Month: May 2020

COVID-19: Is there a future for local food businesses?

Before COVID-19 hit, roughly 1.39 million people were food insecure in the state of Illinois and roughly 800,000 of those people lived in Chicago (Chicago). However, as COVID-19 has continued to spread these numbers have drastically increased due to recent unemployment, loss of purchasing power as a result of panicked shoppers, and the inability to travel to grocery stores or other food suppliers. Nearly “178,000 Illinois residents applied for unemployment insurance benefits” (Wisinewksi) in the last two weeks of March. Those who qualify as food insecure have grown proportionately as unemployment has surged. As of 2018, 20.6% of the city’s population lived in poverty (Chicago). In the Urban Agriculture as a climate change and disaster risk reduction strategy it was found that “in low-income neighbourhoods…many poor urban households reduced the number of meals during financial and food crises and turned to cheaper and less nutritious food, with negative effects on the nutritional status of family members” (Dubbeling, 33). As COVID-19 worsens, its impact on the food insecure population will continue to increase. It is necessary to provide healthy foods to those communities facing food insecurity right now. Food businesses are also struggling at this time because they have been forced to close or reduce sales and some restaurants have extra food supplies from a lack of sales. To confront the issues of food insecurity and reduced business for food businesses, this research paper will address the following questions: 1) How are restaurants supporting their communities and tackling issues of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic? 2) Is there a network connecting restaurants to food pantries? COVID-19 has challenged communities and businesses alike; to survive this pandemic, communities and businesses will have to rely on each other for support. Evidence suggests that a local food business is becoming a sustainable force for their community in the Chicagoland area. The focus on the Chicagoland area stems from being in lockdown just north of the city as well as the unusual circumstances brought about by the pandemic i.e. only remote access to sources, limited knowledge of the pandemic, a lack of up-to-date statistics, etc. Yet despite it all, the unique relationship between communities, food, and food businesses will need to be tapped into in order to come back better than ever after the pandemic.

To fully understand the current situation and food insecurity, it is necessary to recognize how the city has dealt with past challenges. Within the past one-hundred years World War I, the Spanish Flu, World War II threatened food security in the city. This led to both state mandated and community based initiatives which relied on creativity and ingenuity. During the fall of 1918 the Spanish flu hit Chicago amidst the already food rationed city. The self-rationing of food began to help with war effort and was already in place before epidemic began. Food became scarcer as the epidemic ravaged the area. Those who could donated food and bedding to the ill through church networks. Non-essential businesses closed but public schools stayed open because it was thought “that children were better off in schools, where they were under watch and kept from roaming the streets” (Influenza Encyclopedia). By the end of the epidemic more than 10,000 Chicagoans died in the epidemic that began locally on Sept. 8, 1918 (Influenza Encyclopedia). Similar rationing occurred during WWII. State mandated food rationing began in the late spring of 1942 and continued throughout the war. Coupons, tokens, food stamps became the main way to buy food. Sugar and meat tightly rationed which led to the experimentation of new recipes and products (Duis). A cookbook published in 1942 titled Recipes to Match Your Sugar Ration has a collection of recipes to use when sugar is not available. Victory gardens also popped up throughout the city which added produce and variety to meals. Victory gardens were in backyards, school grounds, and empty city lots. It offered a way for Chicagoans to take control of their own food supply and was maintained after the war. The rationing of food and shortage of food led people to be resourceful and creative. The victory gardens especially illustrate a sustainable model post-war.

Coming back to today’s crisis, the current pandemic has taken its toll on the city in a new way. As of Thursday, April 30th more than 50,355 people have tested and positive and 2,215 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, however almost half of the reported cases are in the Chicagoland area (Chicago, IL). To reduce the spread of the disease, Illinois residents have been under shelter-in place orders since March 21st which will continue at least until May 31st. This order means that all non-essential businesses and schools have closed. What does this mean for the Chicago area? The pandemic has severely impacted communities and has highlighted the systemic inequalities in society. In Chicago, poverty-stricken communities which are disproportionality communities of color, are contracting and dying at a quicker rate from COVID-19 than other areas. These communities are also facing higher rates of food insecurity. Overall, food insecurity has seen a drastic rise in numbers since the end of March. For instance, the Northern Illinois Food Bank distributed 6.1 million meals which was half a million meals more over their goal for the month of March. This number roughly equals 200,000 meals served daily (Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates). The distribution models for food banks have changed to adapt to the social distancing and hygiene protocols that are being enforced throughout the state. They are receiving support from the state to make sure they are able to keep up with demand to ensure that everyone has access to food during this time. The Greater Chicago Food Depository has been able to keep two-thirds of their food pantries open but they have “shifted to a ‘grab-and-go’ format where food-insecure families simply pick up prepackaged boxes or bags, instead of the pre-pandemic method of shopping for the specific kinds of food they wanted” (Pope). Their warehouse operations have also changed to accommodate social distancing policies, but this means that there is less room to store food. Shelter-in-place orders have also impacted all businesses but especially restaurants. Restaurants remain open for take-out or delivery, but some have decided to temporarily or permanently close for the safety of their employees and customers (Hennessy). Business is down for most restaurants and employees have been laid off (Kim).

