Upsetting Food

Three Eras of Food Protest in the United States

Jeffrey Haydu
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-2091-6
Publication: May 21

HC: $104.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-2090-9
Publication: May 21

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-2092-3
Publication: May 21

224 pages
6 x 9
2 figs., 3 halftones

Compares U.S. food reform campaigns through historical social movements—each driven by capitalism, but shaped by activism

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).


Battle lines have long been drawn over how food is produced, what food is made available to whom, and how best to protect consumers from risky or unhealthy food. Jeffrey Haydu resurrects the history of food reform and protest in Upsetting Food, showing how activists defined food problems, articulated solutions, and mobilized for change in the United States.

Haydu’s sociological history starts in the 1830s with diet reformer Sylvester Graham, who blamed alcohol and store-bought bread—signs of a commercializing urban society—for poor health and moral decline. His successors at the turn of the twentieth century rallied against impure food and pushed for women to be schooled in scientific food preparation and nutrition. Decades later, in the 1960s and ’70s, a grassroots movement for organic food battled commercial food production in favor of food grown ecologically, by small farmers, and without artificial chemicals.

Each campaign raised doubts about food safety, health, and transparency, reflecting how a capitalist system can undermine trust in food. But Haydu also considers how each movement reflects the politics, inequalities, and gender relations of its time. And he traces how outcomes of each campaign laid the groundwork for the next. The three eras thus come together as parts of a single, recurring food movement.

Upsetting Food offers readers a historical background to better understand contemporary and contentious food politics.


“Jeffrey Haydu takes a deep and wide-ranging look at food history as social protest. His unique lens brings together nearly 200 years of food history to show that food activism, no matter the time period, is always about more than food. Instead, it’s about trust: do we trust the food supply chains that feed us? But Upsetting Food does more than that. Haydu shows that when people protest their food system, they are in fact asking larger questions about the legitimacy of the social system as a whole.”
E. Melanie DuPuis, Professor of Environmental Studies and Science at Pace University, and author of Dangerous Digestion: The Politics of American Dietary Advice

“In Upsetting Food, Jeffrey Haydu draws out the commonalities of seemingly disparate movements unified on the surface only by the fact that their aspirations relate to food. Each of the three waves of mobilization examined here took place in very different historical contexts spread over a century and a half. They reflect the political and social conditions of their respective eras, and the author’s examination of original movement documents reveals that which distinguishes them. Yet, by applying social movement theory, Haydu identifies key continuities and provides a unique perspective on what had otherwise been considered distinct movements.”
Brian Obach, Professor of Sociology at The State University of New York at New Paltz, and author of Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States

Table of Contents


1. Food Politics: One Movement, or Many?
2. Grahamites, 1830s–1840s
3. Food Progressives, 1890–1906
4. Organic Food, 1960–1990
5. Comparing Pasts and Present


About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Haydu is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Citizen Employers: Business Communities and Labor in Cincinnati and San Francisco, 1870–1916, which won a Distinguished Scholarly Monograph Award from the American Sociological Association’s Labor Section and the Best Book of 2008 prize from Labor History. He is also the author of Making American Industry “Safe for Democracy”: Comparative Perspectives on the State and Employee Representation in the Era of World War I, and Between Craft and Class: Skilled Workers and Factory Politics in the United States and Britain, 1890–1922.