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Environmental Studies

Why Did Americans Stop Eating Locally?

Story posted September 01, 2014

Event date(s): September 01, 2014 — September 01, 2015

New York City clam vendor, 1900

Thursday, September 11, 2014 7:00 P.M.
Smith Auditorium, Sills Hall

In his talk Matthew Booker will explore why urban Americans radically changed their diets in the twentieth century. Tracing the American diet from local oysters to long-distance burgers, he will suggest ways we can learn from this history as we rethink today's and tomorrow's food.

Dr. Booker's work examines the intersection between human beings and the natural world in North America, with a particular focus on the coastal regions. Booker's book Down by the Bay: San Francisco's History between the Tides (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013), is the first history of the West's largest estuary and oldest and densest city. In his current project, he is researching the history of the oyster industry in the United States during the industrial and urban revolutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Oysters are a window onto a bigger transformation, Booker says as he imagines "why did urban Americans lose faith in local food in the twentieth century?" He began writing up that research in summer 2014 as a Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center, Munich. With Chad Ludington he is editing a new volume in food history, Food Fights: How the Past Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, which builds on a national food history conference we organized in 2012.

Dr. Booker will also give a workshop on digital history techniques: "Digital History for Everyone", Friday, Sept 12 from 10:30-12:00. For more information on this workshop, contact Rosie Armstrong (rarmstro@bowdoin.edu).

A native of Northern California, Matthew Booker descends from Maine businesspeople (by way of Bellingham, Washington) on his mother's side and Virginia tobacco farmers (by way of Independence, Texas) on his father's side. He has been through a variety of educational institutions, including an inner-city nursery school, grades K-8 in a tiny rural school, a suburban Catholic high school, the University of California at Berkeley, Hindu College at the University of Delhi, India, the University of Oregon in Eugene, the University of Washington in Seattle, and Stanford University. Before, during and between schools, he has worked with varying success as a bus driver, wine server, carpenter, landscaper, tile-setter's assistant, title insurance examiner, field ecologist, and newspaper editor.

Dr. Booker is an associate professor of history at North Carolina State University. He received a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University, an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon, and a BA in History of the University of California, Berkeley.