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Food Lessons From the U.S. Government

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On July 4, award-winning chef Jose Andres opened a pop-up restaurant in Washington, DC. America Eats Tavern pays homage to the culinary history of the U.S., with proceeds supporting the Foundation for the National Archives. The restaurant opened in conjunction with the National Archives’ “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?”—an exhibit that explores how the Government has affected America’s food consumption.

Both the restaurant and exhibit will be open for six months.

The WPA’s America Eats! Project

America Eats Tavern takes its name from the Works Progress Administration’s 1930s writing project, which paid laid-off writers and reporters to document food and culinary experiences of various regions throughout the country.

Funding for the project was cut before it was completed and unpublished manuscripts from contributors across the United States were sent to the Library of Congress. Author Pat Willard compiled some of those essays in her 2008 book, America Eats: On the Road with the WPA. Willard quotes a memo from a WPA supervisor who describes the goal of the project thusly: “If we can make Americans realize that they have the best table in the world, we shall have helped to deepen national patriotism.”

The final product was never intended to be a cookbook, though recipes do appear in many of the manuscripts. Rather, the essays were supposed to capture how Americans ate, and the entire culinary experience. (A similar project today might make mention of the recent pop-up restaurant trend, which has been popularized by the likes of chef Ludo Lefebvre and the Guerilla Culinary Brigade.)

The Restaurant

The downstairs level at America Eats Tavern features such American staples as hot dogs, lobster rolls, and cheesesteaks, while the upstairs dining room is more formal. The menu includes some favorites from past presidents, including Clinton Gazpacho and Eisenhower Stew, and a short history lesson about every item. For instance:

Shrimp ‘N’ Anson Mills Grits (Jamestown, 1607): Native Americans first taught the colonists to hull corn into hominy, creating one of the first truly American foods. Here we use creaming Anson Mills grits, carefully milled from rediscovered heirloom corn.

Spoonbread with Oyster Ice Cream and Caviar (Eliza Leslie, the Lady’s Receipt Book, 1847): First named as Indian Puffs, this spoonbread is so light it could almost be a soufflé. The ice cream was inspired by one of Mark Twain’s favorite snacks.

Buffalo Wings (Buffalo, 1964): A late-night inspiration by Teressa Belissimo to impress her bar-tending son and his hungry friends. Rather than throw the wings into a stock, Teressa transformed them into something fried and spicy. They were an immediate hit.

Chesapeake Crabcakes with Pickled Watermelon Salad (Lord Baltimore Hotel, 1932): Just four years after opening, the landmark Baltimore hotel published the first known recipe for this Chesapeake favorite.

The Exhibit

“What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” is open through Jan. 3 and features an impressive collection of posters, photographs, and documents related to food production and consumption in the United States. The exhibit takes visitors back to a time when butter and fortified margarine were promoted as an essential daily food group and Americans were encouraged to eat cottage cheese as a protein substitute for meat. Here are a few of the posters on display:

I'd like to know more about that "eat any other foods you want" part.

From the National Archives: "During World War I, the Food Administration under Herbert Hoover promoted 'Meatless Mondays.' This poster suggests cottage cheese as a protein substitute."

The Nutrition Division of the War Food Administration wouldn't go along with the term "Vitamin Donuts," which had been proposed by the Doughnut Corporation. One day...

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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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