Preparation of Food

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PREPARATION OF FOOD. Food preparation has been a constant chore since the first human beings picked up cutting and mashing stones. In return, this effort to make food edible, preserve it, and transform its character has sustained an ever-increasing population. Many techniques, including grinding, sifting, drying, salting, sealing, fermenting, and applying heat, are extremely ancient. Few fundamentally new techniques have been introduced in the past two centuries, among them microwaving. The main long-term change has been the shifting of tasks from the domestic hearth to centralized factories.

The processes of food preparation might be divided according to their primary science, whether physical (such as extracting nuts from their shells), chemical (adding salt), or biological (brewing beer). Perhaps more helpfully, they might be categorized according to their intended purpose. Some foods are toxic until prepared properly. Others are scarcely edible until softened. Preparation can bring together nutritional variety. It can add intriguing flavors. Food preparation can also have negative impacts, especially on nutrients.

Viewed socially, food preparation has typically been female work, requiring hours of often hard and repetitive effort. Over history, it has gradually been shifted out of the home and typically made a male concern. Butchery, milling, baking, and brewing are among the oldest extradomestic industries, conducted by specialists for thousands of years. These and most other tasks have been more scientifically and centrally managed over the past two centuries.

Preparation is a core human activity that can be examined from the perspectives of many biochemical, nutritional, technical, cultural, social, historical, and economic sciences. Many aspects of food preparation are treated in greater detail elsewhere in this work. This entry outlines its purposes, its history and social position, and provides snapshots of people at work, from an ancient Roman peasant making a moretum (suggestive of an Italian pesto) to global corporations preparing hamburgers.

Defining "Preparation"

In Cooking, Cuisine, and Class, social anthropologist Jack Goody distinguishes five basic phases in the process of "providing and transforming food": namely, production (growing on the farm), distribution (market activities, including storage), preparation (cooking in the kitchen), consumption (eating at the table), and disposal (clearing up) (p. 37). While such a production chain might seem straightforward, it can be misleading. Traditionally at least, food preparation included preservation and storage. Preparation thus came immediately after food "production" in the sense of hunting, gardening, and farming.

It is even harder to define where preparation ends, giving way to such possible next steps as "consumption," "cooking," "serving," or "eating." Just the word "consumption" has two basic meanings. It can be eating, in which case preparation includes the fullest possible range of food handling. Consumption can also mean purchasing in the modern market, which possibly leaves some cooking to be done in the domestic kitchen. "Cooking" introduces further complications, because this can mean the transformation of food with heat (the usual dictionary definition) or something more all-encompassing.

These definitional problems arise because food preparation is viewed as a transformation of a plant or animal into food to the neglect of some basic social considerations, in particular, distribution. Central institutions, markets, and meals can distribute food at any point between "raw" and "cooked." For example, the breaking down of an animal carcass into small cuts of meat almost seems to come before "preparation" (because the nutritional change is marginal), but its social implications are crucial, for the best serves have typically gone to the most powerful people. Restaurants distribute food not even as semiprepared products but as finished meals. Accordingly, restaurant preparation (often called just "the prep") is done before the customer arrivesthe food is taken from its packages, neatly chopped, and perhaps partly cooked. When the cooks turn their attention to "service," they concentrate on last-minute stove work and assembly, which might be translated as "serving out in the kitchen."

The appearance of "preparation" thus largely depends on which stage of its distribution the food is being prepared for. For the purposes of this discussion, "preparation" comes early in the rawcooked continuum. It is closer to the farm, whereas cooking is found nearer the table. Preparation's transformations are oriented toward nutrition and palatability rather than more purely social and cultural aspects, such as presentation and serving.

Basic Techniques

Food preparation techniques range from chopping up through fermentation and emulsifying to pressure-cooking, vacuum packing, and homogenizing. One way to understand them is to examine immediate purposes, which can be categorized as separating out edible foods; removing toxins; softening and otherwise making ingredients more edible and digestible; distributing foods; storing them; and making them into new compositions.

