The Class Book is Published!

I am proud to announce that our class book, Freedom Fare: A Taste of American Food History, is now officially available at  Hard copies are available for about six bucks plus four dollars postage, or you can simply download a PDF for free.  Freedom Fare contains sixteen excellent chapters authored by the students in our class.  Take a look at it when you get a chance and let us know here what you think.

Congratulations to everyone who contributed a chapter!!!

freedom fare cover 10

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Final Thoughts

This semester certainly has been a tumultuous one with everything seeming to happen at exactly the same time. I must admit that I did not have nearly as much time for this class as needed to be put in or how much it deserved. Work, classes, projects, and unexpected difficulties marred the path it took to get here, but thankfully they didn’t obstruct one of the most important aspects of this class, the research process. As soon as I had honed in on which topic I wanted, I went straight to the library to get as many possible books on the subject that I could find. Having gone through almost each and every one of those, I am proud to say that I am an expert when it comes to Virginia Wine. Every book told a different tale either through a different perspective, with separate facts, or just intended for different audiences. It was a lot of fun to be able to go through all of those and try to piece together a broader story based on individual anecdotes while learning about a topic that is often overlooked. Somehow it seemed as if the story kept getting more and more interesting with the more stories that became unveiled. This research was certainly a worthwhile adventure.

The most interesting thing that I learned in this class, was through my fellow classmates. Topics were selected that I had never given a second thought about let alone attempt a research paper on. The tale of American food history is fraught with controversies such as the Poison Squad or Aspartame, but it is also filled with technological innovations and breakthroughs such as the canning industry or grilling. Learning about all of these parts and realizing how they fit into the bigger picture of American food history was fascinating and made me consider how a paper on Virginia Wine was just one small piece to that puzzle. It also made me realize that I still have quite a bit to learn about not only the world, but about our country as well.

Overall, this class was a fantastic experience that I am really glad to have the opportunity to be a part of, even if I could not quite dedicate the amount of time I wish I could have. It has made me a better researcher, a more involved student, a much improved writer, and a more aware American citizen. Food history in America taught the skills and lessons rarely found in a textbook, and let me apply them to a monumental project of which I am quite satisfied with the final results. I’d like to thank my fellow classmates for researching such interesting topics, as well as Professor Barrow for always being there to help guide us along the process in our careers as students.

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Final Blog Post

This semester was was great for me. I had taken this class last semester but did not realize the amount of work I needed to put forth in order to get the most out of it. This time around through all the research and late nights writing my paper, I can say I am proud of what I accomplished. I also learned everything I could need to know about the microwave! Even though this class took A LOT of time, it became my favorite class at Virginia Tech.

-Braden Voorhies

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“That Little Old Tin Can”

Well, it is done. A full book chapter on the tin can. I for one never would have guessed going in to this project that I would end up, or even be able to, write so much about the humble tin can. I started my research out simply being interested in reading old cookbooks because I thought a lot of the remedies were very interesting (recipes for how to rejuvenate sour butter, and even recipes to “cure malaria” with basically just whiskey and an egg!).

I’m not even sure how I moved in to tin can territory, but I am glad I did. Very few people have apparently thought to delve into the history of this lil fella, but it is a surprisingly interesting story so I’m glad I’ve been able to add to the knowledge on the topic. I enjoyed watching how the canning industry strove to fight the stigma against its product, both in terms of the publics’ (not unfounded) fear of botulism and metal poisoning, and the perception that canned food was only fit for soldiers and explorers.

My favorite part of the research I did was either A) learning about how the Boss Canners (the men who performed the specialized labor of making and capping the cans) were able to ward off technological advancements that would have made the process of canning much more efficient for decades before they were finally replaced by machines or B) comparing and contrasting the can labels I was able to look  at across the decades. Early on, labels were very elaborate and eye-catching, with little information on them besides a description of what to do with the food once you’ve opened the can; and mostly relied on picturesque fruits and landscapes to compel buyers. As they matured the label became much less elaborate, with a more realistic picture of the product inside and A LOT of information. They would provide various recipes to use the product in, and would tout things like “superior quality,” and  “guaranteed 30 minutes from field to can,” and would make a point of pulling the consumers attention to their brand trademark as a guarantee of quality. They also often assured the buyer that no chemicals or additives had been used at all. If you look at can labels today the images are still pretty similar- a picture of a juicy vegetable, a brand trademark, buzzwords like “fresh cut!”. However today many cans also tout things like ” 50% less sodium!” It’s funny how by looking at the labels throughout the decades you can see how consumers’ desires evolve.