What can be done to help communities and local food businesses? The pandemic has created a new wave of creativity and ingenuity; one such company that is supporting all levels of the food chain—from producer to consumer—is Hewn Bread. The initiatives that Hewn Bread has implemented is not necessarily a solution, but an example of good practices that other businesses could replicate to help fight food insecurity and promote businesses stability. To meet the growing needs of its community, Hewn Bread has stepped up to partner with local food banks; this work is not representative of all food businesses but serves as an example for other businesses in the industry. Hewn is owned and operated Ellen King and Julie Matthei in Evanston, IL just north of Chicago. Hewn is known for their bread and pastries which are made using only locally grown heritage grains (Our Story). They work with a dozen local farmers to source grain, produce, and dairy from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In response to COVID-19 they built an online store with select products offering curbside pickup in addition to starting the Neighbor Loaf Initiative. The Neighbor Loaf Initiative is part of a partnership between Hewn and Artisan Grain Collaborative, or AGC. The Neighbor Loaf Initiative aims to support local communities and to highlight the importance of reginal food systems to support farmers, miller, and bakers. How does it work? Customers purchase a Neighbor Loaf from participating bakeries, like Hewn, which is made from locally sourced, sustainably grown grain. Bakers bake the Neighbor Loaves which contain at least 50% locally grown stone milled flour and then the loaves are distributed to community feeding organizations to support neighbors in need (Neighbor Loaves). Hewn distributes their Neighbor Loaves to Hillside Pantry in Northwest Evanston. Since beginning this initiative in late March, Hewn has provided Hillside with over 1,800 loaves of bread (Malin).

What does this do? For the community it supports emergency feeding organizations that are in need of bread. Most food banks rely on donations from retailers, but bread has not been as readily available, so retailers are unable to continue their donations. For the producer it secures the local grain chain during the pandemic because farmers are still planting grain and they need to know they’ll have a place to sell this year’s crop. Local mills also need to keep grinding last year’s grain while bakers are facing reduced revenue streams (Neighbor Loaves). Thus, the Neighbor Loaf Initiative is supporting the farmer, the miller, the baker, and the community. Hewn is also donating all extra loaves of bread to Beth Emet, local soup kitchen, and to Feast & Imbibe. Both of these organizations are providing meals to those who have been impacted by COVID-19 in the Evanston and North-Chicago area. Through this creative initiative, Hewn has stepped into a new role as a community supporter while maintaining their business at the same time.

This is an unprecedented time and highlighting how different businesses are maintaining their relationship with the community is important because good practices can be established and models can be set for other businesses. While the outcome of the future is unknown, how businesses are reacting now will impact their future and the future of the communities that they serve. David Chang of Momofuku Restaurant Group said: “I do not want to incite panic and hysteria, but I think for restaurants and the service industry, there is going to be a morbidly high business death rate. My fear is the restaurants that survive are going to be the big chains, and we’re going to eradicate the very eclectic mix that makes America and going out to eat so vibrant and great.” (Life for Restaurants After COVID-19). The need to feed people who do not have access to food and to keep restaurants open grows every day. Linking businesses to communities is essential for the long-term survival of both groups because it provides reciprocal benefits; these include local sales taxes, jobs, innovation, and community connectedness. Thus, by using Hewn Bread as an example this concept is put into practice with the Neighbor Loaf Initiative. In “normal” times, local food businesses support the local economy, source local food suppliers, employ residents, etc. and during a crisis this support is needed even more. Local food businesses also create the atmosphere of the community and act as a place for gathering. During this crazy time, can this model be used by other food businesses? Could this be a sustained partnership after the pandemic and shelter-in-place order is removed? Can this be a sustainable model for business resilience?

Link to Hewn Bread:

Link to Artisan Grain Collaborative:


Works Cited

“Chicago, IL.” Data USA,

“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates.” Northern Illinois Food Bank, 23 Apr. 2020,

“COVID-19 Resources.” City of Chicago : Resources, 2020,

Dubbeling, Marielle, René van Veenhuizen and Jess Halliday, « Urban agriculture as a climate change and disaster risk reduction strategy », Field Actions Science Reports [Online], Special Issue 20 | 2019, Online since 24 September 2019, connection on 03 March 2020. URL : factsreports/5650

Duis, Perry R. “Chicagoans and World War II.” Illinois Periodicals Online, 2002,

Hennessy, Maggie. “Independent Restaurants in Chicago Are Fighting for Survival.” Eater Chicago, Eater Chicago, 23 Apr. 2020,

“Our Story.” Hewn Bread, 2020,

“Influenza Encyclopedia.” Edited by J. Alex Navarro and Howard Markel, Chicago, Illinois and the 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic | The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918: A Digital Encyclopedia, Sept. 2016,

Kim, Beverly, and Amy Cavanaugh. “‘This Is Survival Mode’: Dispatches From Chef Beverly Kim.” Chicago Magazine, 10 Apr. 2020,

Klein, Danny. “Trying to Picture Life for Restaurants After COVID-19.” QSR Magazine, Apr. 2020,

