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Taste of a decade: the 1830s

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Although the U. S. population exceeded 12 million, only about 5% lived in the ten largest cities in 1830. Most Americans lived in sparsely populated areas where they rarely encountered restaurants — nor could they afford them.

Nonetheless, those who did patronize “restaurants” – then more likely to be called restorators, refectories, restaurats, eating houses, coffee houses, or victualing cellars – noticed a growing French influence grafted onto the predominant plain English style of cooking. The word “restaurant,” when used in this decade, usually had the modifier “French” preceding it.

To the relief of diners, it was becoming easier to find eating places that would serve dishes a la carte at the hour the diner wished to eat rather than having a pre-determined meal served only at set hours.

At most eating places the three F’s dominated menus: Fish, Flesh, and Fowl. And, of course, oysters were tremendously popular with all social classes. Occasionally, a restaurant offering a more varied bill of fare could be found, such as that at Robert G. Herring’s American Coffee House in Philadelphia that includes Green “Pease,” String Beans, Lobsters, Frogs, Sardines, Anchovy Toast, Omelet with Asparagus, and Strawberries and Cream.

Patrons of wealth and sophistication indulged in the finest foods that could be found in major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. According to one observer, worldly young men were becoming knowledgeable about “culinary details” in the early 1830s. “It has become wonderfully fashionable lately in discoursing upon eatable matters,” wrote the author of A Short Chapter on Dining, “to parade the names of a dozen or two of French dishes.”

At the same time a spirit of abstemiousness was spreading as people rejected “ardent spirits” such as gin, rum, whiskey, and brandy. Temperance followers also condemned restaurants themselves, viewing most of them as “grog shops.” During the cholera pandemic of 1832, some temperance advocates went so far as to blame the high death rate among the poor not on urban filth and polluted drinking water, but on alcohol consumption, particularly by Irish immigrants.

In the larger cities, New York especially, many couples and families chose to live in hotels and boarding houses rather than run their own households, finding it both cheaper and easier. Others, who lived in their own residences, took their meals in nearby hotels or had them delivered by a restaurateur.

Two English women who visited this country wrote scathing accounts of life here, painting Americans as shallow, grasping, and dull. In Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans, she observed how American conversation frequently included the word “dollar,” and also noted, “They consume an extraordinary quantity of bacon.” The actress Fanny Kemble’s Journal (1835) included among its “vituperative remarks” criticism of New York hotels and their rigid meal schedules.

As railroads and waterways were extended, newly settled areas of the country gained access to more oysters, seafood, and exotic fruits. In 1832 a traveler recorded that he ate “fine sea fish and oysters one hundred and fifty miles inland – drank punch from fruit imported from the Indies, at Pittsburg, and sat down to a dessert in Cincinnati, the ingredients of which were the delicacies of every clime.”

Highlights

1831 After visiting the dining room of the recently opened Tremont House in Boston, a Baltimore man writes that he finds it an “essential improvement in tavern keeping” that everyone dining there receives a bill of fare listing all dishes to be served at that meal. Otherwise, he comments, a diner departing from the dining hall usually discovers favorite dishes placed on another part of the long shared table that never made it to him.

1832 In Domestic Manners of the Americans, Frances Trollope asks why Americans are so fond of boarding in residential hotels: “What can induce so many . . . citizens to prefer these long, silent tables, scantily covered with morsels of fried ham, salt fish and liver, to a comfortable loaf of bread with their wives and children at home?” she writes.

1833 Harvey D. Parker – who will establish the luxury Parker House and Restaurant in 1855 — takes over the Tremont Restorator in a cellar on Boston’s Court Street and publishes the protein-rich bill of fare shown here.

1833 The owner of a new refectory on Whale Street in Nantucket advertises that he will provide Pies, Tarts, Custards, Oysters, Fish Chowder, Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Mush & Milk, Beer, and Cider, but that he has promised his landlord he will “keep no ardent spirits of any description for sale” even though he knows it will mean lower profits.

1834 Francois Parrot, “French Cook, Restaurateur & Confectioner” in Philadelphia, announces “that after a long residence with the Count of Survilliers, he has, with recommendations from him for professional capacity and moral character (which he will be happy to shew any one), determined to set up a Cooking Establishment and Eating House in Philadelphia.”

