Reflecting and Reifying Class Stratification

I had another thought about the overall exhibit theme when I was driving today…  Through the lens of food, we could talk about how each of these modes of travel have contributed to or reified class stratification in the United States.

We see it in ship travel, particularly in how the fees charged by commercial lines for steerage passage paid for luxury travel.  According to some of the reading Elena and I have done, steerage was the money maker and made ocean crossings like the Titanic possible.  I didn’t know that – I just figured the rich were paying for their vacations.  In fact, the money collected from steerage customers and the fact that the companies spent very little for their accommodations made trans-oceanic a lucrative business.   From the menus alone, we have a compelling argument for the division of classes.

Are the other groups finding similar accounts in their research?

I just wanted to type this out before I lost my flash of organizing thoughts.  It’s not really a complete proposal, but just something that came to me while I was driving.  I think it’s going to be a little tricky tying all of our narratives together, but 1) exoticization and its contribution to a distinctly American view of the world and 2) class stratification, we have both an external and internal discussion of food ways and the ways they inform our understanding of United States cultural and social history.

Thoughts?  Am I completely off?


Poem to Dining Car Food

From Dining by Rail by James D. Orterfield

Cheaper & Faster: the move to prepared foods….

From the February 1953 edition of Trains & Travel: In 1951 Merle J. Reynolds was asked to look int Rock Island railroad’s dining car losses-“for every $1 of revenue, the railroads laid out $1.38 in direct expenses…Reynolds quickly put his finder on the biggest “why” of Rock Island’s dining car losses: supplies were issued to diners in bulk for cooking and serving with no accounting or cost control.  About 60 percent of food costs was sheer waste- steak chops, vegetables or other perishables stocked in the gallery and lost because of spoilage.”

So to find a more cost effective solution for train travel, Reynolds talks to the big airlines companies such as American, Transworld, and the Air Force to learn how to effectively serve “precooked frozen food- from soup to dessert- scientifically prepared, stored, and then correctly ‘re-stored’ for serving.”

And thus began Rock lsland transitioned from offering an extensive extravagant menu (“one of the delights of rail travel – a juicy steak with all the trimmings eaten while skimming the high iron at 80 miles an hour”) to cheap fast food (“pre-cooked-frozen-and restored”).  The transition required new kitchen equipment such as propane-gas warming ovens and deep freeze boxes, and trainings for staff.  Linens, silver, and china were traded in for paper mats and napkins.

The changes in menu and food successfully helped to trim Rock Island’s budget deficit.  At the time only Rock Island and the C&O were experimenting with frozen food, and so Rock Island shared its new approach to food with other train lines… “Needless to say, the entire railroad industry is watching the Rock Island experiment with eagle eyes.  Reynolds held open house at the comissary for dining-car superintendents during their annual conclave in Chicago and answered questions freely.  The only secret of the new operation, in fact, is the recipe for Rocket Pudding, a rich dessert concocted by culinary experts especially for the frozen-food service.”

On the Train Track…

Hello FOTM-ers,

Here’s some general history on trains, food, and the rise of the dining car…

In the early 19th century railroad companies were unconcerned with feeding their customers on board, focusing instead on the getting customers to their destination.  Trains would stop at different junctions and transfer stations where local diners and vendors would serve customers.

An initial effort to including dining on board began as early as1838 and expanded during the Civil War as trains transported wounded soldiers, the train dining experience didn’t really begin unti 1867 when George Pullman creates the first “hotel car” on the Great Western Railway of Canada.  These early dining cars were extraordinarily elegant and generally operated at a loss for the railroad, but they were an important marketing tool to encourage wealthy passengers to ride the trains.   Pullman’s dining cars revolutionized the dining on trains, and new technology gradually allowed for a variety of meal types (from decadent to a snack) to be served to a range of customers at different prices.

A description of the kitchen on a Pullman car: “With a kitchen measuring three by six feet, a pantry, wine cellar built into one end, and a crew of four or five, it offered an extensive menu for its size…the pullman hotel car carried 133 food items, a wine chest under the floor, 1,000 napkins, and 150 table clothes, and the china, glassware, and utensils needed to serve on a trip of from four to seven days’ length.  While meals were to be served, tables were installed at the seating sections and the porter became the waiter.”

The Pullman company was a large employer of African Americans (the rise of the dining car and the end of the Civil War coincide).  In the 1920s, the Pullman company was the largest single employer of African American men.  For some working in the dining car provided upward mobility, for others, work as a porter reinforced segregation and power dynamics between whites and blacks.

Below is the cover of a cookbook that just came in for me thanks to Brown’s interlibrary loan (and is also in the J&W collection).  Its a cookbook by the chef Rufus Estes, a former slave who worked as a chef on the extravagant Pullman dining cars in the late 19th century.  I’m excited to leaf through his recipes, and I’ll be sure to share a few!

Reference for the Railway Folks

I came across this while looking for stuff on food and ocean liners.  Thought it might be of interest to the railroad folks.  The Amazon link is here and the Google Books link is here.