History Slam Episode Seventeen: The Rise of American Restaurants, and Northern History Week

By Sean Graham

“Remember when you first went out to eat with your parents? Remember, it was such a treat to go and they serve you this different food that you never saw before, and they put it in front of you, and it was such a delicious and exciting adventure?” Despite the negativity that followed this question, Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes nicely sums up the romance and novelty of going to a restaurant as a kid. For many adult North Americans, however, this romance has been replaced by routine as restaurants now provide a nearly indispensable service.

In the first part of this two-part episode of the History Slam I talk with Kelly Erby of Washburn University about the rise of the American restaurant industry in the middle of the 19th century. Largely a product of the industrial revolution, restaurants fundamentally changed patterns of consumption and led to the construction of the meal as a significant part of familial relationships. We chat about the race and class factors that influenced restaurants, the concerns from social reformers, and the socializing nature of food in American life.

In part two, we discuss Northern History Week here at activehistory.ca with Heather Moore of the National Arts Centre. Heather is the Producer of Northern Scene, a ten-day celebration of northern artists and performers at the NAC. She talks about what people can expect from the festival and how her perception of the North has changed in putting together the line-up.

Activehistory.ca’s Northern History Week will begin on Monday April 29, coinciding with Northern Scene. Over the course of the week, we will feature pieces by some of the top historians of the North. These articles will examine various topics from life in the North, from artistic representations of the region, to the political significance of maintaining arctic sovereignty. In addition, a new episode of the History Slam podcast will accompany each of these articles. The episodes will feature conversations with people involved in Northern Scene and will highlight the artistry of the North while examining how art reflects the region’s heritage.

Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has previously studied at Nipissing University, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Regina and like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.

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