FROM THE ANNUAL REVIEW OF NUTRITION, VOL. 23:81-100, 2003
 

DIET AND NUTRITION IN POOR AND MINORITY COMMUNITIES IN THE UNITED STATES 100 YEARS AGO

Robert Dirks, Anthropology Program, Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790-4640

Girls holding Christmas baskets of food distributed by the Salvation Army in Chicago, Illinois, 1903 (Library of Congress, American Memory Collection, Photographs from the Chicago Daily News).

ABSTRACT

Atwater and his colleagues began studying food consumption in closing years of the 19th century and from the very start devoted much effort to collecting data from poor and minority households. This paper reviews some of the fruits of these labors, particularly from the standpoint of what they contribute to a better historical understanding of American food habits and nutrition. It surveys dietary data from African American, Appalachian white, Mexican American, native-born poor, and immigrant households. These data shed light on several areas of historical concern, including rural versus urban nutrition, seasonal hunger, class disparities, and food-habit change. I suggest the economically and culturally diverse sample of dietary patterns that comes to us as a legacy of the Atwater era sets the stage for a history of American food habits considerably more sophisticated than has been realized to date.