Lopez-Alt, J. Kenji. “Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide.” Serious Eats, Serious Eats, 6 Apr. 2020,

Malin, Zoe. “Evanston Businesses Pour Resources into Providing Food and Supplies.” The Daily Northwestern, 4 Apr. 2020,

McClelland, Edward. “When This Is Over, Chicago Could Have a Lot More Chains.” Chicago Magazine, 2 Apr. 2020,

Navarro, Julian A. “Influenza in 1918: an Epidemic in Images.” Public Health Reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), Association of Schools of Public Health, Apr. 2010,

“Neighbor Loaves.” Artisan Grain Collaborative,

Pope, Ben. “United Center Packed with 774,840 Pounds of Food Destined for Chicago Food Pantries.” Times, Chicago Sun-Times, 9 Apr. 2020,

Severson, Kim, and David Yaffe-bellany. “Independent Restaurants Brace for the Unknown.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Mar. 2020,

The Bon Appétit Staff. “Closures, Takeout, and Relief Efforts: How Food Businesses Nationwide Are Handling Coronavirus.” Bon Appétit, 9 Apr. 2020,

“The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity.” Feeding America, 22 Apr. 2020,

Vettel, Phil. “’We’re Not Looking for a Bailout’ Say Top American Chefs – but It Might Be What the Restaurant Industry Needs to Survive.”, Chicago Tribune, 7 Apr. 2020,

Wisniewski, Mary. “Records Shattered as Unemployment Claims in Illinois Top 178,000 and National Applications Hit 6.6 Million.”, Chicago Tribune, 2 Apr. 2020,


Women Chefs in the Kitchen and Media: Analysis of Differential Representation and Experiences Along the Gender Binary

      For generations, the duties of care and provisioning for the family have been

carried primarily by women. Food preparation, serving, and work within professional

kitchens have fallen to women throughout history, yet the acclaim and credit has

historically gone to men, with women facing discrimination and structural biases that

their male counterparts do not contend with (Allen and Sachs 9). Women have

historically served the primary roles of food preparation, yet the modern culinary

industry remains predominantly male (Druckman 25). The disproportionate

representation of female-identifying food workers permeates all levels of the food

system yet is particularly noticeable within the modern restaurant kitchen and food

media. This paper seeks to discuss the challenges faced by women chefs in the modern

kitchen and food media, as well as the externalities brought about by the cultural

structure of differential treatment and familial responsibility. It should be noted that

this analysis will divide the kitchen along the traditional gender binary of “men” and

“women” and does not delve deeply into the experiences and disproportionate

challenges faced by nonbinary and LGBTQIA+ individuals in the kitchen for sake of

length and focus. The historical role of women as provisioners and caretakers within

both the family unit and society as a whole has profound implications for the experience

of women within the food chain. These effects are present within the professional

kitchen, food media, and more broadly the food service industry as a whole. The

differential treatment of women in these positions, alongside structural biases, have

created a system which perpetuates discrepancies in representation and access for

women across the food system today.

        Prior to approaching the modern role of women within the restaurant kitchen

and food media, it is critical to gain a topical understanding of the historical context

behind these issues in order to inform our modern analysis. Women have occupied the

primary role of food preparations for generations, yet traditionally, it is men who are

highlighted as chef and awarded recognition and acclaim as a result of their work

(Whitaker). The word chef itself is derived from the French chef de cuisine, meaning

“head of the kitchen”, a term which is always conjugated in the male gender (Druckman

25). The word chef itself, therefore, carries an inherently gendered meaning. Until

recently, the prospects for women in the culinary sphere have been significantly limited,

with one author proclaiming, “in the late 1960s a career as an astronaut was considered

more promising for a woman than that of chef,” (Whitaker).

      Women’s role as culinary caretakers has historically coincided with the ethics of

caretaking, with women performing the lion’s share of food-related tasks while retaining

little control, decision making power, or agency within the food industry as a whole

(Harris and Guiffre 28). While bearing the responsibility for nourishing others, they

often do not adequately nourish themselves as a result of the societal and systemic

obstacles they face (Allen and Sachs 1).

       We must also look to the historical role of food media, cookbooks, and

advertising as it relates to women within the food system. Early cookbooks were

primarily filled with recipes to serve a family on a budget, as well as to serve to impress

your guests (Whitaker). Including substitutions for cooks without fully stocked pantries

was common, and recipes were typically measured in less standard terms, using

estimates and colloquialisms instead (Zafar 457). These books were primarily written by

and for white women, but heavily influenced

by African American foodways as African

Fig. 1 – Print marketing for Betty Crocker cake
mixes, which would eventually become the hallmark
of this character’s identity. – “Vintage Betty Crocker:
Perfect Vintage Cake Recipe.” Frugal SOS, Sara
Noel, 31 Aug. 2016,

American women fulfilled a pivotal role

within the white kitchen without recognition

(Zafar 460).

