Cook book authors influence how ordinary people cook and think about food. Here is an illustration, from a recent piece in the Charlotte Observer about the variety of ways Southerners make corn bread (HT: Daniel Green):
Toni Tipton Martin’s new book,“The Jemima Code,” on the history of African-American cookbooks, shows that in the 19th century, books by Malinda Russell and Abby Fisher showed no sugar in the cornbread recipes. By 1912, in “The Kentucky Cookbook” by Mrs. W.T. Hayes, the cornbread called for 1 tablespoon sugar.
By 1936, she says, “The Eliza Cookbook,” by the Negro Culinary Arts Club, called for 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cornmeal and 1 cup flour – a recipe similar to today’s cornbread mixes like Jiffy. Martin thinks black cooks were influenced by those.
This is like John Maynard Keynes’s academic scribblers, who write down new ideas, which in turn are eventually accepted and put into practice by the masses. On the other hand, it behooves asking where originators of ideas get their inspiration. Or, to put it more crudely, where do they steal their ideas from?
Elsewhere in the Observer piece, we learn how the price and availability of different corn meals — white or yellow, fine or coarse, with or without germ — is what drove ordinary people to use sugar or not. History and culture reinforce these economic forces: who can disavow their mama’s way of doing things?
In short, there’s a lot of bottom-up going on behind people’s corn bread preferences. If the top-down cook book authors matter, it’s in some combination with these bottom-up forces. As we write in Chapter 7 of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers:
People tend to have ideas that conform to their endowments and their environments—both their nature and their nurture. Not every idea originates in the ivory tower of academic scribblers. Sometimes enough people have an idea about a shared experience that an academic scribbler notices this experience, sees the idea, and gives it voice.
I see much of this carrying over to academic scribblers in the political arena.