Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's Cookin' in the Government?

No, I'm not going to take advantage of this space to air my opinions on the current financial crisis (though I do have some strong words for the situation). Instead, I'm going to stick to food. I've been working on an article for a work-related newsletter lately, and I wanted to share excerpts from it with you.

(NOTE: All titles are given the government's SuDocs classification numbers, and you can find them through your local depository library.)

The federal government distributes a great deal of information on nutrition and the health effects caused in part by poor food choices (through diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and so on). But beyond the Food Pyramid, can you find any concrete information in government documents on how to eat right? You bet! Several federal agencies and departments have long furthered the cause of good eating, good health, and good consumer choices through recipe booklets published from the 1930s to the present.

Let's start with the basics: the Agriculture Department's Home and Garden Bulletin series (A 1.77:nos.) includes a large number of booklets on buying, storing, cooking, and seasoning foods under the title (Food) in family meals: a guide for consumers. The series includes food such as eggs (no.103/4), vegetables (105/7), poultry (110/5), fruits (125/4), milk (127/3), and nuts (176/2). These booklets date from the late 1970s, so the recipes range from classics like spoonbread to some of the dishes I remember from my childhood, like beef Stroganoff.

The Home and Garden Bulletin series also includes separate recipe titles like Apples in Appealing Ways (A 1.77:161/2, published 1977), featuring dishes such as Waldorf salad and the apple coffeecake I recently adapted for a fall equinox meal.

If some of those recipes sound a little old-fashioned, don't be surprised. The government has shared recipes since the late 1920s, when a radio program featured the USDA-created character Aunt Sammy (wife of Uncle Sam) to talk about the menus and recipes as well as other household matters. Though the character faded away during the Great Depression, some of her favorite foods reappeared in 1976 in another Home and Garden Bulletin called Selections from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes and USDA Favorites (A 1.77:215). Recipes like baked cheese and macaroni, Harvard beets, and "rocks" (drop cookies with raisins and walnuts, pictured here) are supplemented with Seventies additions from beef shish kabobs and curried pork chops to yellow chiffon cake.

Other classic (and simple) recipes appeared in a pair of documents from the Rural Electrification Administration in the 1930s: Refrigerator Recipes (Y 3.R 88:2 R 24) and Table Cookery (Y 3.R 88:2 C 77/3). Through these booklets, the REA sought to persuade rural homemakers that using electric appliances such as refrigerators and electric roasters could provide them "a new Freedom" in cooking -- not to mention such delicacies as homemade refrigerator cookies and ice cream.

Stretching family food budgets, vitally important during the Depression, appears as a recurrent theme in documents containing recipes. Though some of the earlier recipe books assume that thriftiness naturally guides a homemaker's approach to cooking, government publications from the latter part of the twentieth century make a specific effort to educate consumers on how best to shop for and cook economical meals:

Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2000. (A 1.2:R 24/2)

Evans, Mary Doran. Thrifty Meals For Two: Making Food Dollars Count. Washington: Dept. of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Service, 1985. (Home and Garden Bulletin, no.244) (A 1.77:244)

Human Nutrition Service. Making Food Dollars Count: Nutritious Meals at Low Cost. Washington: Dept. of Agriculture, 1989. (Home and Garden Bulletin, no.240) (A 1.77:240)

Human Nutrition Service. Shopping for Food and Making Meals in Minutes Using the Dietary Guidelines. Washington: Dept. of Agriculture, 1990. (Home and Garden Bulletin, no.232-10) (A 1.77:232-10)

Though it requires more time and more initial cost, food preservation is one method for saving money on meals in the long run. The recommended title for home food preservation is the comprehensive Complete Guide to Home Canning published by the USDA, and the most recent edition (1994) is available online through the University of Georgia web site. The Guide -- broken into sections for fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, meats, and fermented and pickled foods -- contains basic instructions and many recipes for home canning.

(OK, I am going to make a note here regarding the financial crisis: If you think times are tough now, I believe they are only going to get tougher, and knowing how to grow and preserve a good portion of your food will be vital. If you look at no other document in this list, download the Complete Guide to Home Canning -- it's free -- and use it faithfully.)

Several of the titles listed here are worth a look, either for a touch of nostalgia or for a new idea for your dinner table, but even if none of these quite appeal to you, with the holidays coming up, you might want to find a copy of one of these gems:

Agriculture Department. Talking About Turkey: How to Buy, Store, Thaw, Stuff, and Prepare Your Holiday Bird. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1987. (Home and Garden Bulletin, no.243) (A 1.77:243/987)

Food Safety and Inspection Service. Let's Talk Turkey: A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006. (A 110.8:T 84)

So what's cookin'? Visit a library and find out!



At 9/26/2008 6:43 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

I'm among those who appreciate the considerable useful information Uncle Sam provides on food and cooking but who also are frustrated that the USDA and Congress don't "walk the walk" when it comes to food policy. To be more direct: It says "eat right" but provides subsidies that make unhealthy food far cheaper to eat than the healthier alternatives. Sorry. Just had to say!
p.s. Libraries are always good places to visit. :)

At 9/26/2008 10:49 PM, Blogger Tara said...

Interesting stuff! Did you happen to catch the NPR review of MFK Fisher's book, How To Cook A Wolf? I'm reading it and it's very interesting, although I'm not sure about some of those recipes. (I'd have to be REALLY hungry!)
I love vintage cookbooks and continue to learn more about putting food by, but have a hard time believing the government guidelines today since they are driven mainly by lobbyists, not nutrition.

At 9/29/2008 7:07 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

You're absolutely right, Janet -- the government doesn't walk the walk. Between subsidies for the growers and processors of convenience food AND a lack of adequate funding for food safety, diversified small-farm agriculture, and good nutritional research and outreach, American citizens are not given much support for eating healthy. I AM grateful that the USDA has done good research on food safety issues for home preservation -- but some of the recipe books I found claimed to be "healthy" but used convenience foods, margarine, and a host of other problematic foods.

Tara, I didn't catch the review, but I did read How to Cook a Wolf a few years back. I wasn't inspired to try the recipes, either, but it did give an interesting view of hard times. Maybe we should all read it. One thing I like about "vintage" recipes is the simplicity and the frugality of them -- something I continue to work on...

At 9/29/2008 5:51 PM, Blogger Cath said...

Thank you for this link! I'm featuring it in a post on my blog today!

I enjoy your blog very much; found it on a search for a good watermelon pickle recipe one day. Thanks for sharing with us!


At 9/30/2008 7:30 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Cath, and welcome! Glad you could find something useful here!


Post a Comment

<< Home