           In order to understand modern food

media, we must look to early food marketing

and advertising. One prominent media figure

during this time was the fictional Betty

Crocker, the spokeswoman for General Mills

created in the 1930s (Shapiro 29) ;(see fig. 1,

fig.2). During this time, Betty Crocker served

as the integral link between the consumers

and the corporatization of the

American food system. As

boxed food skyrocketed in

popularity due to the

convenience, low cost, and

effective marketing, companies

Fig. 2. Vintage Betty Crocker marketing. This image highlights the stress
placed on making baking faster and simpler for the modern housewife. –
Morioka, Lynne, et al. “Vintage Ads for the Ladies.” A Taste of General
Mills, 2 Sept. 2015,

such as General Mills required

a human connection to their

customers if they wanted to

maintain the older view of home

cooking (Shaprio 30). In response,

these company figureheads were

generated (interestingly, the majority

were female) and featured heavily in

advertising and media.

Cakes were known as, and still are,

one of the most difficult tasks a home

cook can undertake, requiring time, a

multitude of ingredients, and lots of patience. Betty Crocker cake mix was General Mills’

ingenious response to this realization and was marketed extensively across the US in both

print ads, columns, and radio advertisements (Shapiro 38). This effective marketing strategy

and convenient new products planted Betty Crocker squarely into the American psyche, with

surveys conducted by General Mills indicating that by the early 1950s, 99% of American

housewives were familiar with the Betty Crocker name and line of products (Shapiro

33). Through building Betty Crocker into a household name, General Mills were not

only able to effectively aid their large consumer base in the transition into the new

methods of fast food preparation, but also played part in creating a cultural icon which

linked femininity to household duties, entertainment cooking, and subservience. These

themes are still present in the modern portrayal of women in food media.

           Moving forwards into modern analysis, it is clear that the very foundations of

the restaurant kitchen create a highly gendered space with different connotations for its

male and female occupants. These structures affect women who work in the demanding

and male-dominated modern restaurant kitchen, fostering a workplace culture which

makes hazing and other discrimination against women commonplace (Harris and

Guiffre 28). The division of the modern restaurant kitchen into “hot” and “cold” section

frequently is a visual reminder of the separation of men and women within the

restaurant industry. The hot side of the kitchen, with stoves, grills, ovens, and

preparation stations tends to be male dominated while women primarily occupied the

cold side, responsible for pastries, soups, and sauces (Harris and Guiffre 32). This

divide coincides with the francocentric levels of essentialism in culinary personnel,

placing women in these spaces at a disadvantage in terms of opportunity for growth and

diversification within the culinary field (Druckman 22). In these male-dominated

environments, a common presumption of women’s lack of desire or ability to compete

worsens the divide, resulting in increased harassment and discredit being reflected upon

women than that faced by their male peers (Druckman 30).

         These structural biases extend beyond the kitchen itself and into the sphere of

restaurant management and executives, with women occupying the lowest rungs of

management across the American restaurant industry, and generally are hired for

positions in which they supervise other women (Petrick 55). Women are afforded

proportionately less decision-making power than their male counterparts in comparable

positions and receive less pay (Petrick 55). The value of education and training is

another factor affecting the ability of women to occupy executive positions. Existing

training programs intended to develop employees interested in “working their way up”

to management are not sufficient, and are often under-used by women in particular,

who often do not utilize these programs for fear of not being seen as dedicated to the

current management of their facilities (Cobble 7). Women who applied and were denied

executive positions often held at least a four-year college degree, falling victim to the so called

“sticky floor” narrative which recognizes that while there is growth in the

availability of high-paying executive jobs for women, the sheer volume of women in low paying

industry jobs limits the mobility they are afforded (Petrick 58).


Women in the restaurant industry and more broadly the food system as a whole

are also burdened by the gendered landscape of the heteronormative family. Childrearing

and family care duties often fall to women even when they are employed in the

demanding and male-dominated restaurant industry (Maume et. al 990). Women

experience increased pressure to work long and irregular hours, while simultaneously

under-utilizing programs designed to balance work and family due to the need, whether

real or perceived, to show continuous commitment and dedication to both their careers

and the institution by which they are employed (Cobble 10). When returning home

women are still responsible for the continued labor associated with provisioning and

care of their families, irrespective of class, culture, or ethnicity (Allen and Sachs 2).

       Despite the shifting status quo of the family, gender and family scholars continue

to argue that “men’s greater power within families, deriving from higher earnings in the

labor market, effectively shields them from domestic work (Maume et. al 993). This

feeding work, primarily undertaken by women, is unpaid and often goes unrecognized,

despite requiring significant mental, physical, and emotional labor. Women working in

food service also get significantly less sleep than men in similar positions, and also

experience more sleep disruption than men employed in the same industry (Maume et.

al 995). As women age, their sleep also becomes more disrupted, a phenomenon which

is not mirrored in their male counterparts (Maume et. al 995). The compounding effects

of being under-rested, underpaid, and overworked leave women bearing a

disproportionate burden when trying to balance work and family life. These structural

biases within the family reinforce the roles of subservience that women are occupying all

too-frequently within the restaurant kitchen (Allen and Sachs 4).

        The representation of women in food media, as well as the ways in which

advertising, marketing, and the media shape the psyche of modern women must also be

discussed. While fictional culinary icons such as Betty Crocker have fallen to the

wayside and male chefs are commonly

the recipients of major awards,

accolades, and Michelin stars, the

modern culinary media is full of

Fig. 3. Gordon Ramsay, hot-headed chef of Hell’s Kitchen and
Michelin acclaim. – “Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay –
Watch Episodes.” FOX,

women (Druckman 27). However

prevalent the representation of

women chefs in cooking media may be

today, the portrayal of these women

stands in stark contrast to their male

counterparts. On one end of the

spectrum you have Gordon Ramsay

(Fig. 3) cursing and literally throwing

inadequate dishes in Hell’s Kitchen,

while on the other Ina Garten of

Fig. 4. Ina Garten, the comforting and motherly Barefoot
Contessa. – “Barefoot Contessa.” Food Network,

Barefoot Contessa fame (Fig. 4)

prepares family-style dishes, shares.

cocktail tips, and tags every episode

with the line “how easy is that?”. These

two very different representations can

be linked to the differential experiences

of men and women in the professional

kitchen, and perpetuate the division

between men as fiery, passionate, and

hotheaded chefs and women as comforting, domestic goddesses who focus primarily on

family-style and entertaining (Druckman 29). This presentation of women in cooking media

reinforces the gender binary which exists both within the restaurant industry and the

heteronormative family, with women placed into a role of subservience and provisioning

for families and yet still noting just how easy it is to fulfill these ideal roles (Allen and

Sachs 3).

           The pressure faced by women to fulfill the ideal image promoted by the media,

specifically food media, has created a complex relationship between many women, food,

and their bodies. By exploiting what is referred to as “deliberate and reoccurring

manipulations of issues women face in their real lives,” the media is able to create an

image which women strive for, which contributes to the massive influence of diet culture

as well as the increased incidence of eating disorders (Allen and Sachs 3). This influence

permeates the majority of American media and affects women regardless if they are

employed in the food system or not. In fact, the average woman sees between 400-600

advertisements per day, totaling more than 250,000 messages by her 17th birthday

(Allen and Sachs 10). These advertisements strongly influence the concept of the ideal

body in mainstream media, with an obsessive focus on thinness and dieting, and

contribute to the transformation fantasy which plagues women and young girls alike

(Allen and Sachs 2).

Women’s roles in the food system are undeniably complicated, and vary widely

depending on class, employment, and economic status. However, an undercurrent of

differential treatment and structural obstacles carries significant implications in the

lives of women involved in the industry. Women bear disproportionate stressors of food

provisioning and family care compared to their male counterparts and face increased

hazing and discrimination as a result of the francocentric nature of the restaurant

kitchen. These systematic and structural biases can be observed throughout history,

from the days of Betty Crocker to the modern representation of female chefs in media

today. Women experience differential treatment and disproportionate barriers to

success within the food system as a result of both structural biases and the historical

duties and roles traditionally associated with femininity, and without continued efforts

to level the playing field and reduce these biases will continue to be underrepresented

and underappreciated for their efforts in and contributions to the food system as a




Works Cited

Allen, Patricia, and Carolyn Sachs. “Women and Food Chains: The Gendered Politics of

Food.” International Journal of Sociology of Food and Agriculture, vol. 15, Apr. 2007.

Shapiro, Laura. “‘I Guarantee’: Betty Crocker and the Woman in the Kitchen.” From Betty

Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food, edited by

Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber, University of Massachusetts Press, 2005, pp.

29–40, Accessed 26 Apr. 2020.

Cobble, Dorothy Sue. “‘Practical Women.’” Labor History, vol. 29, no. 1, Winter 1988, pp. 5–

31. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00236568800890011.

Druckman, Charlotte. “Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?” Gastronomica 10.1 (2010);

pp 24- 31.

Harris, Deborah A., and Patti Giuffre. ““The price you pay”: how female professional chefs

negotiate work and family.” Gender Issues 27.1-2 (2010): 27-52.

Harris, Deborah Ann., and Patti Giuffre. Taking the Heat Women Chefs and Gender Inequality

in the Professional Kitchen. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Maume, David J., Rachel A. Sebastian, and Anthony R. Bardo. “Gender differences in sleep

disruption among retail food workers.” American Sociological Review 74.6 (2009): 989-


Petrick, Gabriella. “Lonely at the Top: Women Food-Service Executives.” Cornell Hotel and

Restaurant Administration Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 3, Sage Publications, June 1998, pp.

54–59, doi:10.1177/001088049803900311.

Whitaker, Jan. “From Patrons to Chefs, a History of Women in Restaurants.” Boston

Hospitality Review, vol. 3, no. 3, School of Hospitality Administration, Aug. 2015,

Zafar, Rafia. “The Signifying Dish: Autobiography and History in Two Black Women’s

Cookbooks.” Feminist Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 1999, pp. 449–469. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.


Fig. 1. “Vintage Betty Crocker: Perfect Vintage Cake Recipe.” Frugal SOS, Sara Noel, 31 Aug.


Fig. 2. Morioka, Lynne, et al. “Vintage Ads for the Ladies.” A Taste of General Mills, 2 Sept.


