Thinking about Deutsch’s Building a Housewife’s Paradise

Hey All,

Professor Simon has asked me to think up a series of questions for Professor Deutsch about her book, Building a Housewife’s Paradise.  Professor Deutsch has graciously offered to answer my questions on the blog for the class to digest (right?) before our discussion on Thursday.  I’ll try to have the questions up by Monday night, or Tuesday at the latest.  In the meantime, here is a link to a Q&A session Deutsch had with the publisher.

Happy Reading!!


Reviewing Turning the Tables

This is something of a good news, bad news situation.  Bad News: I was only able to find two reviews of Turning the Tables, and neither of them is an academic review.  Good News:  If you’re writing a review this week, you’re doing something that has yet to be published in an academic journal!  Congratulations!


The first review I found was from The Times (London) Higher Education Supplement.  (Thank you, David Murray and for the awesome tools that allowed me to find any reviews at all!)  The Times’ review is written by Harvey Levenstein, author of Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America and Revolution at the Table: the Transformation of the American Diet.  Levenstein approves of Haley’s use of class in telling the story of the American restaurant in from 1880-1920, but does not like that Haley pays little attention to the effect of Prohibition on American restaurants and claims that after 1920, American middle class restaurants reverted to a boring version of “British-American cooking.”  Levenstein’s contention, however, that after 1920, the American middle class was composed mostly of people who traced their roots back to Britain seems somewhat off base.



The second review I found appeared in CHOICE, a collection of brief reviews for academic librarians.  The CHOICE reviewer, J. M. Deutsch, regurgitates Haley’s thesis, gives the book two stars (recommended for academic and general readers of all levels) and falls into the trap of using a food metaphor to review a book on food. (“Haley includes extensive notes and is omnivorous in sources cited, including the literature, menus, and trade publications of the time.”)

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Don’t miss your chance to get your own review published!

Reviews Round-Up

I round up (some of) the book reviews so you don’t have to. Onward!

Ronald Bayor, writing in The Journal of American History, finds much to admire in Diner’s book but thinks she uses too many anecdotal examples and overstates her case. He points out that Diner underplays the role of anti-Jewish violence in Eastern Europe, asking more broadly, “Could property ownership and a more secure political future have less meaning in emigration than food for these groups? And did religion, language, and nativism have less meaning for the creation of an American ethnic group consciousness than food?” Nonetheless, “this is a significant work that clearly brings European scarcity and American plenty into the immigration-ethnicization discussion.” (Bayor specializes in immigration history at Georgia State.)

Harvey Levenstein reviewed Diner’s book in the American Historical Review. This line made me LOL: “her appalling description of Irish cookery is a refreshing change from the usual hagiographies of immigrant cooks.” But Levenstein isn’t convinced that hunger was the key motivator for emigrants: “But her main point, the importance of “hunger” in the immigration, remains rather problematic… After all, as she acknowledges, it was not the hungriest who left but those who had somewhat more in terms of resources.” He points out that plenty of people emigrating from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe went to places other than abundant America, places where acquiring enough food would be challenging. Like Canada.

Levenstein teaches in Ontario, I feel compelled to point out, and wrote a book on the transformation of the American diet around the turn of the twentieth century.

In the Urban History Review, Sarah Elvins cannot resist using culinary metaphors to describe Diner’s book, a “treat” whose “strength is in its ability to retain the distinct “flavours” of the communities involved.” She find little to critique in the book aside from some wandering chronology, roaming back and forth between 1820 and 1930. Still the book is easy to digest. 😉

Mindy Weidman, who I believe was an undergraduate in history at the time, reviewed Diner’s book for the journal Food & Foodways. Curiously for a journal on food history, this review treats Diner’s book as an immigration history with an overemphasis on food.  Diner, Weidman argues, “minimizes the significance of any other factors [to immigration] and, instead, proclaims food abundance and possibilities for an improved diet as the primary motivation pulling migrants to the New World.” If the review means anything, I’d say it reveals an academic resistance to taking food seriously as a motivator of human behavior.

In the New York Times Book Review, food critic Robert Sietsema says this thing that is anathema to grad students: “In proper academic fashion, the book also includes introductory and concluding chapters that rehash what will be obvious to the reader of the other six chapters. You can skip them, unless you expect to be tested.” More usefully, for our purposes, he laments Diner’s lack of field research in today’s ethnic restaurants. He wants more of a sense of actually tasting things in the writing.

I chuckle when Mark Choate describes the book as “a tasteful and satisfying feast” in the International Migration Review. Diner’s reach exceeds her grasp at times, but she provides welcome insights showing “how emigrants developed new traditions, in a context much different from the Old World.”

Thinking about Italian-American Food

Parm's interior

This week, the NY Times reviewed Parm, the new lunchy offshoot of Torisi Italian Specialties (itself a very interesting and widely-adored cultural mash-up of Lower East Side immigrant food traditions: think Jewish pickles, Chinese dried scallops and durian finding their way into classic red-sauce Italian-American dishes.)

As the name implies, Parm tries to resurrect and elevate declasse Italian-American foods. (Who said a meatball parm sandwich can’t be made into a bourgeois status item?) Pete Wells (the reviewer) has some fun pointing out the malleablity of meanings surrounding this oft-overlooked cuisine.

Fried Calamari, Cantonese style (from Torisi): with fried hot peppers