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Perfection Salad
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Laura Shapiro was on staff at Newsweek and is a contributor to the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Granta, and Gourmet. She is the author of Julia Child and Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.

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A journalist who has written extensively on aspects of feminism, Shapiro presents a well-researched history of women as nutritional revolutionaries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This serious study is lively entertainment, spiced by the author's wit and wry perceptions. Through her, we discover clues to the motives of women who turned American kitchens into laboratories, run according to the dicta of the Boston Cooking School and similar establishments that proliferated across the country. The most memorable of the culinary movers was Fannie Farmer, whose cookbook was published in a modest 3000-copy edition in 1896. Stories about Farmer and other domestic scientists of the period add strong appeal to Shapiro's report. So do the parallels between early feminists and today's advocates of equal rights. It is somber to realize, as the author emphasizes, that fear of significant power for women ``even over themselves'' kept their aims restricted. By 1900, they had settled for the status of experts in home economics instead of independence. (March 3)

In documenting the history of the American domestic science movement at the turn of this century, Shapiro's very readable book helps explain why middle-class Americans developed a preference for a cuisine that sacrifices taste to the pure and the plastic. It was an era when science was in ascendency, and the leaders of the domestic science movement hoped to change the eating habits of the nation and to do away with the irrational methods of traditional housekeeping. How these women succeeded and where they failed is a fascinating story. A good bibliography nicely supplements this admirable book, which should appeal to a wide audience. Highly recommended. Joyce S. Toomre, Russian Research Ctr., Harvard Univ.

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