1835 The popular Alexander “Sandy” Welsh, president of the Hoboken Turtle Club and famous for his green turtle soup, expands his Terrapin Lunch in New York City and is now able to accommodate 150 seated in small groups.

1836 After the opening of the Merchant’s Exchange Lunch on Broadway, a patron sends a glowing review to the editor of the New York Herald citing its fine cooking, clean tablecloths, damask napkins, excellent ventilation, and cheerful servers. “Only think,” he writes, “a plate of the best meat, including four kinds of vegetables, and the best butter also, in these dear times too, is only eighteen pence.”

1837 Following the destruction of their restaurant on William Street in the great fire of 1835, the Delmonico brothers open a new 4-story restaurant on the corner of Beaver and William Streets. [1880 photo shown at top, demolished 1890] Visitors are overwhelmed with its magnificence, particularly its wine vaults that extend 180 feet under the streets and hold 20,000 bottles of imported French and German wine. The restaurant’s resplendence is all the more striking as the city suffers bank failures, worthless currency, and economic depression.

1837 Outrage erupts when New Yorker Samuel E. Cornish, editor of The Colored American, discloses that he was refused service at a temperance eating house run by an abolitionist Scottish immigrant. Explaining that he has never before encountered discrimination of this sort, Cornish writes, “It remained for a foreigner, in a cellar cook-room, to insult a native citizen, of 17 years residence in this city; and to deny a minister of Christ, of gray hairs, and twenty-five years’ standing in the Presbyterian church, a cup of Tea.”

1837 As a result of economic collapse, businesses distrust paper money and refuse to give coins [aka “specie”] as change. When they do agree to accept bills they return change in the form of tickets good for future purchases. A patron of a NYC eating house becomes indignant when “a negro named Downing,” “a black villain,” refuses to accept his dollar bill. But the newspaper to which he has complained defends the proprietor, asking, “Why should any man be compelled to take worthless paper money for his goods and wares? When I visit Downing’s, I never give or take paper money. I pay in specie entirely.”

1839 At a “restaurat” in New Orleans, patrons attending summer balls are warned not to bring their guns.

© Jan Whitaker, 2018













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acdha
7 days ago
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“They consume an extraordinary quantity of bacon.”
Washington, DC
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fxer
6 days ago
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the heydey of the victualing cellar
Bend, Oregon

Turkish Delight

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I take it Narnia doesn't have Cinnabons? Because if you can magic up a plate of those, I'll betray whoever.
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amijangos
5 days ago
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Turkish Delight
Columbus, Indiana
zippy72
8 days ago
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Is his the real thing or Fry’s? Because trust me, there’s a BIG difference...
FourSquare, qv
satadru
10 days ago
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hahahaha
New York, NY
Ferret
10 days ago
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So true.
alt_text_at_your_service
10 days ago
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I take it Narnia doesn't have Cinnabons? Because if you can magic up a plate of those, I'll betray whoever.
kyounger
7 days ago
whomever?
rraszews
10 days ago
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This is a common reaction, especially from people who aren't British. It's a World War II thing; privation in England during the war was so bad that children would betray their families for a confection that basically tastes like snot dusted with powdered sugar. (The fact that Tolkien and Lewis were both writing in the wake of WWII food rationing is why modern high fantasy has such a rich tradition of Food Porn scenes)
ericprasmussen
10 days ago
That makes sense, but how do you account for GRRM's voluminous food porn?
pmac
10 days ago
Oh! That's fascinating. I always wondered about that. Authors like George RR Martin also love talking about what people are eating and wearing.
rraszews
10 days ago
A lot of it is that later writers who hadn't lived through rationing grew up reading Tolkien and Lewis and so saw opulent feast scenes as "Just a thing you do in fantasy novels". JK Rowling included scenes like that in Harry Potter too, even though she's too young to have experienced it for herself.
artmoney
10 days ago
Rowling may not have experienced war rationing, but she did live in poverty and on assistance for long stretches of time.
mareino
10 days ago
I suspect George RR Martin is one of those people who are genetically cursed to be hungry all the time.

