Peter Lesniczak. Alte Landschaftsküchen im Sog der Modernisierung: Studien zu einer historischen Ernährungsgeographie Deutschlands zwischen 1860 und 1930. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2003. 411 S. ISBN 978-3-515-08099-6.
Peter Lesniczak. Alte Landschaftskuechen im Sog der Modernisierung: Studien zu einer Ernaehrungsgeographie Deutschlands zwischen 1860 und 1930. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2003. 411 pp.
Reviewed by Elaine Glovka Spencer (Department of History, Northern Illinois University)
Published on H-German (November, 2004)
Germany as Culinary Mosaic
Published as part of a series focused on the history of everyday life, Peter Lesniczak's Alte Landschaftkuechen im Sog der Modernisierung details changes in Germany in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries relating to that most essential and universal of daily activities: the preparation and consumption of food. Eating, as Lesniczak is well aware, is not only a physical necessity but also an activity to which great social and cultural significance attaches. Food is commonly shared with others. When, in what manner, and with whom that sharing of sustenance takes place can tell us much about a society. Social reformers, government bureaucrats, and scholars from a wide variety of disciplines have been attracted to the study of food, inquiring as to its availability and nutritional qualities, the quantities consumed, its preparation and presentation, and its symbolic associations. Lesniczak, well-versed in the relevant scholarly literature, cites in his introduction an array of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of food as he launches his own exhaustive account of alterations in what was eaten by whom in the Germany of the Second Empire and the Weimar Republic.
Social status, occupation, gender, age, the changing seasons, local resources, and customs are among the major determinants of who eats how much of what, when, and under what circumstances. Lesniczak addresses, in varying degrees, all of these sources of variation but his main interest is the relationship between food and geography. He sets himself the daunting task of examining, region by region, the whole of Germany. His goal is to piece together in great detail a culinary mosaic, one which, however, is far from fixed but is rearranged over time as those who prepared and consumed food opted either to adopt or resist innovations.
Lesniczak discusses forces for change primarily in terms of urbanization and industrialization. The chronological limits for his study, 1860 to 1930, he chose as encompassing decades during which Germany experienced particularly dramatic transformation in this direction. Lesniczak does not attempt to give equal coverage to this entire period. Instead, he emphasizes three periods of very unequal length: the years from 1860 to 1895, the last years before the First World War, and the last years before the economic tribulations of the 1930s. This selection has a twofold rationale. First, Lesniczak wishes to circumvent the distortions represented by such particularly disruptive upheavals as the First World War and its immediate aftermath, and the Great Depression and the rise of the Third Reich. Second, his choice reflects the availability of sources. The first chronological focus, 1860 to 1895, is so much longer than the other two because the available sources are thin and scattered. For the other two periods, the years centered on 1910 and on 1927-1928, more concentrated and comprehensive sources permit a narrower chronological focus. Lesniczak's account of the years around 1910 draws first and foremost on a nation-wide collection of household accounts, mostly generated by big city working-class families. For the late Weimar period, he relies extensively on another nation-wide collection of household budgets, this time gathered not only from working-class but also from white-collar and civil-service families.
Lesniczak stresses that his study has the virtue, compared to many earlier works, of making use of a wide variety of sources. He takes great care to identify the kinds of evidence he uses and to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. In an early section of his work focused on regional variations in the consumption of basic commodities, he stresses the problems inherent in relying on official statistics. Lesniczak finds more reliable and revealing the information drawn from household budgets. Because of the lack of a homogeneous and reliable basis for comparing regional variations in consumption, Lesniczak opts not to make use of statistical analysis.
Beyond production statistics and household budgets, Lesniczak looks for evidence of regional variations in food choices and preparation in cookbooks and magazine articles. He notes, however, the gulf between the contents of cookbooks and what most people actually put on their tables, especially on normal workdays. Although many of the cookbooks Lesniczak examines have regional designations in their titles, this reflected more the hoped-for market for the works than the source of the recipes included. In examining cookbooks, Lesniczak pays particular attention to those which appeared in multiple editions. Comparing different editions suggests when new foods and new culinary techniques were introduced.
For Lesniczak, much more important as sources than per capita statistics and normative literature like cookbooks are those materials that record what families actually included in their daily meals. In addition to information collected by various government and social agencies, Lesniczak makes extensive use of autobiographies, particularly for the years from 1860 to 1895. Lesniczak worked his way through an impressive number of reminiscences from all parts of Germany. Even so, the resulting account remains largely impersonal. Lesniczak tells his readers in some detail what a broad range of individuals recorded eating but little about their reflections about food and its place in their lives.
Lesniczak's extended region-by-region survey of Germany for the 1860 to 1895 period represents the core of his book. The pre-World War I and late-Weimar periods receive much briefer coverage, with the focus on changes from regional patterns already noted from the nineteenth century. Lesniczak describes the late-nineteenth century as a time of marked changes in food consumption, although the rate and nature of changes varied greatly from one part of Germany to another. The primary catalyst for change, Lesniczak asserts, was bourgeois influence emanating from Germany's cities. Food innovations taken up by well-to-do big city dwellers spread at varying rates to smaller towns and the countryside, usually beginning with Sunday and holiday meals. Improvements in the production, transportation, and preservation of food; rising real wages; the migration of populations; and efforts by government agencies and social reformers to indoctrinate rural and working-class cooks fostered the adoption of bourgeois culinary practices. Lesniczak, who prefers the complex to the simple, hastens to add that the changes were far from uniform throughout Germany and reminds his readers of the many remaining regional variations.
The most common marker of change identified by Lesniczak for the late-nineteenth century was the substitution of coffee and bread for porridge for breakfast. Additionally, meat became an increasingly common part of the daily menu. Once common practices such as the whole household eating from the same dish became less prevalent. Still, Lesniczak hastens to add, significant differences remained. Poorer families, for example, might indeed switch to coffee and bread for breakfast but would not as a consequence be eating the same meal as their more affluent counterparts. Their coffee would likely be brewed from some kind of surrogate rather than from expensive coffee beans; their bread would probably not be made from wheat but rather from a range of less costly grains; and the spread on their bread would usually be margarine or lard rather than butter. For those of limited means, more meat in the diet was likely to mean sausage rather than roasts or cutlets, sausage being not only cheaper but also easier to preserve and prepare.
Lesniczak's volume is impressive in the amount of information collected and the care with which it is presented. The region by region, source by source assembly of his culinary mosaic does, however, as he himself admits, entail much repetition and will likely discourage all but specialists. The lack of an index will prove a hindrance to anyone wishing to trace changes in a given location. In the body of his work, the wealth of detail often threatens to take over entirely, with theoretical considerations largely confined to his introduction and conclusion. Lesniczak nevertheless succeeds in conveying the diversity of eating patterns in Germany in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, offering many intriguing insights into what ordinary people ate and how they structured their meals.
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Elaine Glovka Spencer. Review of Lesniczak, Peter, Alte Landschaftsküchen im Sog der Modernisierung: Studien zu einer historischen Ernährungsgeographie Deutschlands zwischen 1860 und 1930 and
Peter Lesniczak, Alte Landschaftskuechen im Sog der Modernisierung: Studien zu einer Ernaehrungsgeographie Deutschlands zwischen 1860 und 1930.
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