Labor and French Historical Studies recently published two special issues dedicated to food studies in the Americas and France. Both issues address working class life in relation to food and its history. Read further to sample the introductions and several articles from the issues.
“Food and Work in the Americas” challenges historians to think about food and work in ways that not only include the production of food but also explore the connections between the work of food, the place of food in working-class life, and the very nature and trajectory of capitalism itself. The contributors chart the places of labor history within food studies and food studies within labor history, arguing that the two bodies of literature would benefit from more cross-pollination. The rest of the issue traces the relationship between food and work through a series of case studies, including discussions of Native American life during the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, African American food workers in the early twentieth century, Puerto Rican sugarcane workers under US imperialism, food as a civil right, and the politics of fair trade. This volume asks not only how working people have been central to the production of food, but how food—as something that had to be acquired, prepared, and eaten—has been central to working-class life and capitalist transformation.
“Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History” offers a broad range of social and cultural insights into the history of French gastronomy. At a moment when French cuisine no longer dominates the world of fine dining, the history of French food has drawn increasing attention in the academic world. The contributors address topics spanning the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, such as coffee’s relationship to slavery and exoticism; the promotion of terroir to an aspiring middle class; the contrast between the romanticized images of Parisian shop girls and their efforts to survive on street food in the early twentieth century; the “standard meal” imagined by nineteenth-century nutritionists and the divergent reality of meager lunches for the working class; and the inequitable experience of wartime deprivation. The articles in this issue both model how the study of the culture of food can ground our understanding of France’s place in the world and illuminate questions of nationalism, global networks, gender, race, ethnicity, and class.
For more articles about food studies from our journals, read “Exotic Edibles: Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Early Modern French How-to,” from Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (43:3) and “Radical Foodways,” a special issue of Radical History Review (#110).