New York City witnessed unparalleled growth in the first half of the nineteenth century, its population rising from thirty thousand people to nearly a million in a matter of decades. Feeding Gotham looks at how America's first metropolis grappled with the challenge of provisioning its inhabitants. It tells the story of how access to food, once a public good, became a private matter left to free and unregulated markets—and of the profound consequences this had for American living standards and urban development.
Taking readers from the early republic to the Civil War, Gergely Baics explores the changing dynamics of urban governance, market forces, and the built environment that defined New Yorkers’ experiences of supplying their households. He paints a vibrant portrait of the public debates that propelled New York from a tightly regulated public market to a free-market system of provisioning, and shows how deregulation had its social costs and benefits. Baics uses cutting-edge GIS mapping techniques to reconstruct New York’s changing food landscapes over half a century, following residents into neighborhood public markets, meat shops, and groceries across the city’s expanding territory. He lays bare how unequal access to adequate and healthy food supplies led to an increasingly differentiated urban environment.
A masterful blend of economic, social, and geographic history, Feeding Gotham traces how this highly fragmented geography of food access became a defining and enduring feature of the American city.
Gergely Baics is assistant professor of history and urban studies at Barnard College, Columbia University.
"Baics has produced one of the year's most original books with this analysis of food markets in New York City in the decades up to the civil war. His account of how New York moved from tight regulation to free-market provisioning is well-organised and full of insights."--Tony Barber, Financial Times Best Books of 2016: History
"Baics carefully and methodically examines the causes and effects of economic and political forces that have changed the access of food distributions in New York City. . . . This valuable book provides the necessary background to better understand current circumstances."--Choice
"Feeding Gotham is an important study; it brings an impressive quantity of data to bear on a subject customarily argued qualitatively. It is a testimony to Baics’ ingenuity that his work generates additional questions."--Louis Cain, EH.Net
"Feeding Gotham is not only an extremely well written, stimulating, and scholarly account that defines and fills a gap in the story of New York’s food system, but also offers intriguing insights into broader themes in the political economy of place that are of exceptional interest today."--Susan Parham, Economic History Review
"Feeding Gotham documents what happened when New York's public food markets were deliberately deregulated in 1843. As Baics's GIS maps clearly show, social inequality in food consumption, food access, and food safety took off in this crowded city of immigrants. While the landlord class profited and their cuisine diversified, the poor suffered insanitary tenements and an unhealthy food supply. This is history with distinct contemporary resonance: public-policy choices around the food industry profoundly matter."--Simon Szreter, University of Cambridge
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations and Tables ix
Part I Political Economy of Urban Provisioning
1. Is Access to Food a Public Good? From Public Market to Free-Market System, 1790–1860 19
Part II Public Market System of Provisioning, 1790s–1820s
2. The Landscape of Municipal Food Access 57
3. Constraints of Time: Public Market Schedule of Provisioning 94
4. Catharine Market and Its Neighborhood 121
Part III Free-Market System of Provisioning, 1830s–50s
5. Withdraw the Bungling Hand of Government: Free-Market Geography of Provisioning 155
6. The Price of Deregulation: Food Access and Living Standards 193
Appendix A: Maps 239
Appendix B: Public Market Data 251