New York City illustrates how food and accessibility to food has shaped not only the geography of the city, but also the character of it. Beginning in the early 20th century, both the sensory aspects of New York and the ways in which New Yorkers acquired food changed dramatically. By creating a database from city directories, telephone books, surveys, and other sources, we were able to map food sources and can now literally see how the city changed over time by utilizing digitized historical maps. Starting with bakeries, this site will look to create a complete picture of the ways in which New Yorkers accessed food. Consumer choice and industrialization helped shape the city's foodways in different, often competing ways, and the history of food in New York City incorporates narratives from different ethnicites, classes, and other groups. Too often, a top down approach to explaining food has given extraordinary power to industrialization and business in shaping consumer tastes, but the story of New York City food illustrates the agency everyday people exerted in getting their food through more local, decentralized networks. This project is not only the history of food but a social history of New York City.
Geographic Information Systems are a new way to interpret the world. Although usually used to give us directions or visualize recent census data, GIS can be a useful tool for food historians. Beyond just looking at where bakeries had opened and closed, we can also see how particular districts became more or less industrial over the course of the century and trace the flow of food throughout the city. Most importantly, these maps are meant to encourage all types of historians to perform their own analysis and historical inquiry. Through the creation of this public history project, we hope to gather stories and additional sources from the public as well as empower the public in pursuing historical study.