Three Eras of Food Protest in the United StatesJeffrey Haydu
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
" Haydu’s book provides an accessible and appealing approach for us to rethink food and the role of food protest within the political and social conditions of different eras.... The focus on temporal significance makes this book a valuable resource for people who are interested in social movements, historical sociology, food culture, and class and gender inequalities across time periods."
—Journal of Consumer Culture
"Upsetting Food makes several notable contributions to the fields of social movement theories and food studies.... To those observing and studying the new era of food protest that is on the rise, this book offers a jumping-off point to understand what has come before and how distinct (or not) the new iteration of the food movement will be."
"(T)he comparative framing that Haydu advocates for is novel and compelling. By stitching together these ostensibly distinct historical eras of food protest and highlighting their continuities, Haydu offers readers a more fully integrated narrative about how American consumers have made sense of the food that has been available to them ever since the early days of market capitalism. As well, he adeptly uses history to shed some necessary light on the deeper roots of some of today’s most pressing food fights. Finally, Upsetting Food is an eminently readable book: Haydu’s prose is engaging and accessible, and his argument is clear and easy to follow throughout."
—History: Reviews of New Books