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FOOD HABITS OF SELECTED SUBCULTURES IN THE UNITED STATES NATALIE F. JOFFE Technical Assistant, Committee on Food Habits One aspect of the work of the Committee on Food Habits has been to issue a series of memoranda dealing with the food habits of several subcultural groups in the United States. These memoranda have been designed to give insight to and supply background material for aiding nutritionists, social service and community workers, who are concerned with food problems among their groups. The memoranda not only deal with the actual diet of the groups involved, but also present the social matrix in which food habits occur. There- fore they include living and working conditions, the family scene, the levels of education encountered, characteristic types of social organization, and the ways and means by which the diet might be improved. Since the funds at the disposal of the Committee did not permit the recruit- ing of an extensive field staff, several methods have been devised which per- mit short cuts in the compilation of material, thus providing a substitute for door-to-door interviews. Of the five memoranda which have already been prepared, four follow what seems to be the most efficient technique in the prosecution of such research. This method involves the use of a volunteer collaborator of appropriate background who has had some training in the social sciences and who serves as both co-autl~or and informant. Further- more, such a collaborator has wide contacts among the group from which she comes, whereby she may obtain material on the questions that she cannot answer herself. This type of collaboration proves most fruitful, as discussions of the subject bring up points which only one worker studying the field might have overlooked. Of course, these discussions have been supplemented by a thorough perusal of the printed literature available on the subject. Not only are works on food and appraisals of the diet consulted, but a wide variety of other publi- cations are abstracted as well. These include orthodox sociological treatments of the groups studied, fictional material, church and fraternal annuals, maga- zines, and newspapers. The third principal source of material conies from interviews with special- ists familiar with the field. Out of their experience it is possible to obtain information very quickly. Some of the most valuable material has been ob- tained from physicians, social workers, school teachers, and newspaper edi- tors. All of them have had wide contacts with the group that they serve, and are acutely sensitive to the critical points of both the food and social practices of the communities in which they work. When dealin, with foreign language groups, consultation of these "experts" eliminates the problem of an inter- preter essential to detailed interviewing. Furthermore, it is easier for a professional investigator to state his objective immediately and thus not spend -r r ~ r ~ - ~~ ~ ~ -A ~~ ~ - -= - - A--- A- ~ 7 97
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98 The Problems of Changing Food Habits time in building up the type of rapport needed to deal with lay people. It also does away with the necessity of translating questions into a lay vocabulary. The general pattern of each of the memoranda has been built along the following lines: ~ ~ the historical and cultural background of the group; 2) traditional methods of securing food; 3) habits of handling food, atti- tudes toward food, cooking, and service; 4) an appraisal of the customary diet; 5) how the diet may be altered and what means can be utilized to further this improvement. In one or two cases appendices have been added which give concrete illustrations of some specific attitudes toward food: prov- erbs, attitudes held about enriched bread, food stereotypes of the group. However, it is not possible to obtain the same type of information from each group studied because of the divergent beliefs and behaviors. For example, while the Italians, Poles, and Hungarians are amazingly verbal about their food habits and have elaborate series of proverbs and sayings on the subject, the Czechs and Norwegians appear to be totally devoid of food fantasy. ITALIANS The first memorandum to appear under the auspices of the Committe was "Some Italian Food Patterns and their Relationship to Wartime Prob- lems of Food and Nutrition," issued in August ~94~. This paper represented the joint efforts of Miss Genoeffa Nizzardini and the writer. Miss Nizzardini is a social worker who has had extensive experience in community work where many were from the Italian background group. This work and her own life enabled her to give much excellent information which was used in the study. The tenacity with which the Italian clings to his traditional diet has become a byword among nutrition workers. Similarly he clings to many of the social patterns of the mother country. Although there are many regional differences in language and culture in Italy which are duplicated here, it appears that it is common to most of the Italians to maintain some of the customary aspects of their diet despite un- favorable economic odds. Even if imported cheese and olive oil were expen- sive they would be bought, and if not available would be foregone. When there was no oil, they would cease to eat the raw vegetables so important to maintain dietary balance. With the outbreak of the war, they have had to find substitutes, Italian-type cheese and mixtures of oil. In this country they have taken to the use of white bread and have added sugar to their diet, both of which have thrown it out of balance. The investigation of the social life of Italians reveals how these distortions might be combated. It would not suffice to prepare a nutrition text in Italian, because those Italians who do read, also read English. Many who have learned how to read are out of the habit and the radio might be a better means of reaching them. Any visual education program should stress two factors, that of color and that of the specific properties with which food is imbued. "Bread makes blood" is a well-known Italian saying and could very well be used to promote the enriched bread campaign, for the iron has been restored. The color factor is part of the aesthetic approach that Italians have toward food.
