Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance Symposium: The Great Depression | WBEZ
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Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance Symposium: The Great Depression

Join us for our fourth annual symposium on the diverse food cultures of the American Midwest. This year we will focus on the Great Depression’s impact on our culinary traditions.

On Friday, April 29, from 2 to 7 PM, join us as Margaret Rung, director of the Center for New Deal Studies at Roosevelt University, introduces the following presentations:

"The Depression Comes To The Black Metropolis," Christopher Robert Reed, Professor Emeritus, Roosevelt University. Chicago's black community responded to the advent of the Great Depression in several unusual ways:  By promoting greater citizens' involvement in forcing the establishment to alleviate widespread economic distress, and by modifying its dietary habits to meet the scarcity of available, affordable food resources. Today's soul food delights received a boost from past experiences with more meatless meals.

"Cities and Urban Life as They Transitioned from "Prosperity" to Depression," James Wolfinger, Associate Professor of History at DePaul. Life radically changed for the worse for many Americans as the country moved from relative prosperity to depression in the 1920s and '30s.  This presentation examines conditions in America's major cities, focusing on how the depression impacted ordinary people and changed urban society.

"Down on the Midwestern Farm During the Great Depression: Dust Bowl and Economics," Bruce Kraig, Professor Emeritus, Roosevelt University. Everyone knows about the great Dust Bowl that destroyed agriculture and drove farmers from their land in wide swaths of the Great Plains. But many do not know that the farm economy collapsed as food prices were deflated and surpluses could not be sold. Rural poverty was just as great as in cities, and in many ways, even worse. The federal government was forced to intervene on a number of levels and this set American farm policy for the next half century-and more.  

"Nightclubs and Bread Lines: Depression Era Foodways On Film," Michael Gebert, freelance writer and blogger about food at Sky Full of Bacon and movies at Perhaps no historical event went so quickly and directly onto movie screens as the Great Depression. Food writer and film buff Michael Gebert will talk about how Depression Era foodways were reflected in films of the period, and show clips depicting food in every context from soup kitchens to glitzy nightspots and from Automats to home kitchens.

On Saturday, April 30, Bruce Kraig will open the program with an overview of the morning's presentations, which include: "This Land is Whose land?" with author and culinary historian Anne Mendelson, who will talk about how some well-known and not well-known Americans met various challenges of the Great Depression by making their own new beginnings geographically, politically, professionally, and personally; "Community Canning in the Depression: A case study," with Deanna Pucciarelli, who will delineate Ball Corporation’s role in food assistance to Muncie residents during the Depression, the public projects the corporation led, and the involvement of the community; "Co-Eds at the Co-op: Student Depression-Era Foodways at Old Normal," with Gina L. Hunter and Victoria Moré; "Greater Midwest Foodways Heirloom Recipe Competition," with Catherine Lambrecht, who will explain the results at the Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State Fairs; "1930's Restaurant menus, postcards, and books," with Peter Engler; "No Longer Does the Holiday Table Groan Under the Weight of Food," with Whitney Lingle, who will discuss which holiday traditions were upheld and which were altered to fit the family budget during the Depression; "Steaks and Shakes and the Great Depression, " with Robert Dirks, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University, who will recount the early history of Steak and Shake, a hamburger chain started in Central Illinois; and "Beer Production after Prohibition: Setting the Stage for the Rise of the Mega-breweries," with Michael Agnew, Certified Cicerone from A Perfect Pint.

For more information, visit the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance online.

Tickets may be purchased by credit card at or 1-800-838-3006 (nominal convenience charge). Reservations can also be made by email at or by phone at 847-432-8255. Please include your name, address, phone number, and number of reservations. Phone or email registration constitutes paid reservation. You must mail a check to: Greater Midwest Foodways, 280 Laurel Ave, Highland Park, IL 60035.

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