Separation. The immediate need for preparing food is the separation of edible from inedible parts. This includes simple shelling, peeling, husking, and sifting. Sometimes such hazards as small stones need removing. The separation of cream may involve machinery, but the tools and techniques are generally not complicated. Some steps in meat butchery come under this heading.

Detoxification. Some foods have to be made safe to eat. Among important examples is the root, cassava, which forms prussic acid that can be dispelled by soaking and cooking. The green color appearing near the skin of potatoes is simply cut off. Expert cutting is also required with the notorious Japanese delicacy, the fugu or puffer fish. Communities have traditionally been amazingly adept at dealing with local dangers, because learning to recognize and treat hazardous species must have necessitated long, life-threatening trial and error.

Making edible and digestible. The next major purpose of preparation is making food more easily chewed and digested. This can achieved by a range of techniques, such as grinding, pounding, soaking, and cooking in the sense of heating, which includes boiling, roasting, baking, steaming, shallow and deep frying, and microwaving.

In the case of wheat, for example, the heads of grain must be threshed to break them up, then winnowed to separate the wheat from the chaff. After that, it is probably ground into flour, which can again be separated and perhaps soaked or turned into a paste. The flour mixture can then be poured on a plate and fried, shaped into a loaf to be fried, baked or roasted, or pulled, extruded, or rolled out as noodles or pasta, when it is commonly boiled.

Distribution. Food is transported in the arms, bark containers, pots on the head, baskets, panniers on donkeys, ships, trains, and refrigerated trucks, all of which involve various kinds of preparation. Food is also physically divided up, especially with the use of knives and cleavers, and the central social role of knives is outlined by Michael Symons in an essay in historical sociology called "Cutting Up Cultures."

The butchery of meat can be viewed as distribution; for example, everything is used of a pig "but the squeal." A small festival occurs during the division of a household pig into numerous parts, washing the intestines for sausage casings, preserving legs with salting and drying as ham, making pancakes from the blood, and so on. Commercial pig distribution is known in France as charcuterie.

Storage. Some foods such as grains and roots are more readily storable without preparation. They might just need to be kept in a cool, dry, airy place or left buried, and protected from pests. Others can be prepared to greatly extend their storage life. Preservation methods include drying, salting, pickling, sealing, cooking (heating), smoking, candying, fermenting, and freezing. These mainly rely on making a hostile environment for microorganisms that produce decay. For example, sealing keeps air away by placing the food perhaps under oil, in a tight container or under a vacuum. Through the changes introduced by fermentation, milk can be kept as cheese, soybeans turned into soy sauce, grain and fruit made into beer and wine.

Composition. Some preparation techniques amalgamate more than one ingredient into a composition: what might aptly be called a new preparation. A variety of foods might be simmered together to make the family of sauces, stews, and soups. The use of yeasts in dough makes breads rise. A sophisticated technique is emulsification (effectively, the mixing of oil in water), which is employed to make a range of sauces, such as hollandaise.


In social terms, food preparation has largely been done by women. Among the numerous tasks, women have carried the water. They have tended the fire, fetched firewood, and found a light. They have ground and pounded with stones. Spanish gastronomic author Alicia Ríos spoke of the mortar and pestle as an everyday contrivance at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 1988. She extolled the "rhythmic drumming of pestles pounding in mortars, coming from the kitchens of city tower blocks and quiet village houses. The familiar sound is the hint of aromas to come." The pestle originally made grains edible, its crushing action replicating the human jawbone. As a second main task, "a variety of sometimes opposing elements are mixed together," achieving an "integration." For Ríos, "the use of the mortar is universal," although she accepted that a "question mark hangs over the continued survival of this instrument which is at the same time practical, magical and symbolical."

If the first social generalization is that food preparation has largely been done by women, then the second is that this labor has through history been taken over by industry, shifting the work to the public, male-controlled sphere. That is, the homely pounding and "integration" that Rios found all around her have, for many others, disappeared behind factory walls.