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Food Habits of Selected Subcultures 99 Italian family organization also may be important. The strict chaperonage of women is common and may interfere with attendance at a nutrition course. Furthermore, the approval and acceptance by the father of a practice might be necessary before the women would take it up. Many Italian men work in the food industries and know much about food, so that a program directed toward nutrition education in this group should be double-barrelled, aimed at both men and women. Anxiety about food may become manifest in two ways. Although an Italian woman shops every day, she likes to have large quantities of staples on hand, which represent her margin of security. She may become anxious about the health of her children if they do not get what the doctor has ordered (a recent cultural development). There is great fear of tuberculosis among Italians, and a fat child is insurance against this ill. There is a definite cycle of foods to be served throughout the week, and the diet balances over a week's time; fish on Fridays, "pasta" on Thursdays and Saturdays, meat on Sundays. Bread, meat and vegetables are bought each day frown neighborhood stores and pushcarts, where the woman eyes each purchase and bargains. Their neighborhoods most of them live in cities in the East are large enough to support their oven Italian stores where they can buy what they want. While other nationalities also support their own neighborhood institutions in cities and large towns, the population is distributed a little differently. THE CENTRAL EUROPEANS The Poles, Slovaks and Hungarians are found in large cities in the East and Middle West and in the smaller manufacturing and mining centers. The Czechs parallel this distribution, but extend further west and into the rural areas. The second memorandum published by the Committee on Food Habits is in three sections, and is entitled "Some Central European Food Patterns and Their Relationship to Wartime Problems of Food and Nutrition." Fol- lowing the model set up for the Italian study, two of the sections are collabora- tive efforts. The first of these deals with the Poles and represents the joint en- deavors of bliss Sula Benet, trained in anthropology at the University of Warsaw and Columbia University, and the writer. Miss Tenet has done ex- tensive field work among village communities in southern Poland and has uncorked on Polish newspapers in this country. POLES Although a varied food picture obtained in Poland, it was sufficiently homo- geneous to set the keynote for a characteristic group of food habits prevalent among Poles in America. The basis for this was peasant life, centering on the self-sufficient farm. Grains (rye, wheat, buckwheat, and barley), potatoes, cabbages, legumes, and some green vegetables came from the patch of ground each family tilled. This was supplemented by milk, cheese, and sour cream from the family cow, a few- eggs and fowl, some home-killed pork, or a little beef. Fruits, berries, child mushrooms, dried for winter use, and fish, fresh
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TOO The Problem of Changing Food Habits from the- lakes and rivers or salted from the Baltic, made up the balance. Salt, sugar, tea, and coffee, mostly used sparingly, were all that came from the outside. The prevailing Catholic religion and the eastern pattern of hospi- tality provided a pattern for the festivals and celebrations. The authority of the father was great, but each member of the family had his ordained task in its work. The Poles came to America during a period of great industrial expansion and found a ready market for their labor in the mines and heavy industries. Although many of them wanted to' settle on the land, either here or abroad, the lure of high wages was irresistible. Once in this country, like the Italians, they fell prey to the enchantments of white sugar and flour, and for much the same reason. Unlike the Italians, however, their family life was fraught with strains and tensions. Children left home, set out on their own, and became Americanized as rapidly as possible. With this Americanization came the abandonment of the rich vegetable soups, the bean soups, and the sour cream and cottage cheese dishes which made Polish diet so good. Many of the Polish girls are factory hands and as such presumably have enough command of English to enable them to read about nutrition. However, what they do read mostly are movie magazines and newspapers. To approach these girls, ap- peals should be made in terms of good looks and charm, because these are the most potent factors in the life of a young Polish woman. The more con- servative married woman