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ISU Professor's Talk On Depression-Era Eating Gets National Audience

Christopher Gannon
courtesy of ISU
A C-SPAN crew films an ISU lecture on eating during the Great Depression.

An Iowa State University professor’s lecture on what people ate during the Great Depression will be getting an audience well beyond her classroom.

History professor Pamela Riney-Kehrberg teaches a class called America Eats, which she describes as a food history of the United States. It caught the attention of C-SPAN, which filmed her this fall giving a lecture on the Great Depression.

Riney-Kehrberg says both food and the Great Depression seem to be topics that interest a broad array of people, which is why it felt like a good fit for C-SPAN’s national audience.

“I hope it makes them think more seriously about issues like food insecurity and what it means to be poor and to remember that the past is not the good old days,” she says. “I really want people to think seriously about the bumps, the bruises, the difficulties that every generation faces.”

For some, that included eating potato peels as a meal or subsisting on little more than macaroni, eggs and potatoes.

Riney-Kehrberg says people often take their present comforts for granted. And she also noticed that during the more recent recession, many people seemed to have a misguided sense of what the 1930s was like.

“When the Recession started, now it’s almost 10 years ago, I heard a lot of people saying, it’s just like the Great Depression,” Riney-Kehrberg says. “But all you had to do was think about how Americans did or didn’t eat during the 1930s to understand it was a completely different situation.”

Back then, she says, poor people had almost no food because they couldn’t afford to buy anything. More recently, people ate cheap food with little nutritional value, but they did at least have something to eat.

Her lecture will be broadcast on CSPAN 3’s “Lectures in American History” on Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames