November 2018

The Politics of Cookbooks

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Jackie Hemond

Politics and food go hand-in-hand. Do you remember Clinton’s fast food hamburgers, Bush’s distaste for broccoli, and cookie recipes from candidates’ wives? Partisan politics can be kitschy. Many Happy Returns: The Democrats’ Cook Book, or How to Cook A G.O.P. Goose contained a foreword by Frank Sinatra and Jackie Kennedy’s waffle recipe. Alas, Pat Nixon offered no recipes in the 1973 Watergate Cookbook. Included within were recipes for Ehrlichman’s Cover Up Casserole and Mitchell’s Sitting Duck. 2004 saw this paean to white, middle class Americans, How to Eat Like a Republican or, Hold the Mayo, Muffy — I’m Feeling Miracle Whipped Tonight. Less tongue-in-cheek, but straight from the campaign trail is Trump’s Southern Strategies of Cooking: For Discriminating Patriotic Tastebuds.

Cookbooks reflect the culture (and politics) they are written in, by what is included, omitted and added in different editions. In subsequent editions of Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking, the recipes became more expansive and added more ingredients than when it first arrived during The Great Depression. As our country’s wealth and power grew, so did the cookbook’s portions and our waistlines. As the country diversified, more ethnic recipes were added.

The Settlement Cookbook by Lizzie Black Kander published its first of 40 editions in 1901as a fundraiser for a Milwaukee settlement house. The settlement movement was a reformist social movement started in the 1880s. Middle class volunteers provided daycare, education, recreation and healthcare to the urban poor. The intent of the cookbook was to bridge the assimilation gap of newly arrived Jewish settlers. Old world recipes were “Americanized” and pork and shellfish recipes were included, items forbidden in kosher kitchens.

The suffrage movement cookbooks were fundraisers and provided a network with lower class women who had no time or money to protest for the vote. The cover of The Suffrage Cook Book edited by L.O. Kleber in 1915 featured Uncle Sam holding a ship’s wheel with 12.5 spokes. The 12 spokes represented states where women could vote, the half spoke symbolized Illinois where women could only vote in school board elections. Similarly, Peace de Resistance, a 1960s cookbook, was concocted by Women Strike for Peace, a group founded by Bella Abzug to protest the Vietnam War and support nuclear disarmament. Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore was the first environmentalist cookbook. It embraced a vegetarian lifestyle because of meat’s drain on resources and its harm to the planet.

Newer cookbooks are: Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations, by Chris Fair; Feed the Resistance: Recipes and Ideas for Getting Involved by Julie Turshen; and The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great by Leyla Moushabeck. Can you guess which side of politics they are on? 

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