Edibles & Potables: “The Food of a Younger Land,” or what we used to eat in America

It is an understatement to characterize the author Mark Kurlansky as “prolific,” and you’re invited to peruse Kurlansky’s web site and sift through his three dozen titles, the majority of which interest me, including last year’s The Importance of Not Being Ernest (Hemingway). I intend to acquire it soon. Kurlansky’s explorations of food are what hooked me a long time ago, specifically these four books:

  • Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997)
  • The Basque History of the World (1999)
  • Salt: A World History (2002)
  • The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006)

As an aside, The Basque History of the World certainly is not dedicated to food in its entirety, but comestibles and their consumption figure prominently in the narrative.

In 2009 I purchased The Food of a Younger Land, for which Kurlansky functions as emcee and editor, introducing and collating the work of other writers.* But these were not just any ink-stained wretches, because their output had been produced seven decades before as part of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, or WPA.

The WPA was charged with finding work for millions of unemployed Americans. It sought work in every imaginable field. For unemployed writers the WPA created the Federal Writers’...Read more