Fig 3. “Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay – Watch Episodes.” FOX,

Fig. 4. “Barefoot Contessa.” Food Network,

Food and the New England Environment: From early history to the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic

I grew up in a small, historic town on the coast of Massachusetts called Ipswich, named after Ipswich England when English settlers populated the area in the early 1600s. This area, along with the rest of coastal New England has a very rich and dynamic history with food. This region has a large variety of ecosystems and landscapes, all abundant with different species that have been used as food by humans for hundreds of years. In just a few miles you encounter ocean, beaches, marshes, wetlands, pastureland and forests. In the ocean, fish, lobster, and eels are abundant. On the shorelines, mudflats and marshes are clams, crabs, mussels, and oysters. Grassy fields provide a space for gardening and raising pasture animals, and the forest hosts game animals such as rabbits, turkey, and deer as well as rivers yielding freshwater fish.

I have always taken an interest in these landscapes and the culture behind the food that they provide. My family has taken advantage of these amazing food sources provided by this region for four generations. Therefore, I am interested in researching how Native Peoples and the English settlers used the food resources available to them in this region and how it shaped the food culture in coastal New England in relation to my families own history of “living off of the land” and how it has shaped our values and perspective towards food resources then and now.

Inhabitants of coastal New England have been able to use the area’s diverse and abundant ecosystems as a source of food security for hundreds of years. This research project is unique in that it provides a mix of historical and academic information as well as personal anecdotes from my family’s experience in this area. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders, I thought it would be useful to analyze the past and present relationship between New Englanders and their connection to food found in their environments. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, my family and other people in this area have an opportunity to use these ecosystems and the food that they provide in an attempt to combat food security, keeping in mind the lessons about resource limits that humans have met throughout our history in this area.


History and Food

Before the English settlers laid their claim on this region, the New England area was inhabited by Native peoples. At this time, the Native peoples obtained food solely from what was available in the surrounding environment. Across New England Native people “foraged seasonally for nuts, tubers, berries, and on the coast, the occasional stranded whale. They hunted deer waterfowl, and other game and harvested freshwater and saltwater shellfish and fish, including migrating herring and salmon” (Donahue et al, 2014: 4). When the English started to populate the area, they brought with them different cultural values towards food, and in most cases, viewed the food that the natives ate as second-class and were slow to adopt a lot of what was available to them into their diets, with the exception of when they faced food shortages (Stayley, 2004: 89). Through a historical analysis of the food eaten by both the Native peoples and the English settlers as well as the value that each group placed on the foods in the coastal New England region provides a very strong explanation for food culture in early history.

Native peoples used the marine ecosystems to their advantage before the arrival of the English settlers, they would gather fish and shellfish year-round (Stayley, 2004: 77). There is archeological evidence to show that Native peoples roasted or baked clams in oysters in shallow round pits usually lined with seaweed as a way of creating steam and heat so that the shellfish would open (Stayley, 2004: 78) However when the settlers arrived they took an entirely new perspective on these resources. It is a commonly known story that the early English Settlers had a very difficult time surviving the harsh winters due to food scarcity. This issue also occurred in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the settlers came over with their own set of ideas for what foods were considered acceptable based on their culture and the added: “Indian enthusiasm for clams [and other fish and shellfish] undoubtedly lowered their value in the English eyes” (Stayley, 2004: 89). As a result, there have been reports where, “with frequent periods of food scarcity in the early years of New England, the association of fish-eating with bad times was only strengthened (Stayley, 2004: 77). In a statement made by Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor, John Winthrop discussing the period of food scarcity in 1642, he lamented the fact that during this time, “many families were forced to live off clams, mussels and dry fish” (Stayley, 2004: 77).

After about a hundred years of the English settlers only eating shellfish out of necessity, they slowly began to be appreciated and adopted into New England cuisine while retaining their old associations with sustenance. In 1829, Lyndia Maria Child presented them in her cookbook as an “inexpensive everyday fare”, creating a recipe for boiled clams consisting of nothing but clams and water (Stayley, 2004: 90). Slowly, the reputation of shellfish began to improve and traditions of clambakes began to develop, however, clams were still considered a “recreational shellfish, appropriate for clambakes and other casual affairs, and not a food to offer guests at an important meal” (Stayley, 2004: 95). Finally, on July 3, 1916 the fried clam was invented by Lawrence ‘Chubby’ Woodman in Essex, MA and the dish has been a staple of New England culture and cuisine ever since (New England Historical Society, 2019). Now, clamming has turned into a significant industry, and to the people of the Cape Ann region, it provides economic survival (Harris, 2014).

Fishing also gradually became the first significant industry in New England as the years progressed. The early Native practices of groundfishing were quickly adopted by settlers who then adapted it to be more efficient, employing larger boats and more extensive fishing gear (NOAA, 2019). From the 1600s through the 1800s this fishing industry took off in the New England area, particularly the markets for mackerel and cod (Donahue et al, 2014, 5). From 1860 to 1910, fishing fleets expanded, landing millions of fish, creating a boom in the associated shipbuilding and fish processing businesses (Donahue et al., 2014: 6). Fishing was not only just an economic opportunity for coastal New England, in its early years, the maritime culture was also developed with importance placed upon “organized social drinking” (Stayley, 2004: 74). Like the clamming industry, the fishing industry transitioned from low-level food eaten only in times of struggle, to a booming industry that has created strong cultural and economic significance for the area (Tower, 1911: 284).

A third early source of food that has persisted since the Native peoples inhabited coastal New England are game animals such as deer, turkey, rabbit, and pheasant. Before the settlers arrived, Native peoples obtained fresh meat from “hunting the animals in their environment” which is what made up the majority of their diet (Stayley, 2004: 150). When arriving in New England, the settlers were again, not keen on this type of food because if its association with Native life (Stayley, 2004: 150). Even though the English had a “previous association with hunting and venison with the aristocracy”, because the act of hunting wild game was associated with Native peoples, they initially did not want anything to do with it. However, hunting did end up being quickly adopted because it was the most familiar way of obtaining food based off of their previous cultural views. In addition, it would have been very difficult to obtain any substantive food if the game, fish, and shellfish were all out of the picture.

Going forward, hunting was considered a very normal way of getting food, however, as livestock animals were quickly introduced back into New England culture, this practice became less of a necessity. Today, game animals like deer are considered pests and require hunting to keep the populations down for the survival of the forests (Donahue et al, 2014: 23). At present, the New England deer herd is about 600,000, with an annual harvest of only about 75,000 (Donahue et al, 2014: 23).

The final food source I researched is cultivated land in the New England area. Before the Settlers arrived, Native peoples mainly foraged for things like berries, nuts, and tubers and used a three-sister cropping method to grow and cultivate corn, beans, and squash. Upon arrival, the Settlers had a very different idea of what their crop production would look like which is what we see today in areas of New England that are still being farmed. In fact, America’s oldest working farm is in Ipswich, MA and the land continues to be farmed today (“Appleton Farms”, 2020). The farm was established in 1638 by Samuel Appleton for growing vegetables, corn, and hay and eventually expanded into beef and dairy (“Appleton Farms”, 2020). For the most part, early colonial farming was aimed at “household subsistence and exchange with neighbors” and typically did not expand past that point (Donahue et al, 2014: 5). Current New England food production follows a similar trend, food production has significantly declined in this region (Donahue et al, 2014: 7). Today, the only major sources of farming are dairy production in Vermont, cranberries in Massachusetts, and blueberries in Maine (Donahue et al, 2014: 7).


My Family and Food

Food and the culture surrounding it changed in a very interesting and rapid way as settlers came to the New England area. In the beginning, food was based on survival although these settlers did not want to associate themselves with the practices of the Native Peoples they had no choice, otherwise they would not be able to survive during times of food scarcity. From this struggle, a culture of foods native to this area began to develop as time went on. My own family has lived through generations where food was scarce and have in some ways mirrored historical development in terms of our relationship to food and how we utilize and view the food that is available in our surroundings, especially during times of economic hardship.

Following the history on my father’s side of the family back to 1942 when my grandfather was born. At this time, living in a rural area of Massachusetts money for fresh groceries was difficult to come by. So my grandfather learned how to hunt, garden, fish, and raise animals. Unlike the picky settlers of New England, there was no discrimination of what food was to be eaten due to cultural reasons. My grandfather learned at a very young age to use what was available in his surrounding environments to feed himself. He was practically raised outside, learning how to hunt shoot and skin animals, fishing, and gardening.

Fast forward to when my father and his siblings were born. Hunting and growing food was less of a necessity due to economic stability. By this time, my grandfather owned land as well as a machine shop in town, but he continued to hunt, fish, grow vegetables, and raise animals as more of a hobby than a necessity for food. He believed that it was very important for my father and uncle to learn these skills, so they spent their childhoods following him around and learning how to use what was provided by the surrounding environment to their advantage. Over time my father really grew to appreciate the areas diverse and abundant ecosystems and stayed in the New England area when he moved out of the house. Moving to a Ipswich, MA which is a culmination of the dense and diverse forest, streams, and agricultural land he was used to with the addition of the ocean and tidal zones that provide a second layer of local food potential.

In Ipswich, my father maintains hobbies such as open water fishing, shellfishing, clamming, hunting and gardening all in one area. At present, the use of hunted and fished foods has become more of a special treat in our family given that time is a significant factor in enjoying these foods. Since my father was able to go to college and has had a full-time job since, these activities have really become a hobby and a luxury that he enjoys when he has time to do so. My family now considers things like steamed clams, fresh oysters, fish, and meat luxury items that we enjoy on special occasions and that we share with people, unlike the early settlers who considered this type of fare simple, or second class.

Flash forward to the current 2020 pandemic, the local food items that we just a few months ago considered as a special treat may soon become a necessity as there are now per person limits to meat and fish in grocery stores. The upside to this situation is that, with the stay at home orders that accompany the pandemic, my family has more time to pursue these activities of hunting and producing our own food should grocery store food continue to be restricted. Since my family has more time to use the resources available to us, we have begun to expand our garden in order to produce more fresh food which can be scarce in the grocery stores. And my father and brother have more time to pursue fishing, shellfishing and hunting.