Are Stores You Shop at Secretly Using Face Recognition on You?

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We asked some of America’s biggest retailers and, with a few exceptions, they refused to tell us.

Are American retail stores using face recognition on their customers without telling them? We asked some of America’s biggest retailers and, with a few exceptions, they refused to tell us.

We do know that most major retailers have video cameras in their stores. We know that at least one face recognition vendor is pushing the use of the technology for identifying shoplifters, and claims to have several Fortune 500 retailers among its clients. We know the technology’s use is rapidly growing in the UK. We know the New York Times reported recently that the use of face recognition is being “explored” at Madison Square Garden. We know that Walmart tested the technology in its stores for several months in 2015. And now we know that at least one major American retailer, Lowe’s hardware, has begun using the technology without informing visitors to its stores.

We also know that a government-run “multi-stakeholder” process attempting to craft voluntary standards for the use of face recognition fell apart in 2015 because not a single company or corporate trade association would agree to the principle that people shouldn’t be subject to face recognition without their permission.

At this point, customers may understand intellectually that their movements in stores are captured on video — although most stores place them in domes made of smoked glass for no reason other than to hide the cameras from customers (who might find the swiveling, zooming lenses therein to be spooky and actually gain a realistic sense of the extent to which they are being watched). Most customers also probably expect that most camera feeds, most of the time, are not being monitored — and that if they are, nothing is done with the video footage that is collected, so long as nothing dramatic is captured.

But I think it’s fair to say that most customers do not think that they are being subject to a perpetual lineup, scrutinized by face recognition technology to see if they resemble anyone that a company security service has decided to put on a watch list. They do not expect that their faces are being captured, retained, connected to their real-world identity (for example when they use a credit card at checkout), and combined with information about their income, education, demographics, and other data. They do not expect that their every footstep, hand motion, and gaze will be analyzed by computers and filed away to give insight into their shopping habits, patterns, and preferences, and shared among different companies, data brokers, and advertisers. They do not expect that they are subject to the risk of being misidentified as someone in a database of suspected criminals, fugitives, terrorists, or whatever other blacklists stores may be using or begin using in the future. They don’t expect that all these intimate details about their behavior will become accessible to government agencies through legal demands or voluntary sharing.

And if those things are happening, I think most customers would want to know about it.

We don’t know how many of those things are being done by how many American retailers. We do know that the technology already exists, and that stores have a strong financial incentive to collect as much information about their customers as they can get. And we do know that when it comes to this kind of cutting-edge technology, which is taking the human race to places it’s never been before, the public has a right to know what stores are doing with it, if anything, so they can vote with their feet if they don’t like it.

Now we also know that most top retail companies are not willing to be transparent about even the most basic uses of face recognition today.

We decided to start with a simple question for some of the top American retailers: “Are you using face recognition with cameras on your customers?” Last month we took a list of the top 20 retailers published by the National Retail Federation, subtracted Amazon because of their minimal brick-and-mortar presence, and added Disney because it deals with many millions of people at its theme parks. We then sought answers to our simple question from those companies’ chief privacy officers, press contacts, or whatever other contacts we could find.

Of the 20 companies we contacted, only one was willing to tell us that they don’t use it: the company Ahold Delhaize, whose U.S. brands include the supermarkets Food Lion, Stop & Shop, Giant, and Hannaford. And one company, the hardware company Lowes, said that it does use face recognition technology — to identify shoplifters.

All the other companies we contacted refused to answer our question. Target and McDonald’s said the answer was “considered proprietary.” Rite Aid and TJX Companies (whose brands include T.J. Maxx and Marshalls) responded to us but would neither confirm nor deny the use of biometric face scans. Lowes’s competitor Home Depot, which told Fortune in 2015 that it did not use the technology, now told us that the answer to our question was confidential for “competitive reasons.”

Thirteen of the companies we contacted refused to give us an answer at all. Even Walmart, which told a reporter from Fortune in 2015 that it had experimented with the technology but stopped using it, wouldn’t say that it was not using it now.

