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Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century Hardcover – Feb 1986

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T) (Feb. 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374230757
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374230753
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,936,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Laura Shapiro was on staff at Newsweek and is a contributor to the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Granta, and Gourmet. She is the author of Julia Child and Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A wonderful social history which is both readable and well-researched. Laura Shapiro combines a wicked sense of humour with an eye for the telling details that makes a whole period come to life on the page. This book explains so much about modern attitudes to food and the people and stories who lie behind them and does so in a generous and thought-provoking manner. Anyone who enjoys food, cooking and the wider issues of food politics and the relationship of feminism to food should make every effort to get hold of this work!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8c693420) out of 5 stars 14 reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c6a90f0) out of 5 stars This book blew.my.mind. 24 Oct. 2009
By GadgetChick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's a rare book that brings you into the subject deftly, can explain details without getting lost in them, and reserves most judgment until the end, and then provides insightful and thought-provoking commentary. This book is a fascinating exploration of how, in the interests of preserving American cuisine, the home, and women's place in it, home economists came into vogue in the early part of the 20th century, and damn near came close to wrecking everything they set out to save.

I love to cook, but among other working moms I'm friends with, I'm the exception. Women either hate cooking, don't mind cooking but don't know what to fix, or just flat out don't know how to cook. An awful lot of my friends rely heavily on fast food or packaged meals on a regular basis to feed their kids. I have long thought that there was a place in the schools for a revival of home economics, done better than what I and my classmates got in 7th grade - one year divided into a semester of sewing (let me tell you, that didn't take - almost no one I can think of sews), 1/2 a semester of cooking, and 1/2 a semester of a combination "household economy" (budgeting, nutrition, etc.) and sex education unit. Our cooking teacher freely admitted she hated cooking (she also wasn't exactly informative in the sex ed component either - her advice was "wait until marriage" and she showed her own childbirth video in class, if you can believe that) and her own distaste for cooking certainly didn't help us learn. By the time I got to high school, home ec was the "easy A" class you only took if you weren't in the college prep track (we had three coursework tracks - college prep, A and B, and home-ec was in the "B", or lowest, track). That meant that myself and my fellow students got through 8th-12th grade, four years of college, and possibly grad school, our 7th grade home ec year was far behind us. I always felt like there had to be a better way to teach people about the necessary life skills of cooking, household management and nutrition - something that would be more practical and stick with people a little better.

Now, after reading Perfection Salad, I understand why my home-economics class was so worthless and I've changed my mind about reinstituting home ec into high schools - I think it would be a throwback to some very bad traditions that are better off left in the past.

Home economists were responsible for basically enslaving women in their homes - convincing women that the home and the kitchen was the only place they would find moral, religious, or emotional fulfillment; that they had no place in man's world, and that the ills of society (poverty, disease, alcoholism, malnutrition, truancy, delinquency, infidelity, etc.) were due to women's failings to fully embrace their moral duty to keep a clean house and cook "scientific" meals for their family. If you want to know why women got so fed up with being at home - fed up enough that they left their homes for the workplace in the 60s and 70s - it's all here. And it turns out that the decline in home cooking - that so many conservatives have blamed on the women's movement, and held up as the reason for the obesity epidemic - actually began in the 1950s, when home economists put a full-court press on women to give up the "old ways" of preparing food and to use "convenient and hygenic" prepackaged foods. It turns out that in the 1950s, women were told cooking wasn't as important as being sexually attractive to their husbands. So much for the "feminists are to blame for all the world's ills" theory.

