What America Ate

Preserving America's Culinary History from the Great Depression

Welcome to What America Ate, an interactive website and online archive about food in the Great Depression, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. What were Americans eating in the Depression? Economic upheaval, mass migration and technology were all changing Americans' diets, and people living through the Depression wondered if there was such a thing as American cuisine and who was eating what. To answer those questions, the U.S. government did something extraordinary: it created the America Eats Project, sending writers around the country to document American eating. Today, for the first time, America Eats sources that had been scattered across the country are digitized and fully searchable, along with almost two hundred local community cookbooks and thousands of food advertising materials from the 1930s. Start exploring now!



America Eats




Community Cookbooks


America Eats was a pioneering food writing project conceptualized in the middle of the Great Depression by the editors of the state-sponsored Federal Writers’ Project. Already by the 1930s, many considered local foodways to be endangered by the industrialization of the food system and the growing influence of nutrition science. To counter this standardization of taste, the Federal Writers’ Project launched an audacious quest to document and preserve the core of American foodways, independent of economic downturns, health advice, and dietary fads. The project mobilized writers in every state of the country to document local habits and preferences.

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    At first glance, advertisements from the Great Depression are stylish, colorful, and appealing - just as their producers intended. But beneath the surface glamour, 1930s advertisements are rich historical sources that yield insights into a range of topics about the era. They not only provide a unique window into the era’s financial anxieties, but they also reveal valuable information about other topics including ideas about race and gender, the state of scientific knowledge about nutrition, and changing food preferences.

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      Community cookbooks are socio-historical and cultural documents. But, for many years they were not so considered. Sometimes called community cookbooks and sometimes called charity cookbooks, these books were most often cooperative projects with recipe contributions coming from different individuals. Groups generally produced the books as fundraising ventures, with profits from their sale going to selected charities or to support the organizations that had produced them. Now they are primary sources for food historians. Each book has a unique history: they are not only culinary instructional manuals and repositories for traditional dishes, they also reflect food habits of a population, act as historical markers of major events, and record technological advances in a society.

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        Coming soon: We'll need help annotating and transcribing recipes from the 1930s. You'll earn Recipe Achievement Badges along the way. For every five recipes you label with a certain ingredient or theme, you will earn a related badge. See how many you can collect!