Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro

51IOoHpidDL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Nonfiction — print. University of California Press, 2009. Originally published 1986. 284 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century”, Shapiro’s book spends sometime discussing the role of domestic scientists and home economics on the “modernization” of American’s diet during the turn of the twentieth century.

But modernization comes in the form of  such “food” items as toasted marshmallows stuffed with raisins and perfection salad. The book also discusses how the burgeoning field of home economics provided an opportunity for American women to participate in the realm of men, who left home to work, without actually being labeled feminists or revolutionaries themselves.

“The women who chose domestic science had no quarrel with women’s rights, but neither did they have any desire to call themselves feminists. They wanted a career and they needed a cause, but they weren’t interested in breaking very many rules, reordering society, or challenging men on their own turf. What they really wanted was access to the modern world, the world of science, technology, and rationality, and they believed the best way for women to gain access was to re-create man’s world in women’s sphere.” (pg. 9)

The book states on the back cover that it will tell the “remarkable story of America’s transformation from a nation of honest appetites into a obedient market for instant mashed potatoes”, but I found this book to be nothing like the back describes. It’s more about the foundation of cooking schools in America, particularly the Boston area, and the attempts to control and sterilize cooking by home economists with low opinions of both food and the women who cooked it.

All of this mind, I still did not like the book. I found Shapiro’s book to be incredibly dense and disorganized; I wasn’t sure if the author was attempting to follow things chronologically or thematically. I was expecting the book to cover the rise of frozen TV dinners and instant mashed potatoes, and was sorely let down because very little covered in the book actually interested me. Much of the book is repetitive too.

One comment

  1. Hmm, that’s disappointing. I found a used copy of Perfection Salad years ago, and it’s been patiently waiting on my shelf for quite some time now. I liked the title and the description, but if they’re not so accurate, this book may not make it through my next book purge.


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