The basic methods of food preparation are extremely ancient. Some techniques, such as podding and peeling, are shared with other animals. The use of tools suggests distinctively human behavior, the pestles augmenting the jawbones and various cutting implements extending the claws and teeth. The earliest social groups are thought to have been essentially opportunistic omnivores, who could scavenge in a range of habitats. Food preparation further increased the available species through detoxifying and softening, in which fire eventually played a crucial role.

When people adopted the settled, agrarian way of life around 10,000 years ago, they constructed shelters for food that became shelters for themselves as well, for the secret of the agrarian mode of production was food storage. Initially, this meant collecting and then growing basic foods, such as seeds, roots, and tubers that had intrinsic keeping qualities. Early settled societies also kept otherwise perishable foods through drying, sealing under oil, fermenting to make cheese, and so on. The keeping qualities of foods often make them less humanly digestible, too. Accordingly, the settled, food-stockpiling way of life required a range of basic preparation techniques to "pre-chew" and "pre-digest."

The settled mode was also marked by increased division of food preparation among specialists. Men had long hunted, cut up, and roasted meat, leading some anthropologists to characterize roasting as "male" as opposed to "female" boiling. Other tasks then went to artisans, including millers (using human, animal, water, and wind power and eventually engines), bakers, and brewers. Most of these were male tasks, although taverns were often run by women.

Pre-industrial food preparation was often done within close domestic groups, villages, temples, and palaces. But this compactness of production, distribution, preparation, and consumption broke down. Salt was among the earliest traded commodities. Spices were light and considered desirable enough to carry over vast distances. Such trade might have originally been between chiefs and kings, but markets opened up, and an increasing range of prepared foods exchanged.

As an illustration of women's domestic manufacture for medieval markets, Swedish rural historian Janken Myrdal has described the spread of the plunge churn for butter making. Butter fat had long been separated by shaking milk in a skin, pot, or wooden vessel. By about 1,000 years ago, the plunge churn had taken over across a wide area of Europe and Asia. Myrdal found much the same plunge churn, a cylinder usually of wood and up to about 3.3 feet high, from Ireland to Tibet. The plunging of the milk of cream with a staff above a cross or disk causes the fat to coagulate. Since the plunge churn requires a relatively large amount of liquid, Myrdal suggests that its introduction must have accompanied a widespread stimulus to commercial production. At least in Europe, this probably came from the entrenched feudal social structure, with tenants having to pay rents and taxes, which they did in a luxury food, butter.

The trade routes eventually brought the so-called New and Old Worlds together. Ocean voyages depended on salted and pickled foods, along with ship's biscuits. These became some of the earliest industrial food products. Bottling or canning was developed by Nicolas Appert in France at the close of the eighteenth century, aimed initially at seafarers, the armed forces, and other mobile populations.

The effects of refrigeration have long been applied through the use of cool, dry spaces. In China, ice was employed in transport at least by the seventeenth century, because Frederick W. Mote observes in Food in Chinese Culture, edited by K. C. Chang, that "refrigerated shipping also seems to have been taken for granted in Ming times, long before we hear of such a development in Europe" (p. 215). During the nineteenth century, ice was carried across oceans from New England lakes, and railway networks adopted ice for food transport. In 1850 an Australian, James Harrison, designed the first practical ice-making machine.

"Roller" flour mills were used from the 1870s, quicker and easier than grinding between flat stones, as well as producing whiter flour. Breakfast cereals were developed in United States to meet needs of vegetarian groups, notably Seventh Day Adventists. From that time, artisanal businesses that had grown into regional ones became national and finally global corporations. Capital had been invested first in agriculture and from the mid-nineteenth century in food preservation and distribution. The third major step reorganized the final cooking of food in the second half of the twentieth century.

Food Quality

The need to supply the rapidly expanding cities of the early nineteenth century made more room for food adulteration. Various writers sought to draw public attention to this practice, Frederick Accum causing the greatest stir with a Treatise on the Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons in 1820. The considerable work then done by Dr. Hassall and others to improve the honesty of food preparation in the 1850s is also described by Jack Drummond and Anne Wilbraham in the Englishman's Food.