Looking back at my family’s history and values towards food living in coastal New England and mirroring it with the experience of the Native peoples and the English Settlers, it is clear that there is a place for people to use the local game land, fisheries, and fertile soil as a way of potentially combatting food security in this region. Inhabitants of coastal New England have been able to use this area’s diverse and abundant ecosystems as a source of food security for hundreds of years. With this current pandemic, people in this area have the opportunity to use these ecosystems and the food that they provide to improve their own food security.


Knowing the Limits

Between what I have discovered about colonial New England as well as my family’s own skills of hunting and fishing that have been developed over the years that could prove useful in this pandemic, the values and lessons learned from past years of dealing with food shortages and overfishing cannot go undiscussed. For example, many people worry that our agricultural food system will fail during the pandemic so they are turning to home gardening again to that resemble the victory gardens during World War I (Rao, 2020). The gardening people are doing today in an attempt to “build their own community-based food security” are similar to the colonial gardens that were meant to be a source of subsistence for households and their neighbors (Rao, 2020).

Another lesson to be learned from the colonial struggle with food security is the limits of the environment. Overfishing is the best example of exceeding the limits of the environment. As previously mentioned, mackerel and cod were the most sought after fish in the industry. However, when the fishing industry began to take off, the Atlantic cod, specifically, was fished to near extinction. This not only hurt the food supply but the overexploitation of the fisheries cause the fishing industry to shrink and it became difficult to “support historical fishing community such as Gloucester and New Bedford, Massachusetts” (NOAA, 2019). With the disappearance of many fish species the need to “reduce the impact of the food system on the environment” became urgent (Godfray, 2010: 812). This resulted in this creation of limits to the amount that a company or individual can harvest from the fisheries at a given time. For example, my family’s fishing license restricts us to two fish of at least 32 inches a day as well as regulations on what type of fishing equipment we are allowed to use. It has taken several decades for the Atlantic Cod to just begin to repopulate the area, which is not a mistake that should be made twice given what is now know about the limits to these environments.

A third, more relevant lesson is happening now to the clam populations in the Cape Ann area of Massachusetts. Due to varied environmental conditions as well as the gradual overfishing of these clams, the availability of clams in the area has been dwindling (Harris, 2014). The gradual decline of this resource has resulted in economic repercussions for those who dig clams for a living. Similar to the fishing industry, permits have been issued determining the maximum number of clams a person can dig depending on if they have a commercial or a recreational license, there is also a size requirement for the clams that you can collect. If a clam is under a certain length it has to go back, and if you are found with “illegal” sized clams you will be issued a fine. The same is true for deer and turkey populations in the area although there is less of a concern over underpopulation for those species.

The New England area has continued to provide excellent resources for the people living in the region to obtain food security. As exemplified by the history of settlers in this region, in times of food insecurity, it was the local food produced by the regions abundant ecosystems that got them through. Although these foods were only considered essential to survival and would not have been acceptable; otherwise, they were slowly adopted into the diets and food culture of the settlers. In the case of my own family, food obtained from our surroundings as always been valued, whether it be through a matter of necessity, a hobby, or considered a luxury. It has always been an important part of my family’s culture to be able to obtain food from the surrounding environment. In the face of this current pandemic, it is important to note that those much like my family who value and appreciate the food sources that are available in this region as a way of not only improving food security but as a way of providing mental clarity in these difficult times through tasks like hunting, fishing or gardening. Finally, since people will be turning to their surroundings for sources of food, the lessons that can be learned from past periods of overfishing and overharvesting are extremely important to consider in order to ensure that history does not repeat itself.




















Works Cited

“Appleton Farms”. Historic Ipswich: On The Massachusetts North Shore. Retrieved from


Donahue, B., Burke, J., Anderson, M., Beal, A., Kelly, T., Lapping, M., . . . Berlin, L. A New

England Food Vision: Healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing, thriving communities. Durham, NH: Food Solutions New England. 2014. Retrieved from,


Godfray, H. Charles J., et al. “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion

People.” Science, vol. 327, no. 5967, 2010, pp. 812–818. JSTOR, Accessed 10 Apr. 2020.


Harris, Gordon. “Clamming on Cape Ann”, On The Waterfront. 2014. Retrieved from


New England Historical Society. “The Invention of the Fried Clam. 2019. Retrieved from


NOAA. “A Brief History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England”. NOAA Fisheries,

  1. Retrieved from


Rao, Tejal. “Food Supply Anxiety Brings Back Victory Gardens.” The New York Times,

  1. Retrieved from


Stavely, Keith., and Kathleen. Fitzgerald. America’s Founding Food The Story of New England Cooking. The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.


Tower, Walter S. “Reviews : McFarland, Raymond. A History of the New England Fisheries”

The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 38, no. 3, Sage Publications, Nov. 1911, pp. 284–85, doi:10.1177/000271621103800337.



© 2020 The Food Experience

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Academic Technology services: GIS | Media Center | Language Exchange