Two faculty books examine food across time

Looking to cleanse your palate with an enlightening read? Two new books from faculty in Arts & Sciences provide insights into food and culture.

Covering ground from ancient Cahokia to 19th-century New York and beyond, recently published works by Gayle Fritz and Rafia Zafar bring to light unknown or forgotten stories about the original foodies – farmers, chefs, cooks, and authors who wielded power and influence through their knowledge and creation of food. 



Feeding Cahokia: Early Agriculture in the North American Homeland

By Gayle Fritz, professor emerita of anthropology

Archaeologists have struggled to explain the rapid rise and fall of Cahokia — the mysterious Mississippian mound-building culture that sprang up about a thousand years ago in the fertile southern Illinois bottom lands just across the river from modern-day St. Louis.

Scholars have painted the civilization as a hierarchical, highly centralized society where ruling elites demanded tribute from lowly peasant farmers who toiled in a culture spiritually obsessed with and highly dependent upon the cultivation of corn.

While there’s little doubt that farming was the civilization’s lifeblood, Gayle Fritz's book offers a compelling case for a much different understanding of the Cahokian culture. 

“The real story of Cahokia is about much more than maize and decisions made by a small group of elites,” says Fritz. “It’s clear that the vast majority of Cahokia’s farmers were women and it’s likely that their critical knowledge of domesticated crops and wild food plants would have earned them positions of power and respect at every level of the society,” she said.

Read more about Feeding Cahokia in The Source




Recipes for Respect: African American Meals and Meaning

By Rafia Zafar, Professor of English and of African and African-American Studies

In her new book, Zafar traces how black Americans, over the last 200 years, have profoundly shaped the nation’s gastronomical heritage — while routinely being stereotyped as illiterate kitchen geniuses.

The book begins with the story of Robert Roberts, butler to Christopher Gore, the former governor of Massachusetts. In 1827, Roberts published “The House Servant’s Directory: A Monitor for Private Families.” Twenty years later, Tunis G. Campbell, who had been principal waiter at the Howard Hotel in New York, and later a Georgia state senator during Reconstruction, published a similar volume, “The Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers’ Guide.”

"So there’s an interesting paradox," says Zafar. "In both cases, you have black men writing hospitality books that taught white readers how to move up socially."

Read more about Recipes for Respect in The Source.