An exploration in the history of biopolitics, "The Early American Table" offers a unique study of the ways in which the American diet was a democratic diet that had social and political consequences. According to the 17th- and 18th-century European understanding of the body, food affected the blood, bones, mind, and spirit in ways other social markers (e.g. clothes, manners, speech) did not because food was directly assimilated by the consumer. After a few decades of settlement, many of the English men and women who colonized North America enjoyed the unprecedented prosperity enabled by the fertile environment. Lower and middling families could set their tables with a greater variety and higher quality of food than their social counterparts in England. As a result, the differences between the diets of artisans and urban laborers, of plantation owners and small farmers, were not as great as the differences that existed between an aristocrat's and a laborer's dinner in England.
TRUDY EDEN is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa.