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Madeline Herec Explains The American Recipe Project

The Inspiration for this project grew out of a several tiny seeds of thought. I was watching a lot of TV related to food and found myself wishing that I felt the same connection to this programming as you do when you read food literature or are told a story about a recipe by a friend or family member. It was not the sensual experience of the food I was craving as much as its history, its place in culture, its subtexts, and most importantly, the people connected to the food: who makes it, where, when, and how.

Food is meaningless without people. However, with people, food becomes a powerful thread of life that can grow and remain unbroken through generation after generation, through war, bad economies, cross-continental moves and changing times. Food is not just a necessary component to our survival, but a conduit for our culture and our beliefs, and a mode of expression that can show each other how we love, how we work, and how we live. Family recipes become some of the most important clues to show people of the future how the people in the past lived, and gives them a tangible, reproducible connection to understand and be part of it in a visceral way.

There was a particular piece of literature that I thought of in reference to all this, a WPA writers project called “America Eats”. Although the piece was never published, it was completed and stored in the Library of Congress, and is an amazing snapshot of what Americans across the country were eating (and many family recipes) pre-World War II before the advent of many highways, restaurant chains, or the type of burger-and-fries fare that we consider quintessentially “American” today. It occurred to me that no such collective stock has been taking of what Americans are eating now, or more interestingly, what family recipes and regional fare has survived to the present. It also occurred to me that a great many waves of immigrants (including some of my own ancestors) have made their way to this country since America Eats was written, and I wondered how the food landscape had been influenced by this. America has changed greatly, how has our canon of food, of family recipes? Finding the answers to these questions was the other seed of inspiration for making this a project which would strive to involve family recipes and people from all over the country.

Taking all of this into account, this project strives to achieve the following goals:

ONE

To tell the stories of family recipes and those who make them in a way that examines not only the food, but its connections to the past, present and future.

TWO

To build a body of knowledge surrounding family recipes so that we may better examine how they contribute to and influence our national culture.

THREE

To encourage people everywhere to record and share their family recipes, and write about their history and experiences connected to them.

I hope that you will enjoy our webisodes, blog, recipe-sharing app, resources, and other media on the site. I also hope that it will inspire you to share your own food history, and to examine how it relates to our culture and our world!

Best,

Madeline Herec

Creator, The American Recipe Project