for agricultural development; the invention of Pilsner, the first international beer style; the “long con” of gilded sugar and corn syrup; Josephine Baker’s banana skirt and the rise of celebrity tastemakers; and faith in institutions and experts who produced, among other things, food rankings and fake meat.

Benjamin R. Cohen is Associate Professor at Lafayette College and the author of Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food. Michael S. Kideckel teaches history at Princeton Day School and is the author of the forthcoming Fresh from the Factory: Breakfast Cereal, Natural Food, and the Marketing of Reform, 1890-1920. Anna Zeide is Associate Professor of History and Director of Food Studies at Virginia Tech. She is the author of Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry, winner of the 2019 James Beard Award in Reference, History and Scholarship.

Brian Hamilton is Chair of the Department of History and Social Science at Deerfield Academy and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Twitter. Website

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Brian Hamilton

Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he is researching African American environmental history. A Maine native, he lives in Western Massachusetts and chairs the History and Social Science Department at Deerfield Academy.

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