The rush to industrialize food preparation could not be stopped, however. Writing under the initials "M. M." in 1851, Mary Allen Meredith complained in her article "Gastronomy and Civilisation" in Fraser's Magazine (no. 264) that "[w]e have let the beer of the people disappear, and have grown ashamed of roast beef. . . . Draught ale has vanished, and all the bottled compounds that go by that name are but unwholesome concoctions of drugs and camomile. We have brought chemistry into our kitchens, not as a handmaid but as a poisoner."

Nineteenth-century gourmets sometimes hailed bottled fruits out of season, and believed that some mass-prepared items such as packet spaghetti (or pastasciutta ) could maintain high quality; other oddities such as jellies and sweet corn in cans gained nostalgic appeal. However, these were exceptions, and in the early twenty-first century the balance of gastronomic opinion is against factory preparation. The food processing industries that so effectively supplied armies and, increasingly, urban populations generally degraded quality. The main trouble seems to be the drive to reduce costs. Highly processed foods are then brought back to life, so to speak, through cosmetic means, supplemented by vivacious marketing.

A writer specializing in Jewish cooking, Evelyn Rose, told the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery in 1987 about her experiences in recreating "homemade" flavor for a commercial supplier of kosher products, Rakusen's Ltd., in Leeds, England. She worked with the firm on canned soups since they presented relatively minor processing challenges. Any use of additives put canned soups "into a different category" from homemade ones, she found. For example, "modified starch" thickeners gave a glutinous texture and diluted flavor, and flavor enhancers left a synthetic taste. Accordingly, to thicken Rose's Tuscan bean soup, they puréed half the solids. To stop her Dutch pea soup from becoming the color of "mud," they used new technology and top quality split peas. To ensure chunks of vegetables were neither so large as to be unsightly nor so small as to melt away, she specified precise dimensions. While the homemade flavor was "universally acknowledged," she reported that the soups had to be sold at the same "luxury" price of game soup and lobster soup.

With the transfer of food preparation from households and local artisans to commercial factories, using increasingly complex processes, the ordinary person lost skills and knowledge. This was accompanied by an enormous inrush of information of other kinds. On one hand, this was dietary, with increasingly obese and otherwise unhealthy populations concerned about the quantity of fat and sugar, especially in so-called junk foods. On the other hand, the lack of real knowledge was replaced by commercial image making.

The resulting consumer confusion can be illustrated by the scandal when Snow Brand milk poisoned more than 16,000 people in Japan in the summer of 2000. The cause was publicly revealed to be contaminated nonfat dry milk (NFDM). This drew widespread attention to the fact that much "milk" was not raw (fresh) milk but powdered milk, which gave manufacturers much more flexibility in their operations, bulking out supplies in the off-season and adjusting the chemical balance of special milks. Ironically, the contaminated NFDM in Japan went into just those types of milk preferred by "health conscious" people who had been persuaded to purchase calcium-enriched, lowfat milk and yogurt drinks.

An Early Account of Food Preparation

The Latin poem Moretum is perhaps the oldest surviving detailed account of a person preparing food. Scholars used to think it was written by Virgil, but now credit an unknown successor between 8 and 25 B.C.E. The poem, which has been translated and introduced by classicist E. J. Kenney, describes the preparation of a basic meal in order to convey the hand-to-mouth grind of peasant life.

On a winter's morning, while still dark, the rustic cultivator, Simulus, gropes for the hearth and eventually coaxes the embers into fire. He fetches some grain from a "miserable heap" in a cupboard. His right hand turns the grinding stone rapidly, with the left feeding it, until he reverses arms from weariness. Singing an uncouth country song, he sieves the meal, the black siftings staying on the upper surface, the unmixed flour sinking through the holes. He piles it on a smooth board, pours on water warmed by the flame, and works the mixture until it becomes cohesive, occasionally sprinkling with salt. He smooths the kneaded dough into regular rounds, marking each with the characteristic eight segments of a Roman loaf. He inserts it into a swept part of the hearth, covers it with crocks (pieces of broken pottery), and heaps fire on top.