can be approached through the newspaper, because if she does not read this herself, her husband reads it aloud to her at night after work. There are many young men in the Polish background group who eat in restaurants and at work. They too need to be educated in proper eating and can be taught by posters at their place of work or at union meetings. Finally, the Poles are very well organized into nationality societies and all of them enjoy going to lectures, so that lectures on nutrition sponsored by these groups may be assured of a large attendance. Poles on farms can be reached through the facilities of state and federal agricultural aids. HUNGARIANS In background and in present living conditions, the Hungarians closely parallel the Poles. However, In Hungary, with the milder climate and the more fertile land, the diet of Hungarians was snore varied and different in character. Where the Poles drank beer, the Hungarians drank wine, and their bread had more wheat flour. Many of the Hungarians ate a good deal of beef and duck, goose, and chicken appeared on the table more often. Their folklore and proverbs were rich in statements expressing their attitude, one of great love of eating, toward food. Perhaps the most characteristic say- ing is "We may be poor but we live well." Once in this country, their four or five meals a day have been whittled down to three to fit in with the factory whistle. Like the Poles, they now prefer store-bought sweet buns for break- fast to the bread and smoked fat or cheese that, before they came to the United States, normally began their day, and which was followed with bread and cheese, or sausage or fruit and coffee in the middle of the morning. The
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Food Habits of Selected S?`bcu~t?`res Con heavy noonday meal of stew or roasts has given way to a sandwich lunch eaten hastily on the premises or in a nearby restaurant, while their wonted supper of vegetables, ends, sausage, and cheese has been displaced by a heavy cooked ~ _ ,. _ , ~ · ~ · ~ ~ , 1 ~ 1 _ 1 ~ ~1~ 1 1 ~ ~ meal in wn1cn the raw vegetables no longer predominate. 1 n1s regime allows no time off for a mid-afternoon snack. Like the Poles, the Hungarians are great joiners. They are in industries which are well unionized, and the sug- gestions for nutrition education among the Poles hold almost as well for the Hungarian groups. Not as many of their young women are in factories, and charnel seems to have a less important appeal in this group, but they can be approached, as are young American girls, in terms of looks and health. CZECHS In sharp contrast to these two groups are the Czechs. The Czech section of the memorandum has been prepared by Svatava Pirkova-lakobson, and the writer. Dr. iakobson has a degree in sociology from the University of Prague and did work in many village communities, where she collected folk- songs. Her contacts with the Czechs in this country are many. The Czechs are an exceedingly realistic people, largely Protestant, and they have a longer history of settlement in the United States than any of the other groups. Independent, progressive, and boasting one of the highest rates of literacy in the world, they came to America in large numbers in the middle nineteenth century. Some of them settled in the cities, while a large number went west and became farmers. Their traditional diet was rye bread, pork, goose (on holidays), sauerkraut, beans, pastry, and beer. On a Sunday a table in America will have the same dishes. In this country they are great coffee drinkers, and the coffee-pot stands on the stove the whole day long. While Czech cooking is long and time-consuming, the Czech woman, even from the most conservative family, stays by her stove only because she wants to. If she cares to go out to work or to a meeting or to the library or to visit, she is free to do so. She is accorded as much freedom as she cares to take. Yet she cooks as did her mother before her and even her grandmother. In some districts in Nebraska, non-Czech women marrying Czechs will learn a whole new method of cooking, because the desire for Czech food is so strong. The family life is very warm, all members feeling that they have a stake in the home. On Sundays there is a great deal of visiting and huge quantities o food and beer are consumed. To refuse a second and a third helping of food is thoroughly impolite. The Czechs are the greatest joiners perhaps of any group in this country. They are members not only of their own groups, but of such completely American institutions as the Grange and the Red Cross. They are great readers; books, magazines and newspapers, in English and in Czech, find their way into all homes. Czechs can be approached for nutri- tion education via all the channels used to approach Americans. The Moravians, who come from that part of the country immediately to the east of the Czechs, are rather like them, but the Slovaks, whose country is still further eastward, represent a group whose dietary patterns are inter- mediate between Czechs and Hungarians. Their lands are more fertile than
