Stuff to Read While You’re Ignoring Your Uncle: A Heaping Helping of Food History at Thanksgiving

So the last year hasn’t been easy, to put it mildly. A dangerously incompetent, bigoted rapist ascended to the White House in January; Nazis marched in the streets of American cities; mass shootings seemed to come and go week by week; Syrians and Rohingya and numerous other victims of war and displacement suffered throughout the world. In culinary terms, 2017 has truly been a shit taco.

And the most unkindest cut of all: you have to top it all of by spending the holidays with your family.

In all seriousness, of course, the terrible events of the past year make the dreaded Thanksgiving dinner with your Trumpite relatives seem not so bad.  It’s all about perspective.  But if you do crave a distraction from the annual dinner table conversation about lazy people on welfare, you’re in for a treat.

With a food coma and a slight beer buzz in mind, ToM brings you a six-course helping of our best pieces on food, drink and politics over the years; from labor strikes in El Monte by field workers in Depression Era America to a Big Lebowski-infused cultural history of the grocery store. Life is and will continue to be complicated, but sit back and try to enjoy TNT movies, NFL football, and whatever else might make you happy during an afternoon with the family.


Perhaps you’d like to start off your banquet with a primer on the history of food itself? John M. Burdick serves up the Ten Greatest Books in Food Studies.

Lo Yen City

Interested in the politics of food? We recommend Mookie Kideckel’s Why We Have to Stop Talking about Nature, Ryan Reft’s The Food Truck Conundrum: Urban Politics and Mobile Eats, and Jael Vizcarra’s Yellow Peril in a Globalized Tijuana: The Dog Meat Incident, NAFTA, and Chinese Immigrant Labor. (We’ve got an amazing recipe for hot-cheeto-braised fried dachshund.)


Would you like wine with your Turducken? Check out H. Robert Baker on the history of the film Sideways and the search for the Incredible Cult Riesling.

If you feel more like pounding those super high-gravity imperial stouts, there is Rob’s The End of Craft Beer, as well as two episodes from our sister podcast, Doomed to Repeat: a conversation with beloved historian William Rorabaugh on the long history of Americans getting their drink on, and a deep dive into the rise of the craft beer industry in Atlanta.

And if neither beer or wine are your bag, there’s Brian M. Ingrassia on the New South terroir of Jack and Coke.


Then there is the less savory stuff: the hard work and, too often, exploitation that gets food from the farm to your table. Melqui Fernandez tells us about the epic El Monte Berry Strike of 1933, while Michelle Cabrera delves into family history to tell the story of her aunt’s journey as a migrant farm worker in Grapes of Wrath: Paulina Cabrera’s 1968 Summer. Ryan Reft discusses gentlemen farming and immigrant labor in the San Fernando Valleyurban agriculture and subsistence homsteading in El Monte, and the relationship between the great Orange One and oranges, immigration and labor in Southern California.


If you’d like a more unconventional Thanksgiving side dish, you can read up on fried Oreos and Snickers bars and the far reach of globalization at Dallas, North Carolina’s Old 321 Flea Market.

And if you find yourself rushing to the grocery store for a last-minute can of green beans, you can check out Ryan’s very Dude-like cultural history of Ralphs and other supermarkets in America.

Last but not least, we have Romeo Guzmán’s meditation on ethnic identity, parenting, and teaching American History from last Thanksgiving: My Daughter, Pocahontas.

Eat up! And, remember, don’t pace yourself.