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A WINDOW INTO THE DAILY LIFE AND THOUGHTS OF SLIS STUDENTS

Cookbooks

Looking out the window from my desk at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science, I can't help but think about how, exactly one year ago, the city of Boston was drowning under piles of snow. While I am a big fan of snow and snow days, I have to admit that I am rather relieved that this year, the weather has decided to play nicely. Considering that I have a thesis to write, research to do, an internship to complete, and heat bills to pay, I am quite content with having 50+ degree days in February.

And how exactly is that thesis coming along?
Well I can tell you that it is coming along. This evening I will be submitting my outline to my advisor which I have to admit, is equal parts exciting and terrifying. I treat my outlines like architectural blueprints. Having outlined the overall structure of my paper enables me to focus on each section at a time. Since an average thesis runs about 60-80 pages, having something like an outline is definitely more of a boon rather than a curse.
But this post isn't about my thesis so no need to bore you with the silly details. I'll save that topic for another time. No, today, I want to talk about cookbooks and why they are amazing, and not for the reasons that you might be thinking.
Cookbooks and History
From a historic perspective, you can learn a lot about a society by analyzing the things that they eat. Exploring the content of historic cookbooks, one can uncover contextual clues about society during a given time period. Jell-O's popularity during the first half of the twentieth century is indicative of American society's embracement of domestic science and kitchen technology advancements. Gelatin molds from the 1950s were cheap yet flashy dishes that housewives could use as both meals and decorative pieces. Since cooking was commonly perceived to be a woman's responsibility -and thus cooking basically represented a mother or wife's love for their family- creating gelatin molds took an otherwise easy-to-prepare dish and made it look complex and time consuming. Basically the thought process was: the flashier the better. Today we don't see a lot of gelatin molds or Jell-O based recipes in cookbooks but back in the 1950s, you certainly did. The same can be said of desserts. Considering the fact that many women were encouraged to adopt a housewives life style during the 1950s, the surplus of Jell-O and dessert recipes in cookbooks could be suggestive of society's pressures on women to conform to the domestic goddess ideal so often mocked in parodies of the decade.
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Cookbooks and Culture
This past summer, I attend a history conference in Worcester, MA. The theme of the conference was food, and I had the pleasure of attending multiple panels that explored the many facets of food. During a panel on multiple initiatives to reconnect Native American societies with their gastronomic roots, an anthropologist said, "Even if a culture is all but destroyed, their foodstuffs and foodways will remain, in one way or form. Food is always the last representation of a culture to die." That remark really struck me and has continued to roll around in my head since. Nowadays, when I stand in the cookbook section of a bookstore or library, I am overwhelmed by the number of cultures that have representation on the shelves. While some cookbooks might feature more authentic recipes than others, the intention of the books' authors remain the same. They want to establish a connection to those with shared cultural backgrounds as well as introduce the rest of society to their unique and vibrant foodways. Many regional or specialty cookbooks feature lengthy introductions that feature explanations of ingredients, the author's relationship to the food, and beautiful photography of loved ones, special places, or the dishes themselves. Cookbooks can sometimes act as an intimate introduction into a new culture, using food to tell stories about customs and traditions.
So the next time you find yourself at bookstore or library, take a walk over to the cookbook section and see what's on the shelves. You never know what you might learn!

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