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'America Eats': A Hidden Archive from the 1930s

Hidden Kitchens — we aren't the first project to look for them. Our search for the kitchen legacies of this country has uncovered rituals, recipes and now, an archive. Producer Jamie York and The Kitchen Sisters followed a listener's call to the Library of Congress and beyond — and discovered "America Eats."

Story Notes

During our planning process, we read Mark Kurlansky's book Choice Cuts: Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History and came across the following passage:

"In the 1930s Nelson Algren, a young fiction writer who in 1949 would win the first National Book Award for The Man with the Golden Arm, joined the Illinois Writers Project, part of the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA)."

It set us on the course of this story and led us to the Library of Congress, where some of the "America Eats" archives are housed. This remarkable WPA project chronicling American "foodways" in the 1930s has never been published. The parallels between this project and ours astounded us.

Each region had its own "America Eats" team. Their writings, photographs and even some scripts for a proposed weekly radio program are tucked away in collections around the country — at the New York Municipal Archive, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the University of Iowa Library, and the State Library and Archives of Florida, as well as at the Library of Congress.

Independent producer Jamie York traveled to Florida to interview one of the last living writers on the project, Stetson Kennedy, whose photographs you can view in our photo gallery on this page, and online at The Library of Congress.

-- The Kitchen Sisters

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) are producers of the duPont-Columbia Award-winning, NPR series, Hidden Kitchens, and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project. Hidden Kitchens, heard on Morning Edition, explores the world of secret, unexpected, below-the-radar cooking across America—how communities come together through food. The series inspired Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR's The Kitchen Sisters, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year that was also nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Writing on Food. The Hidden Kitchens audio book, narrated by Academy Award winner, Frances McDormand, received a 2006 Audie Award.
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