Millions of immigrants were drawn to American shores, not by the mythic streets paved with gold, but rather by its tables heaped with food. How they experienced the realities of America’s abundant food—its meat and white bread, its butter and cheese, fruits and vegetables, coffee and beer—reflected their earlier deprivations and shaped their ethnic practices in the new land.
Hungering for America tells the stories of three distinctive groups and their unique culinary dramas. Italian immigrants transformed the food of their upper classes and of sacred days into a generic “Italian” food that inspired community pride and cohesion. Irish immigrants, in contrast, loath to mimic the foodways of the Protestant British elite, diminished food as a marker of ethnicity. And East European Jews, who venerated food as the vital center around which family and religious practice gathered, found that dietary restrictions jarred with America’s boundless choices.
These tales, of immigrants in their old worlds and in the new, demonstrate the role of hunger in driving migration and the significance of food in cementing ethnic identity and community. Hasia Diner confirms the well-worn adage, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
Diner’s research—into historical accounts, novels, plays, economic studies, personal narratives and vintage demographic surveys—has produced a book jam-packed with fascinating bits of Italian, Irish and Jewish food lore… Diner’s big-hearted attitude toward immigrants and their struggles…along with the rich anecdotal material, may inspire a pang of regret when you’re finished.
In this fascinating survey of the eating habits and influences of Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants, Diner…charts with wit and graceful prose the similarities and differences between these three distinct groups as they encountered mainstream American culture… Diner deftly juggles a huge amount of detail and analysis—drawing upon memoirs, cookbooks, newspaper accounts, films and studies of consumer culture—and provides both political and social insights in a highly accessible social history.
For those with an appetite for an excellent book on cultural history, I recommend Hungering for America.
In Hungering for America…Hasia R. Diner provides a richly detailed, highly original study of the changing food habits of three groups of immigrants—Italians, Irish, and Jews—who migrated to the United States between 1880 and 1920.
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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