A Cookbook in Every Home? Culinary Celebrity, Consumption, and Domesticity in Twentieth-Century Argentina

Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM
Columbia Hall 2 (Washington Hilton)
Rebekah E. Pite, Lafayette College
Due to its ethnic diversity and large immigrant population, nineteenth- and early-twentieth century Argentina was a nation—much like the United States—without a clear culinary center.  While early booksellers and patrons imported cookbooks from Europe, and a few elite women and professional male cooks published cookbooks locally, such texts were destined almost exclusively for elite households and their cooks. How is it then that a cookbook first published by a common woman from the provinces in 1934, would become one of the three most popular books (of any genre) in Argentine history?   And what does it tell us that by the 1970s, some Argentines were proclaiming El libro de Doña Petrona to be “the best-selling book in Latin America”? This paper will consider the reasons why Doña Petrona C. de Gandulfo and her cookbook became so popular over the course of the twentieth century.  Specifically, it will analyze the role that literacy, the expanding mass media, and Doña Petrona’s consistent efforts to “keep up to date” with changing gender and class dynamics played in her unprecedented success.  Based on a diverse source base including cookbooks, mass media sources, government documents, and oral histories, the author will argue that a key part of Doña Petrona’s appeal was the attractiveness of her version of domesticity.  In a rapidly industrializing and urbanizing society, she helped promote an idealized—and implicitly middle class— gendered division of labor in which men worked for wages and women spent their unremunerated days lovingly cooking elaborate meals and caring for their families and their homes.
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