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Urban Appetites

Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York

Urban Appetites

Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York

Glossy magazines write about them, celebrities give their names to them, and you’d better believe there’s an app (or ten) committed to finding you the right one. They are New York City restaurants and food shops. And their journey to international notoriety is a captivating one. The now-booming food capital was once a small seaport city, home to a mere six municipal food markets that were stocked by farmers, fishermen, and hunters who lived in the area. By 1890, however, the city’s population had grown to more than one million, and residents could dine in thousands of restaurants with a greater abundance and variety of options than any other place in the United States.

Historians, sociologists, and foodies alike will devour the story of the origins of New York City’s food industry in Urban Appetites. Cindy R. Lobel focuses on the rise of New York as both a metropolis and a food capital, opening a new window onto the intersection of the cultural, social, political, and economic transformations of the nineteenth century. She offers wonderfully detailed accounts of public markets and private food shops; basement restaurants and immigrant diners serving favorites from the old country; cake and coffee shops; and high-end, French-inspired eating houses made for being seen in society as much as for dining.  But as the food and the population became increasingly cosmopolitan, corruption, contamination, and undeniably inequitable conditions escalated. Urban Appetites serves up a complete picture of the evolution of the city, its politics, and its foodways.

288 pages | 31 halftones, 5 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Historical Studies of Urban America

Culture Studies

History: American History, Urban History


“[O]ne snapshot of New York in a century that brought enormous changes in eating and food production…. Through the lens of food, the book surveys changes in the culture, demographics and politics of the city.”

New York Times

“Lobel uncovers the 19th-century roots of New York City’s claim to be the food capital of the world and its implications of diversity, abundance, and exoticism associated with the rising urban US. . . . The book's best sections cover the growing cultural expectations of urban restaurants in the rise of public culture that serviced specialized clienteles. Recommended.”


“Lobel’s fine book leads us on a fascinating tour of New York’s foodways past, letting us explore the farms and markets that supplied kitchens in the city’s homes and restaurants and introducing us to men and women who raised food, sold it, cooked it, and ate it.”

Ann Fabian, author of The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead

“Lobel’s accessible cultural history takes us on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of New York’s food system, covering everything from the provisioning of family kitchens to the emergence of the greatest restaurant scene in the world. Scholars and policymakers have recently recognized that food systems are a key to cultural and environmental sustainability, making this is an ideal time for Lobel’s much-needed primer on the historic context for this essential human question. This is a must-read for all who hunger for a better understanding of how cities really work.”

Owen Gutfreund | Hunter College, City University of New York

"New York’s roots as the world’s greatest culinary center are firmly cemented in Cindy Lobel’s wonderful survey of the dazzling dining options of the nineteenth century. Her descriptions of markets, dining rooms, restaurants, and kitchens tell us not only what people ate but where they dined and how the city’s rich ethnic diversity influenced it all."

Lisa Keller | Purchase College, State University of New York

“Part food and part urban history, Urban Appetites traces New York’s simultaneous evolution into a cosmopolitan city, a commercial powerhouse, and, arguably most intriguing to Lobel, an empire of gastronomy.”

Food, Culture & Society

Table of Contents

ONE / “Convenient to the New York Market”: Feeding New York City in the Early National Period, 1786–1830
TWO / “The Glory of a Plenteous Land”: The Transformation of New York’s Food Supply, 1825–1865
THREE / “Monuments of Municipal Malfeasance”: The Flip Side of Dietary Abundance, 1825–1865
FOUR / “To See and Be Seen”: Restaurants and Public Culture, 1825–1865
FIVE / “No Place More Attractive than Home”: Domesticity and Consumerism, 1830–1880

SIX / “The Empire of Gastronomy”: New York and the World, 1850–1890

Conclusion: From the Broadway Shambles to New Amsterdam Market


New York State Historical Association: Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize

New York Academy of History: Herbert H. Lehman Prize

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