Some Thoughts on Turning the Tables

Harvey Levenstein, in his review of Turning the Tables, maintains that Haley ignores the effects of Prohibition (1919-1933) on restaurant culture in America.  While I understand that Haley’s book does not focus on the Prohibition era, I thought it might be interesting to present an interpretation of the effect of Prohibition on American restaurants.  The three links below are from the well-known (and somewhat iconoclastic) Freakonomics blog and stem from a new work by economist Tyler Cowan.  Essentially, Cowan argues that more “basic” fare in American restaurants became an economic necessity when Prohibition went into effect and restaurants lost the profits they garnered from the sale of alcohol.  Those profits, Cowan maintains, essentially subsidized the more expensive, better quality food served in restaurants.

http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/12/15/prohibition-and-the-transformation-of-american-food/

http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/12/14/how-american-food-got-so-bad-full-transcript/

http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/12/01/there-used-to-be-such-a-thing-as-a-free-lunch/

Cowan also makes some interesting points about the impact of immigration restriction on the quality of American food.

 

On an unrelated note, I wonder what Haley would say about ethnic restaurants that currently list their food in its “native” language, and then offer an English translation below (or, those that offer no translation at all).

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2 Comments

  1. Linking together this week (or suggestions for) and last week, check out Marni Davis’s book, Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition.

    The NYT reviewed the book a couple of weeks ago,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/books/review/jews-and-booze-becoming-american-in-the-age-of-prohibition-by-marni-davis-book-review.html

    Reply
  2. Harvey Levenstein

     /  February 12, 2012

    Hi all,
    One comment on my review of Haley’s book. By “British_American cooking” I did not mean that the people were British-Americans. I meant the kind of cooking, heavily influenced by that of the people of British origin who dominated America from its origins, that became mainstream cooking in the 19th and for most of the 20th centuries. This was the kind of bland meat 2 veg cooking girls learned in home ec and was featured in all the women’s magazines, food producers’ recipes, movies, and so on. The second generation of the many non-British immigrants who flooded in from 1880-1914 tended to adopt this kind of cooking, with the notable exception of Italian Americans.

    Reply

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