To end, I will leave you with this poem about the tin can, by Winthrop C.  Adams, that I found in Douglas H. Rhoades lovely book “Labels, Leadville, and Lore: 1870′s- 1890′s History from a Tin Can.”

The Little Old Tin Can

Dedicated to the Commodore Daniel M. Heeken of Cincinnati

Regard the little old tin can,

That held some sort of food,

It may have been just beans or soup,

Or prunes that had been stewed,

Or caviar or mushrooms,

To delight the inner man,

And then the raging floods engulfed

That little old tin can.


Placid streams turned into torrents,

Swelled by rains o’er Man’s control,

Hurled ahead their mighty tonnage,

Tearing at the very soul,

Of helpless city, town, and hamlet,

Dealing death to beast and man,

Not a thing escaped destruction,

Save the little old tin can.


When the rivers calmed to normal,

And the wreckage cleared away,

Out of all the filthy debris,

Just one thing allowed to stay,

Quite unnamed and maybe dented,

Yet food wholly fit for man,

Safely sterilized and healthful,

In that little old tin can.


Just a scrub with soap and water,

Takes away the silt and mold,

A container and a label,

And it’s ready to be sold;

The floods of nineteen thirty-seven,

Threw terror into man,

Yet couldn’t harm the contents

Of that little old tin can.


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End of the Year Reflection!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in History of Food and it has truly opened my eyes to some fascinating and disturbing facts about food.  I think the class did an excellent job of opening our eyes to some secrets of the food industry.   It was intriguing to watch the changes from watching Julia Childs bellow on about how to roast a chicken to Morgan Spurlock stuffing himself full of McDonalds.  The reading for this class was also informative and enjoyable.  I had never previously thought of my food footprint and after completing this class I am definitely more conscientious of what I eat.

As for my research ability, I have improved greatly after completing Historical Methods and Topics.  Before a 20-page research paper would have seemed impossible but now I am much more confident in my abilities to find valid primary sources and construct an argument based upon historical facts.  I especially enjoyed my research on the aspartame controversy because the topic was very interesting to me.  The more I learned about the corruption within the FDA, the more I wanted to know.  I am still a bit concerned at how easy it is for products to be approved, even when they have not necessarily been proven safe.

Overall, I am glad this class was offered and think it was very successful.    I want to thank Dr. Barrow for all the time he gave to this class and how helpful he was throughout the writing process.  I cannot wait to see how the books turn out!

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Final Reflection

Through this course I learned a lot about both my writing and about relationships with food. Working in food service for three years on campus I was closely involved with food production every day but I never thought about it as critically as I did during the span of this course. Thinking about where food comes from and where it originated is a daily routine for me.
My research has helped me make more informed choices about the food that I do eat. It has also made it clear that the information that you want about your food is our there and you just have to look. I know now that for me, organic food is more about sustainability and the environment than it is about eating healthier. Also, to eat healthier I don’t have to spend a bunch of money to buy organic.

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Final Reflection

Through this course I learned a lot about both my writing and about relationships with food. Working in food service for three years on campus I was closely involved with food production every day but I never thought about it as critically as I did during the span of this course. Thinking about where food comes from and where it originated is a daily routine for me.
My research has helped me make more informed choices about the food that I do eat. It has also made it clear that the information that you want about your food is our there and you just have to look. I know now that for me, organic food is more about sustainability and the environment than it is about eating healthier. Also, to eat healthier I don’t have to spend a bunch of money to buy organic.

