• The Food of a Younger Land

  • The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America
  • By: Mark Kurlansky
  • Narrated by: Stephen Hoye
  • Length: 11 hrs and 50 mins
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 3.4 out of 5 stars (73 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Mark Kurlansky's new book takes us back to the food of a younger America. Before the national highway system brought the country closer together, before chain restaurants brought uniformity, and before the Frigidaire meant that frozen food could be stored for longer, the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional. It helped to form the distinct character, attitudes, and customs of those who ate it.

While Kurlansky was researching The Big Oyster in the Library of Congress, he stumbled across the archives for the America Eats project and discovered this wonderful window into our national past. In the 1930s, with the country gripped by the Great Depression and millions of Americans struggling to get by, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Writers' Project under the New Deal to give work to artists and writers, such as John Cheever and Richard Wright. A number of writers - including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren - were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project was abandoned in the early 1940s and never completed.

The Food of a Younger Nation unearths this forgotten literary and historical treasure. Mark Kurlansky's brilliant compilation of these historic pieces, combined with authentic recipes, anecdotes, photos, and his own musings and analysis, evokes a bygone era when Americans had never heard of fast food and the grocery store was a thing of the future.

©2009 Mark Kurlansky (P)2009 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"This extraordinary collection provides a vivid and revitalizing sense of the rural and regional characteristics and distinctions that we've lost and can find again here." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Fun, illuminating, and provocative, this historic reclamation appears while we're in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the one Franklin D. Roosevelt fought [and] while we're grappling with a plague of unsafe food and environmental woes associated with industrial agriculture. But don't despair. Whip up Ethel's Depression Cake, and throw a bailout party." ( Booklist)

What listeners say about The Food of a Younger Land

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Perhaps better in print.

I am excited by the topic, and I enjoy anything about the cultural history or anthropology of food. This book was my special download for a week at an East Coast beach, and it turned out to be a strange choice.

The first chapter (the history of the WPA in general, and the regional food essays in particular) was fascinating. But I found that once the audio veered into the recipes themselves, I kept falling asleep. I would awaken VERY HUNGRY, and having brown sugar, vinegar, ham hock, and a pinch of mustard on my mind.

Positives - The recipes and stories are quite interesting. My favorite parts were the history of the clambake, and maple sugaring.

Negatives - the audiobook is not suited to searching and using the recipes. It is very frustrating that the information is, for all intents, inaccessible to me as a cook. I use an iPod Touch - perhaps there is another format that is searchable, but it is in no way as useful as a paper text for experimentation in the kitchen. In addition, listening to lists of ingredients for ten hours was too much even for me, though by the end of my vacation I did finish it.

On another note, I found that the author's choice of dramatizing Southern Black voices sounded really awkward, and I would have recommended some other strategy. (The author has, otherwise, a Northern accent.) I realize that there are many ways to approach this kind of thing in an audiobook - I just didn't think it was successful.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great for history buffs and foodies

Would you listen to The Food of a Younger Land again? Why?

Yes, I'd listen to it again as I'm sure there are parts that would sink in better on a second listen.

What other book might you compare The Food of a Younger Land to and why?

Any of the WPA writers guides to the states.

What about Stephen Hoye’s performance did you like?

Easy to listen to. Good pronunciation

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

yes. I found the history of the project fascinating and a great way to learn about food history in the US. I'm surprised how many foods which were common in the late 1930s are unknown today and how much food in the US has become homogenized over the last 70 years.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Food Critics and Lovers Of Food Will Love This!

I'm not a big food connoisseur but I found this book interesting ans full of information as to where some of our food taste originate from.

If you like food and some history about where it comes from, you'll enjoy this read.