Susan Swetnam

Nostalgia and Social Change: Food in Contemporary America

In the twentieth century, Americans have embraced “old-fashioned” food with a vengeance. Food festivals have proliferated; cookbooks celebrating the food of eroding traditions or regions formerly considered “backward” are topping culinary best-seller lists; the slow food movement has gained many adherents among professional chefs and serious eaters; comfort food shows up regularly on restaurant menus. What’s up? Why, when someone could have anything in the world to eat, would he or she choose grits or apple pie or deliberately lumpy mashed potatoes? Why do hoards of people go out of their way to travel to self-consciously quaint festivals celebrating potatoes or garlic or okra? Drawing on current scholarship about food and culture, this talk suggests an answer (besides the fact that much of this food tastes good).