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Eating in Eden

Food and American Utopias

Etta M. Madden

Publication Year: 2006

Perennially viewed as both a utopian land of abundant resources and a fallen nation of consummate consumers, North America has provided a fertile setting for the development of distinctive foodways reflecting the diverse visions of life in the United States. Immigrants, from colonial English Puritans and Spanish Catholics to mid-twentieth-century European Jews and contemporary Indian Hindus, have generated innovative foodways in creating “new world” religious and ethnic identities. The Shakers, the Oneida Perfectionists, and the Amana Colony, as well as 1970s counter-cultural groups, developed food practices that distinguished communal members from outsiders, but they also marketed their food to nonmembers through festivals, restaurants, and cookbooks. Other groups—from elite male dining clubs in Revolutionary America and female college students in the late 1800s, to members of food co-ops; vegetarian Jews and Buddhists; and “foodies” who watched TV cooking shows—have used food strategically to promote their ideals of gender, social class, nonviolence, environmentalism, or taste in the hope of transforming national or global society.

This theoretically informed, interdisciplinary collection of thirteen essays broadens familiar definitions of utopianism and community to explore the ways Americans have produced, consumed, avoided, and marketed food and food-related products and meanings to further their visionary ideals.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: At Table


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

As with a good communal meal, many have contributed generously to the production, preparation, and presentation of Eating in Eden. We first began sharing our food projects over coffee, after hearing from colleagues of the related and overlapping aspects of each other's work. The Communal Studies Association Conference in Oneida, New York, ...

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pp. 1-32

In 1986 the activist Carlo Petrini led a band of protesters armed with bowls of penne pasta in a demonstration against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant on the ancient Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Petrini and his friends represented the Italian organization Arcigola (archgluttony), which was working "to create awareness of local products and ...

I. New World Utopias: Cultivating Immigrant Identities through Food

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1. Pinched with Hunger, Partaking of Plenty: Fasts and Thanksgivings in Early New England

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pp. 35-53

In March 1623 the plantation at Plymouth was just two and a half years old, its survival still tenuous as the colonists struggled to adapt to an unfamiliar "wilderness" environment. The meager spring found them "half naked" and "full of sadness," scavenging for food and finding only lobsters—considered "garbage fish," fit only for swine—to sustain ...

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2. Faith, Flatulence, and Fandangos in the Spanish-American Borderlands

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pp. 54-73

Armies, as Napoleon once famously observed, travel on their stomachs. The same can be said of European settlers in the New World. In 1620 the survival of the Plymouth Pilgrims' utopian dreams for New England hung in the balance—could they get enough to eat their first winter? Poorly provisioned and unused to farming, they were so weakened by ...

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3. An Appetite for America: Philip Roth's Antipastorals

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pp. 74-88

When I was a child, my parents, both first-generation Jewish-Americans, told me stories of the work they had performed, with some resentment, as children. My father's mother, a widow, operated a little Jewish bakery on Chicago's south side. From a very young age, my father would sit at the table in the attached living quarters eating his meals or ...

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4. You Are Where You Eat: Negotiating Hindu Utopias in Atlanta

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pp. 89-106

On a busy Monday morning in late May 2003, the kitchen of the Hindu Temple of Atlanta is abuzz with activity. More than a dozen volunteers—women in saris and men in shirts and slacks—move in and out of the lower-level kitchen, working under the supervision of the temple cook. They prepare tamarind rice, fresh fruit, and vegetable dishes, served ...

II. Communal Utopias: Eating In, but Not Of, the World

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5. Kitchen Sisters and Disagreeable Boys: Debates over Meatless Diets in Nineteenth-Century Shaker Communities

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pp. 109-124

In the mid-1850s Freegift Wells, an Elder at the Shaker village in Watervliet, New York, reported the "fanatical" and disturbing demonstrations of a fellow Believer, Ephraim Prentiss. Wells recalled a specific event when Prentiss found a small piece of pork in a dish of beans during dinner. He responded to the discovery with surprising anger and ...

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6. Strawberries and Cream: Food, Sex, and Gender at the Oneida Community

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pp. 125-142

The Oneida Community, founded by the religious theorist John Humphrey Noyes and his followers in 1848, was one of the best-known intentional communities of the second half of the nineteenth century.1 Oneida lasted for thirty-three years as a communal society set in a rural area not far from Syracuse, New York. Nationally famous for its experimentation ...

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7. Food and Social Relations in Communal and Capitalist Amana

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pp. 143-161

In the annals of intentional communities, the Amana Society of Iowa is noteworthy in several respects. Amana was one of the longest lasting communal societies in American history. For eighty-nine years, from 1843 (when the community established its first American home at Ebenezer, New York; it relocated in 1855 to Amana) until 1932, members ...

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8. Recipes for a New World: Utopianism and Alternative Eating in Vegetarian Natural-Foods Cookbooks, 1970–84

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pp. 162-184

In 1971 Frances Moore Lappé published Diet for a Small Planet, a groundbreaking work on nutrition, diet, and the world's food order. Presenting an exposé of the worldwide political, economic, and, ultimately, spiritual repercussions of America's dependence on animal protein, Lappé supplied instructions on how to reverse the conditions of ...

III. Strategic Utopias: Cooking Up Values for a New World

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9. "This Fatal Cake": The Ideals and Realities of Republican Virtue in Eighteenth-Century America

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pp. 187-202

Eighteenth-century America offered, perhaps, the largest and most ambitious American utopian effort of all—the Revolution. Although not usually regarded as such, it was an idealistic movement in which many British colonists sought to eliminate negative and destructive social aspects and legally and informally to mandate new forms of behavior to ...

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10. "The Chafing Dish and the College Girl": The Evolution and Meaning of the "Spread" at Northern Women's Colleges, 1870–1910

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pp. 203-219

The utility and propriety of female higher education were vigorously debated in post-Civil War America. Proponents envisioned legions of enlightened women whose work, especially as teachers, mothers, and civic volunteers, would ameliorate the harsh social and economic conditions of the industrial age. "The Higher Education of Women," announced...

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11. Revolution in a Can: Food, Class, and Radicalism in the Minneapolis Co-op Wars of the 1970s

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pp. 220-238

In 1974 a war broke out in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Its battlefields were the dozens of food cooperatives that had sprouted in this progressive region in the preceding four years, and the combatants were the friends, lovers, and family members who had built the co-ops into thriving utopian enterprises. Known as the "Co-op Wars," this conflict ...

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12. Veggieburger in Paradise: Food as World Transformer in Contemporary American Buddhism and Judaism

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pp. 239-257

Along the dirt paths of Dharamsala, India—home to the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan refugees—lie numerous Tibetan restaurants with large signs advertising vegetarian cuisine. Why? Because Tibetan Buddhists are vegetarian? Hardly. In fact, Tibetan Buddhists are one of the most carnivorous groups known to humankind. However, Western converts ...

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13. The Pixel Chef: PBS Television Cooking Shows and Sensorial Utopias

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pp. 258-274

Halfway through the television cooking show Baking with Julia, the guest pastry maker Michel Richard approaches the minced garlic sautéing in a buttered frying pan, inhales deeply, and emits a light, satisfied grunt.1 Turning to the show's hostess, the late Julia Child, he then mumbles, "It's too bad we don't have smell on TV." Catching a whiff of ...


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pp. 275-278


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pp. 279-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780803256446
E-ISBN-10: 0803256442

Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: At Table