For the past several years, the Capturing Campus Cuisine project has resulted in some wonderful collaborations and outreach opportunities between CAP and other MSU programs. Our partnership with MSU Culinary Services has resulted in a successful historic luncheon reconstruction and “throwback” meals with the MSU ON-THE-GO […]
Over the past year, I have been working on identifying the animal (faunal) bone material excavated by the Campus Archaeology Program. Currently, I have been working on bones that were recovered during the Saint’s Rest excavation. Saint’s Rest was the first dormitory on campus, and […]
I’ve written at length about the foods purchased by the early campus boarding hall (aka dining hall), as well as the dishes they likely served. However, what we do not know is what the students thought of this food. Did they like it? Or did they find the boarding hall offerings unsatisfactory? Items such as diaries and student newspapers can provide students’ perspectives on the meals they were served. In the case of early MSU, student dissatisfaction with food eventually led to widespread changes in the early boarding system in the 1880s.
Edward Granger was among the earliest students at the Agricultural College, and luckily wrote in great in detail about food served in Saints’ Rest, the first student dorm (ca. 1858-1859). Granger occasionally expressed positive feelings about the food, stating on Christmas Day that he “had a fine Christmas dinner considering that it was in the Agricultural College.” The next day, he wrote “After meeting we had a feast… Chicken and peaches, brown bread and ginger snaps. Everything was first rate, and we had a glorious meal.” (1)
However, Granger generally wasn’t the biggest fan of the food served by “the Institution,” as he refers to it. He mentions frequently skipping dinner and despairingly declares “[I] finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to live on the Institution or starve.” To cope, Granger and his friends ate snacks from home in their rooms or occasionally stole food from the kitchens. One late night he recounts that “Mr. Charley and Bush have just returned from an expedition to the lower regions. The booty consists in about a peck of fried cakes, to a portion of which we have been giving ample justice.” Another evening, a snack of eggs led Granger to observe, “Where Charley procured the eggs I don’t know. We asked no questions for conscience’s sake.” (1)
Student discontent with food increased over the following decades as the college grew. The students expressed their anger through the establishment of a student newspaper, The College Speculum, and dissatisfaction with food served in the boarding hall is indicated as one of the principal arguments in favor of starting the paper (2). The first issue of The Speculum contains a lengthy treatise on the “question of the students’ board”. The author notes:
“Our system itself is no doubt at fault. Two hundred different tastes and dispositions can never be satisfied with the same food. The wholesale preparation of victuals is objectionable. Food cannot be well prepared in large quantities, and with the haste that necessarily attends such preparation. The wholesale use of canned and prepared goods, which are nearly always unwholesome, is a feature which has been overlooked. The finest vegetables are now growing in the garden, and are literally wasting as fast as they become eatable. Canned beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, etc., take the place of fresh food in the dining hall. With these facts before us we do not wonder that so many students complain of ill health, and so many leave college on that account.” (3).
This treatise may have been laying the groundwork for a student movement against the boarding hall steward, Emory C. Fox. The boarding hall stewards purchased supplies, oversaw food preparation staff, and presided over the tables in the dining hall (4). Fox was the steward from 1877-1881, and was extremely unpopular with students. In 1881 they charged him with fraud, claiming that Fox purchased lemons, oysters, mackerel, and oranges but that these items were never served to the students, implying that Fox purchased these items for himself (5). The students accused Fox with several other acts of fraud, as well (6).
After a review of the charges against Fox, the college Board of Trustees found that the alleged illicit food items were actually served to sick students in their rooms, and they found Fox to be an overall competent steward (7). However, on August 15, 1881, President Abbot notes that Fox resigned following the backlash but that “there was some hesitation about allowing him to resign” on his part (8).
This was not the end of student discontent, however. The Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College listed average weekly boarding costs for the prior academic year. During Fox’s tenure as steward, the average cost was between $2.27-$2.38. Under his successor, Conroy B. Mallory, this cost rose to $3.15 in the Spring of 1882. Students appreciated the improved menus under Mallory’s tenure, but not the increased cost (9).
The idea of boarding clubs was inspired by Professor Carpenter, who, after observing the boarding system of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, painted a “bright picture” of the advantages of the club-boarding system, including better food at less cost (4). The Speculum supported this idea, suggesting the establishment of cooperative boarding clubs which would be under the control of the students. The establishment of smaller clubs would also serve to resolve the “boisterous conduct” seen in the solitary boarding hall (3).
