- MIT Press
Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food
- Benjamin R Cohen
- MIT Press
- Social Science > Agriculture & Food (see also Political Science - Public Policy - Agricultur
The modern way of eating--our taste for food that is processed, packaged, and advertised--has its roots as far back as the 1870s. Many food writers trace our eating habits to World War II, but this book shows that our current food system began to coalesce much earlier. Modern food came from and helped to create a society based on racial hierarchies, colonization, and global integration. Acquired Tastes explores these themes through a series of moments in food history--stories of bread, beer, sugar, canned food, cereal, bananas, and more--that shaped how we think about food today.
Contributors consider the displacement of native peoples for agricultural development; the invention of Pilsner, the first international beer style; the long con of gilded sugar and corn syrup; Josephine Baker's banana skirt and the rise of celebrity tastemakers; and faith in institutions and experts who produced, among other things, food rankings and fake meat.
Benjamin Cohen is a historian, environmental studies, and Science & Technology Studies (STS) scholar. He co-hosted the internet's only undefeated podcast about small college life, Various Breads and Butters (try here too) from 2015 until its finale in 2019. He is an Associate Professor of Engineering Studies and Environmental Studies, and an affiliated member of the History Department, at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.
In work beyond campus, he is a Series Editor for “Public Thinker” at Public Books, an editorial board member for MIT Press’s History for a Sustainable Future book series, and a long-ago Lists Editor at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. From 2005 until 2011, he taught in the Department of STS at U.Va., where he was a founder and director of The UVA Food Collaborative and founder and curator of the now-defunct but once grand Thornton Hall Art Gallery.
Cohen was trained as a historian and an engineer, worked in industry for a few years as a polymer researcher, and then pursued graduate work as a return to historical studies. He earned a Ph.D. on the History Track of STS from Virginia Tech (2005), writing about environmental history and the history of science. That became Notes from the Ground, set within the early American Republic. His second book, Pure Adulteration, carried that interest into the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a story about the origins of modern food regulation, the pure food crusades, and new worries over sincerity, artifice, and nature. He also co-edited Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food (MIT, 2021) with Anna Zeide and Michael Kideckel. Each project works to explore the origins of modern industrial food and agriculture. In teaching and local activities, he works with students, faculty, others across campus, and community members to move beyond the limitations of that industrial system. The co-edited Technoscience and Environmental Justice (with Gwen Ottinger) is a contribution to this second area of research.
In the time left over he writes for various forums outside the academy, some interviews, some satire, a few personal essays, and most of it on-line.
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