[Book Review] A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression

*Unless explicitly stated otherwise, all book reviews on Alternative Muses are for volumes I’ve read as part of my J biography research. I hesitated to use the word review, as this series heavily focuses on WHY I chose to read a book and what I got out of it research-wise. As a compromise, I’ll end each post in this series with a short review of the actual book.*

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Andrew Coe & Jane Ziegelman


I read this book as part of basic research into the periods in which J lived and worked. I’m quite familiar with the Great Depression but wanted to delve into the nuances of the everyday lives of average people. How and what we eat is personal and historical, psychological and sociological. J was a young professional, wife, and, eventually, mother during this time. At this point, I still have no idea to what extent J and R were affected by the turmoil of the 1930s. Was food scarce or of poor quality for them? Did they have to cope or make do or cut corners? I know where they lived, but not how they lived. Having finished this book, I walked away with a deeper understanding of some of the ways people shopped, ate, and survived during one of the most uncertain, troubling eras in United States history.


If you love cooking and history, this book is a wonderful match for you. The authors strike a beautiful balance between the general and the personal, as they break down the inner workings of the period’s complex governmental policies and how they so often collided with the lives of the citizens they were ostensibly put in place to help (just a bit, though, never too much). Featuring bonus recipes (sometimes incomprehensible but oddly intriguing). I definitely plan on making a few.

Helpfulness scale: 8.5

Entertainment value: 10

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