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Serve It Forth: The American Table and Culinary Activism

Nancy Siegel, an associate professor of art history at Towson University, shows how culinary activism--from tea boycotts in the 1760s to patriotic cakes later served on American eagle platters--demonstrated Americans’ support of the democratic way.

In the eighteenth century, the American colonies were variously referred to as a crumbling cake or a kettle of fish. As the language of food was easily understood, the use of such similes linking food to politics became increasingly popular, creating discourse between culinary history and American political thought. This lecture examines the development of culinary activism in America, covering: the tea boycotts in the 1760s and the use of homebrews such as Liberty Tea; the development and naming of nationalist recipes in praise of the new and fragile nation after the American Revolution; and the serving of patriotic cakes and teas on imported and domestically produced ceramics. The pots, plates, and platters that held tea and morsels became a meaningful complement—visual partners adorned with patriotic and nationalistic imagery such as American eagles, political figures, or popular American scenery. Seeing this ensemble of artifacts as culinary activism, one finds that through cookery broad segments of American society could demonstrate their approval of the democratic process, and the very act of dining often conveyed opinions about the American political system.

Recorded Thursday, April 14, 2011 at Fullerton Hall, The Art Institute of Chicago.

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