It is unacceptable that so many companies refused to respond to our request. Customers should not have their faces scanned without their permission—and they certainly shouldn’t be scanned without their knowledge. Companies using face recognition should inform their customers — not only by answering queries from groups such as the ACLU and journalists such as those from Fortune, but by providing notice to customers in their stores.

If companies don’t think their customers will care, then why won’t they tell us exactly how they are using face recognition? If companies are afraid that their customers won’t like hearing that their face prints are being taken, and yet are doing it anyway, then there is a word for that: unethical.

The security wings of these companies may be accustomed to operating in the shadows — doing everything they can to watch customers without making them feel they are being watched. But face recognition is a brand-new, rapidly evolving technology that has enormous implications for the privacy of individuals in America. It is also a technology that has been found to have racially differential impacts. We have to decide whether we want our way of life to be significantly altered by this technology, or whether we want to limit its use to reflect our values. That assessment cannot happen if this face recognition is being arrogantly deployed in secret.

Retailer

Uses Face Recognition?

Wal-Mart Stores

Refused to answer

The Kroger Co.

Refused to answer

Costco

Refused to answer

The Home Depot

Refused to answer

CVS Caremark

Refused to answer

Walgreens Boots Alliance

Refused to answer

Target

Refused to answer

Lowe's Companies

YES

Albertsons Companies

Refused to answer

Royal Ahold Delhaize USA

NO

McDonald's

Refused to answer

Best Buy

Refused to answer

Publix Super Markets

Refused to answer

Rite Aid

Refused to answer

Macy's

Refused to answer

TJX Companies

Refused to answer

Aldi

Refused to answer

Disney

Refused to answer

Dollar General

Refused to answer

What’s really needed is for retail use of face recogntition technology to be subject to sensible regulation to ensure it comports with basic norms of privacy and fairness — but until we have that, customers have no choice but to vote with their feet. Some Americans may disagree with the ACLU’s view that we should not allow this technology to become widespread and routine in American life—but we can all agree that people should have the information they need as to whether they want to patronize stores that decide to use it in.

As far as Lowe’s goes, they deserve credit for at least being willing to answer our question, unlike most of the other companies we contacted, and for disclosing their practices in their online privacy policy. More credit goes to Ahold Delhaize, which was not only transparent, but is not using face recognition on its customers. Lowe’s writes to us that “we may use facial recognition technologies to identify known shoplifters,” and says that they do not retain facial data on people for whom it does not match to their facial database of suspected shoplifters, which is good as far as it goes. Still, if they’re going to use face recognition in their stores they should post signs alerting their customers so those customers are meaningfully informed that they are being subject to a virtual lineup.

We don’t know how widespread facial recognition is in American retail. Shoplifter identification may be the first widespread use, but without meaningful restrictions, it won’t be the last. Companies are already selling “VIP recognition” and all kinds of analytical capabilities.

These retail applications of face recognition, like the technology’s unnecessary adoption by Customs and Border Patrol, risks a dangerous normalization of this technology in American life that will clear the path for truly nightmarish uses. These systems are the beginnings of an infrastructure for tracking and control that, once constructed, will have enormous potential for abuse, to create chilling effects, and to change what it means to be in public in the United States.

 

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acdha
16 days ago
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What About “The Breakfast Club”?

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It’s hard for me to understand how John Hughes (in glasses) was able to write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot. Photograph from…
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acdha
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dianaschnuth
16 days ago
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A long read by Molly Ringwald
Toledo OH
schnuth
14 days ago
Intersting stuff, thanks for sharing!

Tom Lehrer at 90: a life of scientific satire

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Tom Lehrer performing in San Francisco, California, in 1965. Credit: Ted Streshinsky/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty In 1959, the mathematician and satirist…
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acdha
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Paperwork

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Plus, the photo was geotagged, my unlocked password manager was visible on the laptop, AND you could see my naked reflection in the dark part of the screen.
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alt_text_at_your_service
17 days ago
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Plus, the photo was geotagged, my unlocked password manager was visible on the laptop, AND you could see my naked reflection in the dark part of the screen.
alt_text_bot
17 days ago
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Plus, the photo was geotagged, my unlocked password manager was visible on the laptop, AND you could see my naked reflection in the dark part of the screen.
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