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A Future in Food

This course provided a great opportunity to combine my love of food and agriculture with the history major. I appreciated the chance to learn so much about different aspects of the food industry and its history through the course content and peer blogs. This class finally helped me realize a tangible way to relate my major and skill set to a potential career that addresses some of the issues we discussed in class. I’m pursuing a master’s in education after I graduate and I can use those skills, in addition to the research skills gained through my history degree and international studies experience, in any job that is related to the field food/agriculture/sustainability/education.

My passion for both education, food, and issues regarding global hunger was further encouraged by this class and my study abroad experiences. The skills and perspective gained from those, have led to an internship opportunity this summer with the Virginia Tech Office of International Research and Educational Development (OIRED).  I will be the student research assistant for InnovATE: Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education, a new program sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Feed the Future initiative. I am so excited for the chance to contribute to projects that are actively working to achieve global food security, by “empowering countries to grow the food they need to feed their own people.”(innovATE director, Tom Hammett).

Given my interest in these issues on a domestic level as well, I am planning on applying to the Food Corps next year, once I finish graduate school. This program affiliated with AmeriCorps seeks to, “teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.” It is trying to fight childhood obesity, by increasing children’s’ “knowledge, engagement and access” with food in order to foster the next generation of leaders in agriculture, health, and education. 

The following is a short video describing what the Food Corps is all about:

I’d encourage y’all to check out some of these websites and initiatives if you’re interested in learning more about the issues or how you can make a difference.



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End of Year Reflection!

Tonight at my family dinner, my aunt asked me if I would care for some fresh, locally grown, South Carolina Strawberries. After immediately saying yes, I began to think about that for the first time in an extremely long time, I knew the general area of where my food was coming from. With the exception of fish that says broadly “caught in the Atlantic” on its label, it is rare to know where your food is grown or produced. This is something that I have began to pay much more attention to, especially when I am buying food at a local grocery market. Growing up, it was not uncommon for my father to take me to the local farmers market, where the food was all locally grown on farms within a two hours drive. Now, other than the Strawberries that I had at dinner tonight, I could not even guess where the rest of the food originated from.

This class has taught me how to do many things, including how to properly source papers, how to do research online, and how to manage my time properly when writing a large scale paper. Yet I feel like the real world implications it has bestowed to me greatly outweigh academic ones. Before taking this class, I really had little understanding of how the food system worked in America. I was completely unaware of the poverty rate, and of how many of those people relied on food stamps to buy what little food they had. This class revealed to me that some commonly eaten foods, like anything that contains fructose corn syrup (which is a large amount of the average American’s diet) is awful for you.

Lastly, I was able to learn from what everyone else was doing in the class. I was unaware about the fact that aspartame in soda and other sugar-free products is a carcinogen. I did not know much about the diet of prisoners in the Civil War, or that one of our founding fathers was one of the first American environmentalists. The facts on the coffee industry and the experiments performed on the “Poison Squad” are things that I will most likely remember for the rest of my life. Yes, I learned a great deal from a historical standpoint, but also about important life scenarios that I would otherwise be uneducated on. Overall, the class as a whole has given me a completely new standpoint on the food industry in America.

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Course Reflection

This class offered me the challenge of having to complete the toughest and most comprehensive assignment I have had to do in my college career. This is fitting as this class is considered the ‘capstone’ of earning a bachelors degree in history. I can honestly say I have not worked harder on any other project than I have on this one during my time at Virginia Tech. It is for this reason I am also very proud of the product of all the hard work I have spent on this project in making it the best and most polished paper it could be.

The biggest thing I learned from this assignment is the importance of supporting research in building a bigger picture for an argument. While other classes required some research, none of it was as in depth as it was required here. In addition, a large amount of variety was required when it came to the type of research I used in my paper. As a result of my research, I gained a greater appreciation for food and food history in the United States. I am now a subject matter expert on everything White Castle, which may come in handy someday. But probably not. Regardless, I know a lot about not only my own paper topic, but I have also gained a minor base of information on all the other food related topics of those of my peers.

Overall, I gained a lot of experience from this assignment that I can use going forward in both my professional career, any future scholastic career, and my own personal life. This paper was such a big hurdle for me to complete that I know I am capable of doing projects of the same magnitude (or more) in the future.

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