About the Project

The 1930s are a fascinating moment to study food. Examining how ordinary people bought, cooked, ate, and thought about food can reveal previously hidden aspects of American life during a time of vast economic and social change. What America Ate's website invites users to interact with and enhance the historical sources, while the digital archive allows users to approach American food in the Depression from three distinct angles.

First is through materials from the original America Eats project, a Depression-era jobs creation program that sent writers and photographers across the country to chronicle American eating by region. Writers collected amazing stories: interviewing cooks and eaters, transcribing recipes, collecting songs and jokes and poems, and describing all sorts of food customs – often purposefully emphasizing the rarest and most rustic food habits they could find. Federal administrators had planned to publish the collected essays in a big reference book on regional American food, but almost none of the collected materials ever saw the light of day because the program was abruptly terminated weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War II. With few exceptions, the materials have remained in obscurity ever since.

Second, the digital archive contains 200 rare community cookbooks. Mimeographed in church basements or published in miniature print runs by charities or schools or clubs, community cookbooks were cheap and sometimes flimsy books that are precious sources today in part because they didn't usually survive. Also, unlike mass-market cookbooks produced by publishers whose first concern was a paying, middle-class readership, community cookbooks were cooperative, grassroots ventures with contributions from individuals sharing recipes for foods they already cooked and liked. The community cookbook collection shows how a diverse range of Americans were actually cooking and eating during the Depression, sometimes in contrast to the kinds of recipes that made it into formally published cookbooks.

Finally, the digital archive contains a massive collection of rare advertisements, pamphlets, recipe leaflets, and food packaging materials produced by food companies during the Depression. These sources provide an important counterbalance to the rustic and nostalgic focus of the America Eats program by showing how deeply technological and commercial forces were already shaping American eating by the 1930s.

What America Ate starts with these three big collections, but it doesn't end there. You can browse historical recipes, search materials by state and region, get a deeper understanding of historical context, explore featured sources related to a range of topics, or help us tag and transcribe 1930s recipes.

Food Safety

Historical recipes may give instructions that violate current food safety practices. Please check current government guidelines for miniumum safe cooking temperatures for meats and eggs and for instructions on safe home canning.

Offensive Language in Historical Sources

What America Ate's online archive includes a number of historical collections in their entirety, giving users direct access to a treasure trove of original historical materials that were previously scattered around the country. These Depression-era documents are wonderfully rich sources, but many of them also contain ideas that clash with our modern sensibilities. Racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and anti-Semitism were rampant in 1930s America, and those prejudices came out as clearly in culinary realms as they did in other parts of American life. Please note that any offensive content reflects the prejudices of the Depression era and not, in any way, the beliefs of the project participants.

Our Team

Principal Investigators

Helen Zoe Veit

Associate Professor of History
Director, What America Ate Project
Michigan State University

Peter Berg

Associate Director for Special Collections & Preservation
MSU Libraries Michigan State University

Dean Rehberger

Director
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Project Management Team

Leslie Behm

Special Projects Librarian
Special Collections, MSU Libraries

Catherine Foley

Director of Digital Library and Archive Projects
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Jackie Hawthorne

Director of Photography
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Grace E. Morris

Imaging/Digitization Specialist
Gerald M. Kline Digital and Multimedia Center & G. Robert Vincent Voice Library, MSU Libraries

Alicia Sheill

Assistant Director
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Kayla VanDyke

Office Manager
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Ethan Watrall

Associate Director
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Advisory Board Members

Camille Bégin

Culinaria Research Centre
University of Toronto Scarborough

Aaron Bobrow-Strain

Associate Professor of Politics
Whitman College

Marcie Cohen Ferris

Professor of American Studies
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Donna Gabaccia

Professor of History
University of Toronto

Technical Team

Seila Gonzalez

Director of Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Austin Truchan

Lead Design
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Alexis Reininger

Design
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Christine Neejer

Graduate Student Assistant, Department of History
Michigan State University

Heather Garrity

Digitization
University of Washington Information School

Sam Carne

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Qijun Chen

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Cameron Holmes

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Eddy Maxwell

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Josh Miles

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Morgan Muyskens

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Matt Schleusener

Programming
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Cecilia Malilwe

Copyright
Gerald M. Kline Digital and Multimedia Center, MSU Libraries

John Shaw

Gerald M. Kline Digital and Multimedia Center & G. Robert Vincent Voice Library, MSU Libraries

Eric Alstrom

Head, Conservation & Perservations Unit
MSU Libraries

Bexx Caswell-Olson

Collections Conservation
MSU Libraries

Cait Campbell

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Patrick Conway

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Kolt Ewing

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Kassie Powell

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Caitlyn Przybysz

Metadata
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Anna Sherry

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Katie Susko

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Liz Timbs

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

Christopher Valvano

Optical Character Recognition
MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University