So that bread alone should not displease his palate, Simulus finds an accompaniment. He has only a round cheese pierced through the middle with a string. So our "far-seeing hero" contrives another resource, the poet tells us. He has a kitchen garden next to his hovel, where he leads water from nearby streams to his cabbages, beet, sorrel, and other plants. However, these are for selling at the local market. For his own use, he chooses garlic, parsley, bushy rue, and coriander.

Simulus sits again beside the bright fire and, with mortar and pestle, mashes the herbs, along with salt, the hard cheese, a little olive oil, and vinegar. Round and round goes his right hand, the original ingredients gradually losing their own properties and becoming one (or, in the poet's Latin, e pluribus unus ). Often the sharp smell goes right up his nostrils, so that he passes judgment on his dinner, while with the back of his hand he wipes his streaming eyes. He mixes and thoroughly remixes the mass. Finally, he wipes it out into a single ball, to produce a perfect moretum. With bread and moretum, he can leave to do the plowing, "with the fear of hunger banished, and free from care for that day."

Simulus is an unusual domestic cook in being a man (perhaps the poet wanted a man to do women's work to emphasize the lowliness of the scene). He appears to cook merely for himself (although he might live with an African woman, mentioned in the poem). He uses no obvious cooking pot. Otherwise, much else is universal. So much cooking throughout the world for perhaps 10,000 years has been done with a small fire, storage bin, water jug, stones for milling grain, and mortar and pestle for preparing herbs and spices.

Commentators have called the moretum a "country salad" and "herbed cheese." However, the closest equivalent known to many these days is probably the Italian sauce of basil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil called pesto. His is a typical agrarian meal of two parts. The basic element is the staple, such as rice, potatoes, or cereals, which make the bread here. This is accompanied by a tastier, nutritional complement, which has commonly been something like the moretum prepared from vegetables and perhaps a little protein.

Wealthier people employed cooks to serve elaborations of such a meal. The foods have been more numerous, and more luxurious. Rather than a sauce accompanying the staple, it might have accompanied meat. Sauces not unlike the moretum are called the "trademark of the Roman chef" by classical scholar Jon Solomon (p. 115). Of the nearly five hundred entries in the Roman cookery book of Apicius, De re coquinaria (The Art of Cooking), he finds that nearly four hundred are devoted to the preparation of a sauce. They begin with the pulverizing of herbs and spices in a mortar. Fruits and nuts are then added, and finally, liquid such as water, honey, oil, milk, mustard, or liquamen (a fermented fish sauce also known as garum). This mixture is often boiled over a fire, and sometimes thickened with wheat starch, egg, rice, and so on. For example, the dozen different sauces for lamb (or kid) include a simple bread and oil sauce, a sweet milk and date sauce, and a vinegar and plum sauce.

Medieval Recipes

In some of the oldest recipes in English, numerous sentences instruct the cook to take one or more ingredients, using such archaic words as "tak," "nym," and "recipe" (giving the name for culinary prescriptions). Once cooks have "taken," the same medieval recipes call on them to "grind," "dyce," "shred," "mince," "bray" (crush with mortar and pestle), "quarter", "quare" (cut into squares), "swyng" (swinge or beat), "alye" (mix), and "medle" (mix). Heat is then used to "frye," "parboile," "boyle," and "seeth in gode broth" (seethe or boil in a good broth). The recipes conclude with "serve it forth" or, which means the same, "messe it forth." In summary, cooks "take" and, having "meddled" (mixed), they "send."

Babylonian Dishes

Babylonian scribes impressed the oldest surviving recipes onto three clay tablets in cuneiform 3,700 years ago. The tablets, which their French translator Jean Bottéro describes in an essay entitled, "The Most Ancient Recipes of All," reveal a cuisine of striking refinement for such an early period.

