Regionalist Romance: "America Eats" and the Culinary Myth-Making of the Federal Writers' Project
Portland State University. Department of History
David A. Horowitz
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
Regionalism -- United States -- History -- 20th century, Food habits -- West (U.S.) -- History -- 20th century, Federal Writers' Project
1 online resource (vi, 100 pages)
This thesis expands upon food historian Camille Bégin's assertion that the "America Eats" manuscript of the New Deal's Federal Writers' Project was "in tune with the interwar revival of regionalism" in the United States. Using archival material associated with the project and regionalist literature of the period, this study explores the dichotomies inherent in the broader regionalist movement of the Depression Era -- particularly using the project's treatment of the American West. Using foodways as the topic and regionalism as the intellectual framework, the FWP employees sought to document what they believed was the authentic culinary character of the nation among the common folk. This research evaluates whether the West of "America Eats" was an exercise in ethnographic foodways research or an attempt to reassert Frederick Jackson Turner's virulent western man as the authentic national character on the eve of war. As national priorities rapidly shifted in the same timeframe as the development of "America Eats" we can see a transformation in the type of regionalism utilized -- from Howard Odum's famed science of the region to what he derided as "sentimental romanticism," which offered a regionalist veneer but only served at the behest of a larger romantic nationalist project -- remained one of its insoluble contradictions. As US entry into World War II loomed closer and the need for an unambiguous national unity grew, the balance was tipped in the predictable direction, and the "America Eats" treatment of the West returned to Frederick Jackson Turner's values of frontier nationalism. Ironically, the sentimentality adopted by many regionalist thinkers in advance of WWII, represented in the "America Eats" regional essays of the West, spelled the end of the regionalist movement. Just as the trope of the "melting pot" transformed from its original meaning of "strength in pluralism" to "strength in unity" so too did regionalism become another means toward national unity. Depression-Era proponents believed that regionalism offered a perfect balance between nationalist homogenization and sectionalist division; wartime buildup permanently tipped the scale toward the former, and regional folk cultures became important only insofar as they served the larger romantic national project.
© 2021 Icarus J. Smith
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Smith, Icarus J., "Regionalist Romance: "America Eats" and the Culinary Myth-Making of the Federal Writers' Project" (2021). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5814.