I had played not house, but farmer: An excerpt from Joanna Eleftheriou’s This Way Back

 

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Praised by Kirkus for its “impassioned and hard-fought sense of self and place,” Joanna Eleftheriou’s This Way Back—a highly anticipated memoir-in-essays from West Virginia’s series In Placewill be published October 1. 

If you live, as I do, in a world where an overabundance of food is more a plague than hunger, you might be given to scrutinizing ingredient lists, and so have seen the words carob bean gum before tearing the plastic wrapper from, say, an ice cream sandwich, or the foil from a tub of cream cheese. Small quantities of carob bean gum do the trick, and so this natural stabilizer appears at the ingredient list’s end, the part that even serious health food nuts expect to find uninterpretable (for me, it’s a list of plants I can’t quite place, and words I remember from high school chemistry). Carob bean gum sounds harmless, natural, salubrious, even—beans healthier than meat, carobs healthier than sweets—and, indeed, harmless the carob bean is. Such harmlessness is all most of us want to ascertain when we venture into the ingredient list’s largely chemical tail. I have never made the effort to learn what lecithin is, though I often see the word—ditto for guar gum, potassium sorbate, xanthan, and xylitol. There is a limit to how much thought we can devote to the origin of our foods, to their ingredients’ history.Read More »

Pink pork and “the housewife’s most wholesome sink”: Waste and taste in American history

J. L. Anderson’s Capitalist Pigs: Pigs, Pork, and Power in American History is on its way to bookstores and available now from our website and online retailers. A contribution to WVU’s publishing program in environment, agriculture, and food politics, the book is—according to Mark Essig, author of Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig—“the story of how pigs made America, and how America remade the pig.” In this piece drawn from his research for the book, Anderson looks at how consumer preferences and waste practices have intersected with health concerns about pork over the course of US history.

Fifteen or so years ago a waiter at a fashionable restaurant asked how I would like my pork loin cooked. “I beg your pardon?” I replied. The server clarified that I could have it prepared rare, medium, or well-done. Of course I knew about the different temperatures for preparing and serving meat. The problem was that for me, born in the 1960s, the very question was absurd. Pork was cooked until done or it wasn’t. People who grew up in my era knew that consuming rare pork was a health risk.Read More »

The Argument about Things in the 1980s: A Cultural Playlist

Tim Jelfs is assistant professor of American studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the author of The Argument about Things in the 1980s: Goods and Garbage in an Age of Neoliberalism—a contribution to WVU Press’s publishing programs in environmental humanities and studies of US culture. Here he talks about eight cultural moments that inform his book.

Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence Speech, July 15, 1979

When did the 1980s begin? One of the arguments The Argument about Things in the 1980s makes is that such a simple question is quite hard to answer. If it’s worthwhile—as I think it is—to frame the 1980s as part of a longer “age of neoliberalism,” it’s tricky to pinpoint the exact origins of that era.

But something certainly happened in the 1970s, and Carter’s famous speech is an example of it: the intensification of a centuries-old argument about things in American life, in which Americans debate the proper place of material things in their existence. It’s as old as the Puritans—older, in fact—and Carter’s speech is a great illustration of what one tradition within it can look and sound like.Read More »