Fast Eating In a Go-Ahead Nation



By Atom Bergstrom

Atom’s Blog


Food has always been abundant in the U.S.

Americans have had a tendency to overeat and under-chew from the get-go.

As Vice President, John Adams acquired the name His Rotundity because he was both overweight and pompous.


John Bell, M.D. (“On Regimen and Longevity: Comprising Materia Alimentaria, National Dietetic Usages, and the Influence of Civilization on Health and the Duration of Life,” The Medico-Chirurgical Review, No. 41, 1844) wrote …

“In the United States of America, according to Dr. Bell, the alimentary products are most abundant, and their consumption placed within the means of nearly all classes. Even the slave population of the South is better fed than the peasantry of any part of continental Europe, and luxuriously compared with a large proportion of the operatives in Great Britain. A full supply of animal food, usually bacon or salt pork and salt fish, with corn bread, is allowed to the slave; to which is added, either the Irish, or still more commonly farther South, the sweet potato; and, instead of corn, rice in the lower districts of Carolina and Georgia. In Virginia and the West, fresh meat is given to them not unfrequently. To most of them is allotted a piece of ground (a patch) for a garden, in which they grow sundry vegetables and fruits for their own use, and not seldom for that of their masters, by whom they are paid at a fair price. Poultry and eggs, which they also have of their own, are more generally sold by them, either to their master’s family or at the nearest village or court-house; and with the money they purchase groceries and other minor luxuries, or articles of personal adornment. The fruit, which they raise in the largest quantities for their own consumption and for sale, is the water-melon. The house slaves partake of the fare of their superiors, with the exception of a more restricted use of wheat bread; but this cannot be called a privation among a people with whom, as in the case of those of the South and West, maize is the bread corn, and the preferred one of the country.

“If this be the diet of the slaves, that of the free white population ought to be most luxurious. In fact the author owns ‘that the people of the United States are in a large majority of them, over-fed.’ The artisan in the city, and even the hired labourer in the country, eats meat oftener in the day than many of the farmers, owners of the land, in France, and substantial renters on the shores in Italy, eat in the week. Dr. Bell estimates that for every pound of beef or veal consumed in Great Britain, there are nearly three pounds consumed in the United States.

“Having so much to eat, of course such a ‘go-ahead’ nation considers it necessary not to waste too much time in masticating it; the following description of a Yankee meal being by an American, cannot be considered as exaggerated or prejudiced.

“‘With such a superabundance, as I have already said, of aliment of all kinds procurable by all classes above destitution, it is natural that the Americans should be great eaters; one man consuming as much animal food in a day as would support three labouring men in Europe; and, together with vegetables and bread, taking also his glass of milk and no small quantity of pie or pudding, with often fruit afterwards. A man in harvest time, in almost any of the States, eats at his three meals, more, in nutritive amount, than would constitute luxurious living for eight East Indian or Chinese palanquin bearers for a week. In addition to the quantity, the time for consumption of food by our people is surprising, the latter being, however, in its brevity, in the inverse ratio of the former. Often, also, the rapidity with which a meal is dispatched seems but a signal for entire cessation from all labour, even that of thought, for some time afterwards. Thus, it is common enough for men of active business habits to make an onslaught on a well furnished table for about five to ten minutes, during which brief period they swallow, we will not say masticate, for they seem to consider their teeth as quite unnecessary instruments, with a fearful rapidity, parts of half a dozen of dishes. This feat accomplished, for really a simple Hindoo or Chinese would suppose it must be a piece of jugglery, these thankless consumers of the gifts of Providence, in place of rushing out from the table to their several marts of trade, as their first inordinate haste would seem to indicate, will be seen to seat themselves very leisurely, and, with their feet up and head thrown back, to puff away at their segars, for the next hour, with a gravity and an appearance of want of all care, which would do credit to the most orthodox follower of Mohamed, when enjoying his modicum of opium, and perchance dreaming the while of his being suddenly made a pasha of three tails, and having the plunder of a province at his disposal. But not to smoking only or to the more noxious in itself, and more obnoxious to others, chewing of tobacco, do our people rely for helping digestion, as they call it, and for rousing their dormant sensibilities after their anaconda repast.'”

'Fast Eating In a Go-Ahead Nation' have 3 comments

  1. November 11, 2016 @ 9:51 am Atom

    “What can I do for this rash on my finger?” a housewife asked.

    She held up her left ring finger, expecting me to recommend something like aloe vera.

    I answered her question with a question. “What’s the first color you think of when you think of the rash?”


    “What decision do you have to make about a commitment to a man?”

    She pondered for only a few seconds. “It’s my husband. He wants me to help him develop his real estate business, but I want to do therapy like Adano.”

    “The color is yellow, and that’s decision. So it really doesn’t matter WHAT you decide, only that you decide. All that matters is that you make the decision itself.”

    “I don’t have any clients yet, so I might as well help him with his business. I’ll find some clients, and do therapy later.”

    Her husband came home from the office a half hour or so later. He asked, “Did you ask [Atom] about your rash?”

    “Yes,” she replied, holding up her hand. “It’s completely gone.”–illustrated.php


  2. November 11, 2016 @ 9:54 am Atom

    Warren J. Belasco (Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took On the Food Industry, Second Updated Edition, 1989, 1993, 2007) wrote …

    “In 1974 we moved to Washington, D.C., and immediately scouted the food supply. Safeway and Giant owned the town, but the best co-op was said to be run by a collective of Nicaraguan revolutionaries; they cleared out at the end of the decade, and the place later reopened as a French bistro, befitting the gentrification of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood. Other exiles arrived — Ethiopians, Indochinese, Salvadoreans, Afghans, Jamaicans, Cubans — all making D.C. a much more interesting place to eat. The farmers’ market near our Capitol Hill apartment was pretty expensive, so we tried growing our own, which greatly annoyed our landlord — probably, we concluded, because he worked for the CIA. But the prodigious eggplants and peppers did impress our black neighbors, who were the only other people to grow food out front. In 1979 we bought a house in semihip Takoma Park and were able to go organic in peace.”

    Takoma Park was known as The Berkeley of the East and The People’s Republic of Takoma Park in the 1960s and 1970s.


  3. November 11, 2016 @ 9:56 am Atom

    Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, 2006) wrote …

    “One would expect to find a comparatively high proportion of carbon 13 in the flesh of people whose staple food of choice is corn — Mexicans, most famously. Americans eat much more wheat than corn — 114 pounds of wheat flour per person per year, compared to 11 pounds of corn flour. The Europeans who colonized America regarded themselves as wheat people, in contrast to the native corn people they encountered; wheat in the West has always been considered the most refined, or civilized, grain. If asked to choose, most of us would probably still consider ourselves wheat people (except the proud corn-fed Midwesterners, and they don’t know the half of it), though by now the whole idea of identifying with a plant at all strikes us as a little old-fashioned. Beef people sounds more like it, though nowadays chicken people, which sounds not nearly so good, is probably closer to the truth of the matter. But carbon 13 doesn’t lie, and researchers who have compared the isotopes in the flesh or hair of North Americans to those in the same tissues of Mexicans report that it is now we in the North who are the true people of corn. ‘When you look at the isotope ratios,’ Todd Dawson, a Berkeley biologist who’s done this sort of research, told me, ‘we North Americans look like corn chips with legs.’ Compared to us, Mexicans today consume a far more varied carbon diet: the animals they eat still eat grass (until recently, Mexicans regarded feeding corn to livestock as a sacrilege); much of their protein comes from legumes; and they still sweeten their beverages with cane sugar.

    “So that’s us: processed corn, walking.”


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