On Wednesday, Emily Twarog, director of the Regina V. Polk Women’s Labor Leadership Conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, gave a lecture on her book as part of the Diversity Lecture Series at K-State in the Hemisphere Room at Hale Library.
Twarog’s book is entitled “Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America.”
“My goal was really to show how women use their everyday lives to exert political pressure and to gain a political identity,” Twarog said.
Twarog said the topic of her book emerged during her research while in graduate school. As she dug through archives at universities across the country — the Kansas State University Consumer Movement Archives specifically — she said she noticed there was a lack of “intersectionality” between historians of the labor movement, the women’s movement and other civil rights campaigns in the 20th century.
Twarog said by looking at history through a singular perspective, historians miss that the home was at the center of it all and more specifically food. She said her book “looks at food — very specifically, it looks at meat — as a protest tool.”
“[The book] shifts the focus away from the workforce protest and dissension and looks to the home front as the starting point for protest in the women’s political sphere,” Twarog said. “It brought issues of the family and the economy to the public’s attention.”
Food boycotts, such as the meat boycotts that Twarog explained, appeared in every decade at least once in the 20th century and brought national focus to “corporate influence in politics, a lack of protections and policies benefiting the working families and really the absence of consumer protections.”
Twarog said meat in many instances throughout history was “directly tied” to gender roles and was a depiction of the “American standard of living.”
In Twarog’s book, she discusses women like Mary Zuck, who rose to prominence and was the national face of the 1935 Meat Boycott. Zuck joined the movement in protest of the high prices of living, but mostly in order to protect her family.
Zuck and the other women who fought against elevated food prices were successful in gaining the attention and changing the conversation. While lasting impacts are debatable, the boycotters were able to start the National Consumer Congress. Additionally, Twarog said several of the women would go on to run for public office.
For more information about the meat boycotts in the 20th Century, Twarog’s book is available for purchase from the Oxford University Press.