Food for the Working-class Americans

Factors that limited food choices for the working-class Americans in the 20th century

Abigail Carroll’s approach in analyzing the history of food in the United States is intriguing. Carroll argues that money was critical in determining food choices among Americans. However, with the agricultural developments during the industrial revolution, work schedules for the working-class affected their choice of food.[1] The working-class who worked in the agricultural and related industries chose food that was consistent with the program. For example, the concept of dinner was established after the working-class had adequate time to socialize with the family during the evenings. The demands of the industrial revolution to have the workers be at their respective workplaces made it difficult for the working-class to have home-based lunch.[2]

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In this regard, the idea of having packed lunch in the form of sandwiches and cold staples served at cafeterias resulted in fast-foods among the working-class. Religious beliefs and cultures have always been part of conventional and modern food choices. Majority of the working class during the twentieth century continued upholding to religious and cultural values about food choices. The influence of the European culture compared to conventional food choices of the tribal Americans had an impact on the working-class. The relaxed social rules during the twentieth century were critical to the choice of food among the working-class. Perhaps, this can be explained by the growing obsession for food among the Americans since the twentieth century. The idea of succumbing to taste preferences caused a change of attitude regarding unconventional foods.

Options used by working-class Americans to get food

The economic and social demands for the working-class Americans led to new food choices. The working-class opted for ready-to-eat meals and snacks. The choice of food among the working class was determined by price, convenience, and availability.[3] The impact of industrialization and development of the media made the working-class eat mass-advertised food products, as well as processed foods. Also, the working class got food from bakeries, canteens, lunchrooms, lunch clubs, tin dinner pail, and street pushcarts. Sometimes, the working class took packed lunch prepared from home or had their children bring food, especially lunch at the workplace.

The difference between the working-class and the wealthier citizens’ options was based on cultural, social, and economic factors. They need to eat healthy foods among the rich was evidenced by the state-of-the-art kitchen and hearths.[4] The wealthy did not like the mess associated with food preparation, as evidenced among the working-class citizens. In this regard, the wealthy only visited expensive eateries for dinner or lunch. The separation of the kitchen and the main residence implied the importance of well-prepared food. The social demarcation between the working-class and the wealthy explains the hierarchy of agricultural plantations. Food was cooked and prepared in sets while the tables were arranged in a dining place covered with clean clothing.

Benefits of the industrialized and processed food for the working-class Americans

According to Carroll, industrialized and processed food had its positive and negative impact on the working-class Americans. The working-class Americans viewed the processed as convenient due to the pressure of conforming to new social and economic environments.[5] Accessing ready-made food and buying the same at a lower price was hailed as a positive development that benefited the working-class. However, industrialized and processed food was later associated with the consumption of chemicals and preservatives. Over the years, the prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes was associated with processed food[6]. However, recent developments on the same refuted the claims that eliminated public health risks and food contamination issues.


[1] Abigail Carroll, Three squares: The invention of the American meal (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 26.

[2] Ibid., 27.

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[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Ibid, 48.


Carroll, Abigail. Three squares: The invention of the American meal. New York: Basic Books, 2013.

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