Up until not too long ago, recipes were passed along orally from generation to generation, if they existed at all; many meals were prepared by taste, sight, and smell alone. Then, somewhere along the way, someone had the idea to record, collect, standardize and publish these recipes in mass-produced cookbooks. Suddenly, home cooks began relying less on what their mothers did in the kitchen and more on what Betty Crocker told them to do.

Preliminary research based on the article “Pluck a Flamingo” from the December 20, 2008 edition of The Economist shows that cookbooks have been in existence for thousands of years, but only popularly used by home cooks for the past 150 or so. Before the industrial revolution, cookbooks were primarily used by professional chefs who could understand their sometimes cryptic notations; measurements did not appear until the 1850’s. Cookbook styles vary by country, and differ according to popular trends or necessities of their era; for instance, cookbooks published during World War II reflect shortages and rationing.

The scholarly article “Culinary Tourism: An Exploratory Reading of Contemporary Representations of Cooking” further explores this claim. It states that cookbooks are works of social history, with their content mirroring the views of certain segments of society to the point where they may even define a woman’s role in her society. The article also states how attitudes towards cooking has changed over the past century, from the drudgery of the 1950’s to the modern idea of cooking as therapy– in uncertain times, the kitchen is warm and comforting. If social choices mirror technology, how are digital versions of cookbooks and recipes extensions of these phenomena?

Statement of Intent

I propose to examine the evolution of the recipe. The recession has made home cooking trendy, as people are looking to reduce their food budgets. With the rise of the internet, cooking has expanded in online territories. While people still buy cookbooks, food blogs and recipe sites are growing in popularity. It appears we are moving back towards word-of-mouth: video tutorials and comments on recipes and blogs mimic personal communication.

Our in-class small group exercise brought up many questions:

  • How has the internet affected the geography of the recipes?
  • Recipes are cultural, so how do recipes translate if certain ingredients or measurements are not available?
  • How has the archival and transformation to digital content occurred?
  • Database means recipes are not lost- does this mean no more secret recipes?
  • What other parallel examples are there? Might this mirror a study of how libraries are digitizing?
  • Did companies put recipes online first, or did people start to post recipes on their own?

While an analysis of the Internet’s globalizing effect on food would be fascinating, I am most concerned with why and how people access recipes in the way they do. How has this changed with the advent of the internet? Where is it going?

I will start with an examination of the cookbook in history as it relates to home cooks, focusing on social trends and people’s usage. I would also like to examine the role of blogging, other web-based platforms, and mobile apps in the kitchen to determine whether updates in technology have effected people’s mentality surrounding cooking.


Brownlie, D., Hewer, P., & Horne, S. (2005). Culinary Tourism: An Exploratory Reading of Contemporary Representations of Cooking. Consumption, Markets & Culture, 8(1), 7-26. doi:10.1080/10253860500068937. Retrieved January 17, 2010 from EBSCOhost

This article claims that cookbooks are cultural artifacts rather than mere collections of recipes, and reflect the era in which they were published. While often overlooked by researchers, cookbooks actually contain a wealth of historic and social information.