This is an absolutely wonderful and amazing book. I can't speak highly enough about it. It explains so much about why we have the attitudes towards food that we do, and how we might be able to find our way back to a healthier way of eating. Back in the timeframe the book discusses, it was actually seen as a good thing that women would buy prepackaged meals from the market rather than cook "unscientific" food in "unhygenic" kitchens. Now, women are doing just that and we've found out it's bad for us. I have a particular aversion to people like Christopher Kimball from Cook's Illustrated, who purports to have the "best" recipe and method for cooking anything, regardless of culinary traditions, cultural differences, and personal taste, and is extremely strident in his promotion of his own product over others (recently writing with obvious disgust in the New York Times about user-contributed recipes on the web, which aren't as scrupulously developed as his own). Now I realize there have been New Englanders like this for over a century, trying to tell women they know better and that women should put their own instincts about how to feed their families aside in favor of "researched" methods. I honestly believe that a huge part of why women don't cook more now is that they're intimidated by culinary perfectionism and mixed messages from people like Kimball - put dinner on the table, but do it our way, which may require more time or skill than you have, but that shouldn't matter, if you want to do the "right" thing.

If you like food, like cooking, and want to understand a LOT about feminism, food politics, the history of the women's movement, etc., you cannot miss this book. I can't wait to get Something From The Oven, Shapiro's book about cooking in the 1950s.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c9aba38) out of 5 stars Fascinating and scholarly read 11 Jan. 2002
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Foodies and feminists alike should read this book. As part of the Modern Food Library reprints, chosen by Ruth Reichl (who is known for her good taste and her own laudable literary contributions - "Tender at the Bone" and "Comfort Me with Apples"), "Perfection Salad" describes all the elements present at the turn of the century that combined to forever change the way Americans view food. Food, its preparation and presentation became a female obsession in an time where the kitchen was really the only arena in which a woman could rule. The female nutritionists and cooks from that era seemed bent upon exerting control on SOMETHING, and that something turned out to be food - with sometimes terrible consequences. After reading "Perfection Salad", I understood the recipes that my grandmother (born in 1898) and my mother after her learned and served. Don't be frightened by the scholarly look of "Perfection Salad" - there are hilarious nuggets in the text - like color-themed menus (everything green and white, for example), putting everything into gelatin for the sake of "daintiness" (no messy lettuce leaves hanging out of your mouth) and covering absolutely anything and everything with "white sauce". For more laughs, peruse "The Gallery of Regrettable Food" by James Lileks in which he has gathered some of the most revolting-looking photos of the consequences of "Perfection Salad".
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8cb95570) out of 5 stars Food for Thought 1 Aug. 2001
By Wendy Reid Crisp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I found Perfection Salad in a used bookstore in Manhattan ten or twelve years ago. I read it, was fascinated and stirred by its tale of the psychological manipulation of women - particularly, the women who were new immigrants to America at the turn of the century. I loaned the book to someone who never returned it, and have been quoting it -- and longing to re-read it -- ever since. I have just re-ordered the "back in print" edition...Here is what is important about this book: it details an overlooked, but critical, thread in the fabric of family and community life -- a thread that was quietly pulled until the greater tapestry unraveled.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c6a951c) out of 5 stars Ever wonder where pineapple-marshmallow salad comes from? 13 Dec. 2001
By mbluth1 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This highly readable, beautifully researched book provides a fascinating look into American "cuisine" circa 1850-1920. The Boston Cooking School and other institutions promoted Americanization through cooking conducted on scientific principles, although immigrants proved reluctant to give up their "coarse and unsavory" meals for triumphs of digestibility such as the following, served to President Wilson on his first day in office: "cream of celery soup, fish with white sauce, roast capon with two white vegetables, a fruit salad,and a dessert made with gelatin, custard, and whipped cream"(212). Other triumphs included a salad made of bananas and pimentos bound together with mayonnaise and whipped cream and, later, grapefruit pieces mixed with dessert mints. Often funny and always interesting, this book
also helps readers to understand the convenience food mania of the 1950s.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8cc3a9f0) out of 5 stars well done 17 Oct. 2009
By Reader76 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Amusing and thought provoking. I love reading books about the history of food and cooking, but many of them can be pretty dry. Not this one I found. Anyone interested in cooking, history, and the history of women will find this fascinating. The contradictions and struggles of the home economics movement deserves a place in the history of feminism (and womens' history in general) and the author does a great job of illustrating this journey with all it's failures and lasting effects. Now, how can I get my hands on some of that "domestic fiction" from the last century? Sounds hilarious.
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