The College, likely weary of student complaints, was quick to acquiesce to this plan. Cost effectiveness and practical concerns for feeding the increasingly large student body undoubtedly also played into the decision to do away with the traditional centralized boarding system. The transition is mentioned once in the Board meeting minutes:
“Prof. Carpenter presented the petition of the from the students of the College asking the Board to allow them to adopt the System of Boarding in clubs & made recommendations regarding the carrying out of this plan… It was resolved that the Secretary be Authorized to have the College Carpenter construct moveable partitions according to the plans of Prof. Carpenter in the basement of Wells & Williams Halls for five clubs at a Cost not to exceed $150.00 dollars.” (10)
The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 includes the first formal proof of the establishment of such clubs, stating, “A new plan of boarding in clubs has lately been put into operation. Separate kitchens and dining halls have been provided, and five clubs have been organized, by which the students are divided into groups not exceeding forty persons” (11) The average cost of board was $2.45, much less than the previous year.
Following this move, The Speculum reported that “not a word of complain was heard as to [the club system’s] price or quality,” marking a drastic change from prior discontent (2). However, this level of satisfaction would not last forever, and the boarding club system would see critiques, modifications, and eventual dissolution. But that’s a story for another time…
This account of MSU’s early food services is full of the kind of drama that makes for exciting history. More importantly, it exemplifies the power of unified student voices in times of great discontent, and just how much food-related issues can drive people to question and challenge powerful institutions.
- Diary of Edward G. Granger, 1859 (MSU Archives UA10.3.56, Folder 1)
- The College Speculum (1883) Vol. 3 No. 2, p.12
- The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 1, p.7
- Beal, W.J. (1915) History of the Michigan Agricultural College. Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 216)
- State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives)
- The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 2
- State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 28 July 1881 (MSU Archives)
- Diary of Theophilus Abbot, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives UA.2.1.3, Box 861)
- Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
- State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 27 November 1882 (MSU Archives)
- The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 (1883). Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 38)
Peanut butter is a staple of the average American kitchen. It’s a favorite in the lunch boxes of school age children, college students, and archaeologist’s in the field. And although the peanut has been widely cultivated for a long time, peanut butter as we know […]
This past year, I wrote a blog post detailing several stories of hunting and gathering on campus that I had uncovered while researching food practices on MSU’s early campus. I have continued to explore this aspect of campus and recently discovered some new information that […]
Two days ago, Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and the Campus Archaeology fellows went to Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing to have some chicken and waffles, and we had a deliciously good time. Why did we embark on this endeavor? The Flower Pot Tea room, operating from 1922-1923 (Kuhn 1955) in the Station Terrace building the CAP field school excavated this summer, listed this dish on one of their menus. It struck us as odd that a dish so closely associated with southern cuisine would have been served in Michigan during this early period.
Although I love trying new foods, I must admit that I never tried chicken and waffles until about a year ago. This was partly because I had little opportunity to do so—it still is not a common dish in the Midwest—and partly because, well, it sounded weird. I didn’t grow up eating it and the combination, quite honestly, sounded strange to me.
This demonstrates an interesting point: the foods we choose to eat and the way we prepare them are often closely associated with the contexts in which we are raised. In other words, what we choose to eat is shaped by and representative of our identities.
This concept is evident when looking at personal accounts of early MSU students. Peter Granger, who kept a diary during his first year at MSU in 1858-1859, demonstrates this in his writing. Although from Detroit, getting used to the food at the College seemed difficult for Granger, who several times laments the lack of chicken on the menu and also wrote:
December 28, 1859: “Didn’t get home till they were most through eating supper. Ate a little down there and then had something good in my room.”
January 1, 1859: “Finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to live on the Institution or starve.”
Granger also several times laments the lack of chicken served in the boarding hall (he likely would have gladly enjoyed chicken and waffles!). While these accounts may simply reflect the poor food options served by the boarding hall, we must also consider our own experiences. Isn’t your mother’s or grandmother’s way of cooking a dish your favorite? No one can seem to rival mom’s roast beef or grandma’s pie. Students continuing to eat food from home or longing for the moment when they can visit home and have a home-cooked meal is something nearly all college students, past and present, can relate to. Food that evokes memories of home and comfort might best represent our personal identities.
