Why the USDA employed taste testers to change how Americans eat

px School lunch
School lunch. Image: Casey Lehman

Lucy Alexander boasted one of the strangest jobs on the federal payroll. Her official title was the innocuous “chief poultry cook” for the Bureau of Home Economics, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, and Alexander was a veteran of the government taste testing landscape. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, she ate thousands of pieces of meat from various breeds as part of a program to bring overlooked agricultural goods into the American diet.

That drive to smooth out the farm-to-table pipeline stemmed from a larger desire, as Megan Elias, a professor of gastronomy at Boston University, puts it, “to make American agriculture the most advanced in the world.”

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“There was a big imperative that the U.S. government and all state governments had to improve farming, to suggest crops, to suggest foods,” says Elias, who wrote about the Bureau of Home Economics in her book Stir It Up.


Taste testing has not been a significant part of federal work since the Bureau lost its funding in 1962, but the use of tax money to pay for taste tests is still a regular facet of American life. Many local governments continue to organize tests of school lunches ….

Read full, original article: The Government Taste Testers Who Reshaped America’s Diet

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