Co-Eds at the Co-op: Student Depression-Era Foodways at Old Normal

April 30, 2011

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Gina L. Hunter and Victoria Moré draw on oral histories and archival documents to examine student foodways at Illinois State Normal University during the Great Depression. During this era, enrollments soared at “Old Normal” as teaching again became an attractive profession for both women and men. Most students lived in boarding houses and rented rooms around campus. Some heated meals in their rooms; others worked for their board; many brought food from the family home. One rural education student said she was “living on peanut butter and pork and beans,” and envied her housemate who dined on canned meat from her nearby family farm. A soda at the corner co-op or a hamburger from Meltham’s was a special treat.

Hunter and Moré uncovered such stories through the Old Main Project, an archeological and oral history investigation of the first building of Illinois’ oldest public university. Their interviewees, 1935-1940 alumni, have shared their memories of working, living, and studying on and around campus. Many describe the ways they “made do” or “got by,” and all relate feeling “lucky to be” at ISNU.

Victoria Moré is an assistant archivist at McLean County Museum of History and holds a B.A. in anthropology from Illinois State University. Her B.A. thesis, Freeganism at Illinois State University, examines themes of food, consumption, and waste. Gina L. Hunter, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University, is a cultural anthropologist. She has conducted ethnographic research on foodways, women’s reproductive health, and access to higher education in Brazil. She is co-director of the Ethnography of the University Initiative (based at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), a program that fosters ethnographic and archival student research on their own universities. She is also co-director of the Old Main Project at Illinois State.

This event was recorded as part of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance Fourth Annual Symposium “Midwest Eats! Foodways of the Great Depression,” which focuses on the Great Depression’s impact on our culinary traditions.  Other events from this symposium recorded by Chicago Amplified—listed in the order they were presented—are as follows:

Midwest Eats!  Foodways of the Great Depression
Nightclubs and Bread Lines: Depression Era Foodways On Film
Templeton Rye of Iowa: Its History During and Just After the Prohibition
This Land is Whose land?
John Drury, Ace Chicago Restaurant Reporter of the 1930s
Community Canning in the Depression: A Case Study
Co-Eds at the Co-op: Student Depression-Era Foodways at Old Normal
Greater Midwest Foodways Heirloom Recipe Competition
No Longer does the Holiday Table Groan Under the Weight of Food
Steaks and Shakes and the Great Depression
Beer Production after Prohibition: Setting the Stage for the Rise of the Mega-breweries
The American (Bad) Dream: Soup Kitchens and European Immigrants in Chicago in the 1930s
Chicago’s Maxwell Street

Recorded Saturday, April 30, 2011 at Kendall College.