What else is often integral to a college student’s identity? Why, getting into trouble, of course! There are a great many accounts of students stealing food from various sources across the university. Granger once “hook[ed] a loaf of bread and some molasses” while another night he and his friends feasted on a “booty [of] about a peck of fried cakes” after an “expedition to the lower regions.” Anecdotes from the class of 1895 demonstrate a similar penchant for mischief. Instead of stealing food from the kitchens, these young men concentrated on fruits from the orchard. In one hilarious tale, the boys tied the bottom of their pant legs and stuffed them full of apples. Upon getting spooked by an approaching figure, they had to dash off in pants full of fruit! (Kains 1945).
These personal accounts of food habits are easy to access in the written records, given the right sources. Understanding eating behaviors of individuals in the archaeological record, however, is a bit trickier. Food remains found in ancient trash pits and historic privies can be connected to general groups, but not necessarily individuals. Sometimes trash pits can be associated with individual households, such as at Fort Michilimackinac, an 18th-century fort in northern lower Michigan. Here, archaeological faunal remains showed that French households consumed local wild animals, while later English houses ate a variety of imported domesticated livestock, as did Jewish families, with the exception of pigs (Scott 1996). The French were adaptive to their new environment, while the English wanted to express their superiority and sophistication through the consumption of animal species they had dominated and domesticated. Jewish consumers expressed their ideological identity by choosing NOT to eat pork, as dictated by their religious customs.
These archaeological and archival evidences can show how people may have expressed their identities through what they chose to eat and what they refused to eat. We have yet to find food remains in contexts associated with certain population subsets (such as students vs. faculty or men vs. women) at MSU, so determining food identities on campus archaeologically is not yet possible. Thankfully, we have the archival information to help us fill in the gaps. And as we dined on chicken and waffles, we expressed our identities as archaeologists eager to connect with the students of MSU past, as we ponder their food choices and attempt to understand them.
Kains, Maurice G., editor.
1945 Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. New York: Greenberg.
1955 Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
Scott, Elizabeth M.
1996 Who Ate What? Archaeological Food Remains and Cultural Diversity. In Case
Studies in Environmental Archaeology, edited by Elizabeth J. Reitz, Lee A. Newsom, and Sylvia J. Scudder. Plenum Press, New York.
Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:
UA10.3.56, Edward Granger Papers, Folder 1
Diary of E.G. Granger, 1859
I am excited to announce that Capturing Campus Cuisine, the food project that Susan Kooiman and myself began this past year will continue! Last year, we studied the earliest period of MSU’s campus from 1855-1870, focusing on the production, processing, and consumption on campus. This […]
Birthdays—at my age, they are just another day in our gradual and inevitable march through time, but my one pleasure in marking my incremental increase in years is eating cake. Cake is my favorite food, and I’ve mentioned it in other blogs before, but since […]
So what does history really taste like? As you can read from Susan’s event preview blog post, this past week we hosted a 1860s MSU-inspired meal based on archival and archaeological research. This event took place through the collaboration of Campus Archaeology and the MSU Culinary Service, specifically Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski, Chef Jay Makowski, and MSU Baker Cindy Baswell.
Our menu included codfish ball appetizers; main dishes of walleye, spiced beef, turkey with oyster dressing, and beef tongue; sides of chow-chow, graham bread, and potato croquettes; and desserts of ginger cake and raspberry charlotte russe. We also had ginger beer (non-alcoholic) as a beverage option. This was included because Campus Archaeology uncovered a ginger beer bottle during the excavation of Saint’s Rest dormitory in 2005 (read more about ginger beer here. About 25 guests attended the event, ranging from anthropology graduate students and faculty to college administrators.
It was a wonderful meal recreation and I have created several videos below that give a view into what was put into the event, as well as the food that was created and some reactions to beef tongue!
As the meal was finishing, we asked the other guests what dish was their favorite; it ranged from the codfish balls and potato croquettes (with a side of chow-chow!) to a surprising enjoyment of the beef tongue! Personally, I really enjoyed every dish but I was most surprised with how much I actually enjoyed the beef tongue (as long as I didn’t think about what I was eating too much!).
Susan Kooiman and I are extremely proud of how this event came to fruition, and hope to continue researching the early foodways of MSU with Campus Archaeology! Later this week the website I have been building through MSU’s Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship will be launched, which will detail the information that led us to create this event, an interactive map with interest points from historic MSU, and a designated page about the meal itself! Look for the announcement of the webpage on the CHI blog.
Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market […]