Penelope Bingham


Who Cooks? American Cookbooks and Changes in Gender Roles


American cookbooks--their authors, their implied audience, the social structure implicit in their recipes and meal plans--tell the story of the changes in the role of women and social structure in 20th century America. The cookbook is much more than a "how-to" manual; it documents the expectations for "good food" and for a "good cook." Looking at the century's most popular cookbooks brings to light its changing values. This program invites the audience to think about the links between who cooks our food and how our society is structured.



P: 312-951-0202



About Penelope



Personal Interests:

Nutrition; Cooking; Homer and Homeric Greek: for nearly a decade, I have been learning Homeric Greek and reading The Iliad and The Odyssey at the Graham School of the University of Chicago.

Professional Interests:

I am particularly interested in the stories American cookbooks of the last two centuries tell about American culture and identity.

Why did you become interested in your topic?

I'm interested in the ways in which food, and particularly cookbooks, shed light on American culture and our identity as Americans. I've always loved food, and I've always loved books: cookbooks are where those two loves meet. Cookbooks are much more than how-to manuals. They are primary documents which reveal our values at the time they were written, both in terms of what we think we should eat and what the characteristics of the ideal cook (read: "woman" or, more likely, "wife" until very recently!) are. I have been exploring the various connections between American cookbooks and American culture ever since I realized that my own cookbook collection had stories to tell about the changes both in my own life and in the world around me. Since then, I've added to that collection, and I've had the opportunity, as a Road Scholar, to share the fruits of these explorations with groups throughout Illinois, and have learned that talking about food, recipes, and cookbooks is a wonderful way to initiate conversations about American culture and history!

What do you love about the place you call "home"?

I love living in downtown Chicago! Chicago is a beautiful city, with world-class museums, opera, symphony, universities, zoos -- where does one stop? And it is also a city of great diversity, with commensurate variety in food: wonderful!