Tracey DeutschMay 31, 2022
Building a Housewife's Paradise
Gender, Politics, and American Grocery Stores in the Twentieth Century
University of North Carolina Press 2010
The title of the book that we are introducing today is Building a Housewife's Paradise Gender, Politics, and American Grocery Stores in the Twentieth Century. This is not a new book, it was published in 2010, but one that deserves to be highlighted especially within the most recent debates on gender and business. Building a Housewife's Paradise studies the emergence of supermarkets in the urban United States by focusing on the case of Chicago. The book argues that this history, the birth, and growth of large and standardized grocery stores is undetachable from the social, cultural, and economic identities and gendered contexts of food and household provision and systems. Her analysis goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century through World War II.
Supermarkets are a mundane feature in the landscape, but as Tracey Deutsch reveals, they represent a major transformation in the ways that Americans feed themselves. In her examination of the history of food distribution in the United States, Deutsch demonstrates the important roles that gender, business, class, and the state played in the evolution of American grocery stores.
Deutsch's analysis reframes shopping as labor and embeds consumption in the structures of capitalism. The supermarket, that icon of postwar American life, emerged not from straightforward consumer demand for low prices, Deutsch argues, but through government regulations, women customers' demands, and retailers' concerns with financial success and control of the "shop floor." From small neighborhood stores to huge corporate chains of supermarkets, Deutsch traces the charged story of the origins of contemporary food distribution, treating topics as varied as everyday food purchases, the sales tax, postwar celebrations and critiques of mass consumption, and 1960s and 1970s urban insurrections. Demonstrating connections between women's work and the history of capitalism, Deutsch locates the origins of supermarkets in the politics of twentieth-century consumption.
Tracey Deutsch is a history professor at the University of Minnesota. She teaches, researches, and writes about gender and women’s history, the history of capitalism, critical food studies, and modern US history. She has also published essays on the uses of women's history and women's labor in contemporary local food discourses. I recommend her chapter Home, Cooking: Women’s Place and Women’s History in Local Foods Discourse in Food Fights: How the Past Matters in Contemporary Food Debates, 2019. Her current research uses Julia Child's biography to study the emergence of food as a crucial object in middle-class life in the mid-twentieth-century United States. She is also pursuing research on the history of the abstraction of consumer demand in economic thought. Tracey Deutsch studies the intersections between gender and capitalism and she has recently published “Capitalism in the 20th and 21st Centuries,” co-authored with Nan Enstad in the Companion to American Women’s History, published by Wiley, 2021.