The best-preserved tablet takes just seventy-five lines to give twenty-five recipes. One name, "Assyrian stew," suggests it has come from the northern part of the country and another, "Elamite stew," ascribes it to neighboring people. Most headings, however, indicate various bouillons of such meats as deer, gazelle, kid, lamb, pigeon, and perhaps rat. The instructions typically start with the meat of the title with other meat added, then water and fat, along with condiments and often thickeners. Here is an example:

Lamb bouillon. You need other meat too. Place in water. Add fat, salt as you wish, crumbed cereal cake, onion and samidu [not yet translated], coriander, cumin, leek and garlic. Serve. (Bottéro, p. 251)

The compressed style suggests aides-mémoirs for professional chefs. The other readable tablet devotes 250 lines to just 7 recipes for various kinds of birds, both domestic and game. The recipes indicate many steps, numerous utensils, complex combinations, and sometimes as many as ten different seasonings.

From a tantalizing glimpse of a vast gastronomic literature around 4,000 years old, it seems that the ancient Babylonians took great care in balancing flavors in complete dishes. They did not just throw birds on the fire, but followed complicated recipes calling for as many as ten seasonings. Historian Jean Bottéro acknowledges that this was the cuisine of rich people, who had the "skilled personnel, requisite cooking vessels and stoves, and money for expensive provisions" (p. 254). While the recipes were probably prescriptions for some kind of ritual, he presumes that domestic cooks turned out tasty and imaginative dishes, even if not quite so complex or varied.

The LoDagaa

The ordinary meal of the LoDagaa people in West Africa consisted of one dish, "a single but filling dish," which was much the same from day to day. The preparations were observed by anthropologist Jack Goody and summarized in his wider study of Cooking, Cuisine, and Class in 1982 (especially pp. 6978). He reports that the dish came in two parts, which he calls "porridge," made from guinea corn or millet, and accompanying "soup," usually made from ground nuts or leaves of one type or another.

The preparation of meals, largely done by the women, took a long time because produce had to be transformed all the way from its original state. In the case of guinea-corn or millet, the grain had to be removed from the head, husked, and winnowed. The grinding was especially hard, and the women would lighten their work by singing songs and chatting. Other laborious tasks were the processing of shea nuts to make oil and the turning of cassava into a safe food (the prussic acid formed in cassava dissolves readily in water and is driven off by heat).

One advantage of the cassava root is that it can be kept in the ground. Women also laid out the fruits of the okra, pepper, and soup leaves on the roofs to dry before being packed away in pots and baskets for the empty season. The LoDagaa sometimes stored grain in its malted form for brewing beer later.

The women could now use matches for lighting the fire, although men might still make fire using a stone, a piece of iron, and kapok for rituals. "Like yeast, fire was one of those marvels passed down from hand to hand, the embodiment of communal living, difficult to start, easy to keep going, especially if one has kin and neighbours on whom to rely," Goody writes (p. 70). The usual hearth consisted of three stones, on which the pots balanced. Virtually all the food was boiled. Fish and meat were occasionally smoked for preservation above the fire. Some frying was done, although more often in market for delicacies such as bean cakes. Corn cobs might be roasted, but roasting was more typical of meat and carried out by men. Baking was done in the new bread ovens in market towns.

Beer could be purchased in any of the LoDagaa markets. In fact, the evening markets seemed only to exist for beer and cooked food. Beer was also brewed daily at someone's house. Women spread their days over their six-day week, so that today Brumo would brew, tomorrow Popla, and so forth. The men would often go to buy a pot, partly for the company.

Goody found that a conspicuous new feature of many African villages was the grinding mill, established by some enterprising trader and powered by a diesel motor. "Here women queue up to have their grain ground into flour, preferring to try and earn a little extra money in the market or by brewing beer, rather than undertake the heavy work of grinding by hand" (p. 69).

