Buying, Not Cooking: Ready-to-eat Food in American Urban Working-class Neighborhoods, 1880–1930

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Working-class Americans living in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago and other industrial cities had ample opportunities to buy ready-cooked food around the turn of the twentieth century. Bakeries, saloons, lunchrooms, delicatessens, and pushcarts all offered ready-to-eat meals and snacks at prices workers could afford. Workers had many reasons for choosing ready-cooked food. Among other considerations, fuel for cooking was expensive, good stoves were rare and a worker's time could be better spent earning wages than producing cooked food at home. I argue that workers' adoption of cooked food signaled a fundamental step in the peculiar industrialization of the kitchen. The changes in cooking that occurred during industrialization are not only due to the growth of national food-processing industries with mass-advertised products, as some have argued. In fact, worker's cooking and eating habits show that the critical changes began with local sources of ready-cooked food in urban neighborhoods.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2006

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