Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

Reforming Tastes: Taste as a Print Aesthetic in American Cookery Writing

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Jaime Harker

Second Advisor

Julia Ehrhardt

Third Advisor

Peter Reed

Abstract

Many eighteenth-century philosophers such as Kant and Hume worked to develop discourses of taste as a means of standardizing cultural behaviors. Using physical taste as a metaphor for aesthetic perception and judgment, these writers could both define and abstract group boundaries. As American writers worked to distinguish their nation from their British forebears, many recognized the utility of taste-based discourse and worked to develop cultural tastes around shared principles of egalitarianism and democracy. Cookbooks and domestic writing soon engaged these discourses, as it was the task of women to cultivate a virtuous citizenry, and—through domestic print culture—to demonstrate the deleterious effect of unrestrained individual appetites on the progress of an American public. Cookbooks, however, complicate the metaphor of taste by their necessary emphasis on the physical body, its appetites and limitations. A study of cookbooks exposes methods of constructing of cultural tastes; cookbooks are thus essential to a complete examination of the development of American tastes. Throughout the nineteenth century, domestic writers engaged and developed discourses of taste in cookery writing in order to dictate cultural standards based on their material counterparts, be they food or consumer habits. They worked to classify society based on performance of these tastes. This discourse allowed cookbook authors access to public debate on a variety of topics, from national politics to religious movements. Since its development as a significant component of early American print culture, cookery writing has exercised its public potential by manipulating taste, a function of both nature and culture, to engineer specific social behaviors or to define and critique group boundaries. No other print documents depict more fully the complex negotiation of individual and social body that this discussion requires. Taste is a function of the individual that requires a communal system of language to convey. It is a natural function of the human body that can also shape the social body. The use of taste to represent and convey cultural ideologies rests on this paradox.

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