Numerous anthropologists have made similar field observations as those of Jack Goody. They have found tribal women devoting much of their day to fetching water, pounding roots, grinding grain, maintaining a fire, boiling a staple and its slightly more varied accompaniment, and perhaps using fermentation, as when brewing beer. Anthropologists have often noticed some tasks being done by specialists, such as bakers and tavern keepers, and the very presence of outside observers also suggests that agribusiness and related food industries will soon bring an even more centralized mode of preparation.

Fast Food

According to one picture, the modern preparation of food is conducted by sophisticated corporations that employ advanced technologies to supply plentiful, healthy, tasty, and often "fast" food without tedious labor. According to an alternative version, high-pressure marketing promotes junk food that makes everyone fat, resulting from the heartless unloading of unskilled and dangerous work on youthful racial minorities.

Corporate historian John F. Love says in McDonald's: Behind the Arches that the fast-food firm showered the "lowly hamburger, french fry, and milk shake with more attention, more study, and more research than anyone had dreamed of doing" (p. 120). But quality would appear to have lost out to other considerations. The main effort went into making the food easily handled and cheap. For example, all McDonald's ground beef was frozen after 1968 (p. 130).

When McDonald's System, Inc., was formed, french fries account for fewer than 5 percent of all potatoes sold in the United States, Love reports. By the mid-1980s, they accounted for more than 25 percent (p. 121). To maintain consistency, potato processors added sugar in one season and leached it out in another. This is one of the many findings described by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation (p. 131). Fast-food chains abandoned skilled bakers in favor of automated factories, replaced farmers with scientifically managed batteries of chickens and feed lots of cattle, and coped with the uncertainties of chefs by doing away with them. For example, the firm of IBP (Iowa Beef Packers) led the revolution in meatpacking in the United States, by centralizing the slaughterhouses, by using cheap, often immigrant labor and, in Schlosser's words, "by crushing labor unions and championing the ruthless efficiency of the market" (p. 164).

Armed with gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers, chemists synthesized a vast number of food flavors by the mid-1960s. They manufactured the taste of Pop Tarts, Bac-Os, Tab, Tang, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and thousands of other new foods, according to Schlosser. When he toured the laboratories and pilot kitchens of International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) in Dayton, N.J., he found a snack and savory laboratory responsible for the flavor of potato chips, corn chips, breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, and pet food. The confectionery laboratory devised the flavor for ice cream, cookies, candies, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and antacids. In one pilot kitchen, Schlosser saw a pizza oven, a grill, a milk-shake machine, and a french fryer "identical to those I'd seen behind the counter at countless fast food restaurants" (pp. 120131).

Schlosser writes that "more than half of all American adults and about one-quarter of all American children are now obese or overweight. Those proportions have soared during the last few decades, along with the consumption of fast food. . . . The rate of obesity among American children is twice as high as it was in the late 1970s" (p. 240). One factor is the increasing size of fast-food servings. During the late 1950s the typical soft drink order in a fast-food restaurant contained about 8 ounces; now a "child" order of Coke at McDonald's is 12 ounces; a "large" Coke is 32 ounces.

"Every day in the United States, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a foodborne disease, 900 are hospitalized, and 14 die. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a quarter of the American population suffers a bout of food poisoning each year," Schlosser reports. "Although the rise in food-borne illnesses has been caused by many complex factors, much of the increase can be attributed to recent changes in how American food is produced. . . . [T]he nation's industrialized and centralized system of food processing has created a whole new sort of outbreak" (p. 195). The "rise of huge feedlots, slaughterhouses, and hamburger grinders seems to have provided the means" for the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 pathogen to become widely dispersed (p. 196).

See also Baking ; Beer: Production and Social Use ; Boiling ; Broiling ; Cooking ; Crushing ; Distribution of Food ; Fast Food ; Frying ; Grilling ; Hamburger ; Marinating and Marinades ; Recipe ; Roasting ; Storage of Food ; Women and Food .


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Symons, Michael. A History of Cooks and Cooking. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Originally Pudding That Took a Thousand Cooks: The Story of Cooking in Civilisation and Daily Life. Harmondsworth, England: Viking, 1998.

Michael Symons