Acquired Tastes

From Food, Health, and the Environment

Acquired Tastes

Stories about the Origins of Modern Food

Edited by Benjamin R. Cohen, Michael S. Kideckel and Anna Zeide

How modern food helped make modern society between 1870 and 1930: stories of power and food, from bananas and beer to bread and fake meat.





How modern food helped make modern society between 1870 and 1930: stories of power and food, from bananas and beer to bread and fake meat.

The modern way of eating—our taste for food that is processed, packaged, and advertised—has its roots as far back as the 1870s. Many food writers trace our eating habits to World War II, but this book shows that our current food system began to coalesce much earlier. Modern food came from and helped to create a society based on racial hierarchies, colonization, and global integration. Acquired Tastes explores these themes through a series of moments in food history—stories of bread, beer, sugar, canned food, cereal, bananas, and more—that shaped how we think about food today.

Contributors consider the displacement of native peoples for agricultural development; the invention of Pilsner, the first international beer style; the “long con” of gilded sugar and corn syrup; Josephine Baker's banana skirt and the rise of celebrity tastemakers; and faith in institutions and experts who produced, among other things, food rankings and fake meat.


Benjamin R. Cohen, Thomas D. Finger, David Fouser, Lisa Haushofer, Michael S. Kideckel, Faron Levesque, William Thomas Okie, René Alexander D. Orquiza Jr., Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Adam Shprintzen, David Singerman, Tashima Thomas, Amrys O. Williams, Anna Zeide


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262542913 290 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 15 b&w illus.


Benjamin R. Cohen

Benjamin R. Cohen is Associate Professor at Lafayette College and the author of Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food.

Michael S. Kideckel

Michael S. Kideckel teaches history at Princeton Day School and is the author of a forthcoming book, tentatively titled Fresh from the Factory: Breakfast Cereal, Natural Food, and the Marketing of Reform, 1890–1920.

Anna Zeide

Anna Zeide is Associate Professor of History and Director of Food Studies at Virginia Tech and the author of Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry.


  • “Food culture is too often limited by an obsessive focus on the new and now. The essays in this excellent, rigorous collection are a pointed reminder that the past is very much the present, and the future, too.”

    Helen Rosner

    staff writer, The New Yorker

  • “An endlessly fascinating collection of stories about the invention and popularization of modern food. A constant thread traces the idea of nutritional reform through science and its sinister relationship with scientific racism, as well as efforts to challenge white supremacy in the global food system.”

    Paul Freedman

    Chester D. Tripp Professor of History, Yale University

  • “These lively, wide-ranging essays about the surprising forces that shaped American eating habits make a stellar contribution to food scholarship.”

    Laura Shapiro

    author of Perfection Salad