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Cypress/West Oakland Historical Archaeology Project

Introduction | Part I | Part II |Part III |Part IV |Appendixes & Reports

~ Chapter 3 Detail ~
Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving

The image of the dinner table in this Thomas Nash drawing evokes America’s abundance and the central role of food and eating in 19th-century U.S. culture. Focusing on material well-being, Chapter 3 tracks the essential role of artifacts and food choice among immigrants and U.S.-born populations in West Oakland. Based on excavated assemblages from the Cypress Project, a variety of topics related to well-being are considered, including holiday celebration, the Spiritualism movement, dressing-up, and seeking cures for consumption. The main essay focuses on food choice—a good measure of well-being—using the substantial faunal collection derived from more than 60 households, all with known demographic and/or ethnic character. What groups purchased the low-, medium-, and high-priced cuts, and where did mutton, beef, or pork dominate? These questions are analyzed according to occupation, tenancy, ethnicity, gender, house style, and neighborhood, revealing a number patterns that may have defied the food scientists of the 19th century but apparently made good sense to the people of West Oakland.

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