HUNGERING FOR AMERICA: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration

Hasia R. Diner, Author . Harvard Univ. $39.95 (292p) ISBN 978-0-674-00605-8

In this fascinating survey of the eating habits and influences of Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants, Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University, charts with wit and graceful prose the similarities and differences between these three distinct groups as they encountered mainstream American culture. Italian immigrants, fleeing poverty and a rigid, class-based economic system, found in America the ability to take "possession of elite food associated with the well-off" and to forge a new collective ethnic identity; in doing so they introduced Italian cuisine to America and created lucrative culinary business opportunities. The Irish, fleeing famine, did not possess a complex "national food culture" because they came from a place "where hunger... defined identity." But many Irish women became cooks and servants (and incidentally, were always called "Biddy"), and thereby entered domestic American life and became familiar with its bourgeois foods and customs. Eastern European Jews "lived in a world where food was sacred for all," as well as tightly controlled by religious law. Like Italians, Jews made their food a public statement of identity, and the availability of nonkosher foods in the U.S. exacerbated conflicts between traditional and assimilationist factions. Diner deftly juggles a huge amount of detail and analysis—drawing upon memoirs, cookbooks, newspaper accounts, films and studies of consumer culture—and provides both political and social insights in a highly accessible social history. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/05/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 292 pages - 978-0-674-01111-3
Ebook - 314 pages - 978-0-674-03425-9
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