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IO2 The Problem of Changing Food Habits those of the Czechs, and the climate milder. They are more strongly Catholic in their religious affiliations. In Slovakia they ate a great many more green vegetables than did the Czechs, and used more milk products. They are less literate than the Czechs, and they work in those same industries as do Poles and Hungarians. All of these Central European peoples make wide use of whole grain foods such as bread or porridge; prepare liver, tongue, and other variety meats in many ways; are fond of sausage and, to a lesser extent, cheese. Dried mushrooms are well liked in soups. Many of these practices are still kept up in this country, but the diet has undergone some displacements. THE AMERICAN NEGROES The last of the major studies on food habits of minority groups is still in preparation. This treats with food patterns of American Negroes. For this study the collaboration of Mrs. Tomannie Thompson Walker, A.B., a student at the New York School of Social Work, was secured. Mrs. Walker majored in sociology at Queens College and, while still an undergraduate, worked on the Alpha Kappa Alpha nutrition project in Mississippi. The fundamental premise ot this study nas been that there are no American Negro food habits. The rural Negro in the South eats substantially the same food as does his White neighbor of similar economic circumstance, while the Negro school teacher or physician reared in the North eats the same food which his White counterpart serves. At a bridge party or company dinner, similarly circumstanced Whites and Negroes will have the same party menu. Regional factors and economic conditions set the tone for food habits. In the rural South the well known traditional diet is meat, meal, and molasses, supplemented by greens and fish. In and around New Orleans, gumbo and shell-fish are local dishes, so here too the Negro eats them. In Virginia every- body drinks buttermilk, and he ' proves no exception. Slavery has left little impact on the diet of the Negro, but it did leave a tradition of women who ~ · A ~ ~ 1 · ~ let 1 -t _ _ · _ 11 · _ l1_ _ worked. Among lower and lower middle class ~ egroes, especially In the cities, there are many women who go out to work, a factor which is bound to affect food habits. In these cities of the South the woman domestic worker does not eat at her place of employment, but tradition permits her to take leftovers home for her family. Since she has time off in the middle of the day, she may tend a garden patch which supplies her with greens. Southerners on farms shop once a week on Saturday, while in the cities they buy their food more often. In the large cities of the North, it is the usual practice to buy food every day. For a woman domestic worker in the North, it is usual to eat on the job and no allowance is made for leftovers to be reckoned as part of her wages. These circumstances of work have caused some individual local practices to arise, though they are by no means dissimilar to those which most people in this country adopt ashen faced with like situations. If a woman cannot get to the stores before or after work, she has to send someone else, her husband or her older children. If she cannot get supper for the children,
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Food Habits of Selected Subcultures log then someone else must. If she has to be away from the house all day, the small children must be cared for and provision made for their meals. All of these are problems which are now facing many Americans for the first time, but to the working Negro mother they are an old story. To alter her food habits, the techniques used to approach White persons of like education, class level, and region should be used. Many stereotypes about Negroes are held by White people and vice versa. One of the most typical is that all Negroes are born good cooks and that all of these good cooks never use a recipe or measure food. Actually, very few older cooks of any group ever learned to cook by recipe. Cooking was learned by observation and practice and recipe cooking is a phenomenon of rather recent age. Negroes too feel that 'they are better cooks than are White persons, and that White persons cook by recipe and not by "feel" or experience.
Representative terms from entire chapter: