A Revolution in Eating

How the Quest for Food Shaped America

James E. McWilliams

Columbia University Press

A Revolution in Eating

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Pub Date: November 2007

ISBN: 9780231129930

400 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $24.95£21.00

Pub Date: June 2005

ISBN: 9780231129923

400 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $39.95£34.00

Pub Date: June 2005

ISBN: 9780231503488

400 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $23.99£20.00

A Revolution in Eating

How the Quest for Food Shaped America

James E. McWilliams

Columbia University Press

Sugar, pork, beer, corn, cider, scrapple, and hoppin' John all became staples in the diet of colonial America. The ways Americans cultivated and prepared food and the values they attributed to it played an important role in shaping the identity of the newborn nation. In A Revolution in Eating, James E. McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of culinary attitudes, tastes, and techniques throughout colonial America.

Confronted by strange new animals, plants, and landscapes, settlers in the colonies and West Indies found new ways to produce food. Integrating their British and European tastes with the demands and bounty of the rugged American environment, early Americans developed a range of regional cuisines. From the kitchen tables of typical Puritan families to Iroquois longhouses in the backcountry and slave kitchens on southern plantations, McWilliams portrays the grand variety and inventiveness that characterized colonial cuisine. As colonial America grew, so did its palate, as interactions among European settlers, Native Americans, and African slaves created new dishes and attitudes about food. McWilliams considers how Indian corn, once thought by the colonists as "fit for swine," became a fixture in the colonial diet. He also examines the ways in which African slaves influenced West Indian and American southern cuisine.

While a mania for all things British was a unifying feature of eighteenth-century cuisine, the colonies discovered a national beverage in domestically brewed beer, which came to symbolize solidarity and loyalty to the patriotic cause in the Revolutionary era. The beer and alcohol industry also instigated unprecedented trade among the colonies and further integrated colonial habits and tastes. Victory in the American Revolution initiated a "culinary declaration of independence," prompting the antimonarchical habits of simplicity, frugality, and frontier ruggedness to define American cuisine. McWilliams demonstrates that this was a shift not so much in new ingredients or cooking methods, as in the way Americans imbued food and cuisine with values that continue to shape American attitudes to this day.

The question 'what's for dinner?' has been foremost in the minds of most humans for most of history, colonial Americans included. This fascinating book shows that how they answered that question helped shape the nation we became.

Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home: A Long Walk Through America's Most Hopeful Region, Vermont's Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks of New York

James E. McWilliams leads us on a cultural and gastronomic tour of Colonial America and tells us not only what early Americans ate, but also why they ate what they did. Lavishly illustrated throughout, with a generous use of overlooked historical images, this book helps us understand how we eat today.

Nancy Zaslavsky, vice president of the Culinary Historians of Southern California

A delightfully incisive account of a fascinating subject. McWilliams traces the culinary folkways of Americans of the colonial period and demonstrates that we are what they ate.

H. W. Brands, Dickson Allen Anderson Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin

The lucid style and jaunty tone...make this accessible to all.

Publishers Weekly

Delicious from start to finish.

Kirkus Reviews

Meticulously researched and packed with fascinating detail, this book provides an excellent account of the culinary development of Colonial America.

Library Journal

A Revolution in Eating, a lively new tour of Colonial American 'foodways.'

Joshua Glenn, Boston Globe

Flexibility, even tolerance may well have contributed to the uniqueness of American food, according to historian McWilliams in this extremely rich, readable book.

The FOOD Museum Online

Fascinating...Anyone curious about the cultural history of that meatloaf on the dinner plate will gobble it up.

Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly

McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of culinary attitudes, tastes, and techniques through out colonial America.

Staten Island Star Reporter

McWilliams's examination of the culinary history of Colonial America is more than a... gastronomic tour... A lively and informative read.

New Yorker

[A] fresh perspective is well worth the read. Instead of learning our origins through a well-worn trail of war and peace on a time line, it takes us on a more pleasant route from pewter spoon to mouth.

Shelley Preston, Ledger

A Revolution in Eating gives its readers much to chew over, and whets the appetite for further work on the development of American Cooking.

Claire Hopley, The Washington Times

McWilliams has penned an illuminating account of the evolution of foodways in the colonial Americas.

Josh Friedland, Washington Post Book World

Pleasingly filling.

Susannah Meadows, New York Times Book Review

For the cook who likes history or the history buff who likes to cook.

Linda Bassett, Georgetown Record

McWilliams vividly illustrates the intimate knowledge and relationship colonial Americans had with their food.

Claudia Kousoulas, Books-for-cooks.com: Appetite for Books

McWilliam's perspective... provides an essential link from the past to the present and into the future. It's a fascinating foray.

Dona's Kitchen Kapers

McWilliams manages to be simultaneously instructive and entertaining.

MM Pack, Austin Chronicle

McWilliams brings colonial times to life through vivid detail.

William R. Wood, Kalamazoo Gazette

Don't let the fact that its publisher is Columbia University Press fool you into thinking this is a book for scholars only.

Margot Cleary, Daily Hampshire Gazette

McWilliams manages to show food and drink as an integral part of history... Recommended.


[An] exciting work of comparative colonial history.

Journal of Popular Culture

McWilliams has contributed a valuable book to early American history.

Michael A. LaCombe, The Journal of Southern History

A lively investigation of Colonial eating habits and how they shaped the revolutionary views of the new Americans.

Paulette Beete, American Spirit
Introduction: Getting to the Guts of American Food
1. Adaptability: The Bittersweet Culinary History of the English West Indies
2. Traditionalism: The Greatest Accomplishment of Colonial New England
3. Negotiation: Living High and Low on the Hog in the Chesapeake Bay Region
4. Wilderness: The Fruitless Search for Culinary Order in Carolina
5. Diversity: Refined Crudeness in the Middle Colonies
6. Consumption: The British Invasion
7. Intoxication: Finding Common Bonds in an Alcoholic Empire
8. Revolution: A Culinary Declaration of Independence

About the Author

James E. McWilliams is associate professor of history at Texas State University-San Marcos. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, among other publications, and he is the author of Building the Bay Colony: Local Economy and Society in Early Massachusetts.