Theresa McCulla’s first book, “Insatiable City: Eating Food and Consuming People in New Orleans” (under contract, University of Chicago Press), tracks the trajectory of the New Orleans economy from nineteenth-century chattel slavery to twenty-first-century tourism via the realms of food and drink.

The book explores how the sensory pleasures of dining and drinking in the Crescent City–experiences celebrated on an international stage since the 1800s–enabled many to enjoy food and drink as realms of leisure and gratification incapable of harmful effects. This study reveals a different history. It draws on 150 years of municipal, federal, notarial, judicial, and census records; autobiographies and interviews of formerly enslaved people; newspapers, city directories, and travel guides; cookbooks, menus, postcards, stereographs, maps, architectural plans, and cartoons.

These sources reveal a rich, often ugly history. They also yield lives of great creativity, skill, and bravery. Enslaved and free people of color in New Orleans used food and drink to carve paths of mobility, stability, autonomy, freedom, profit, and joy. This is a history of pleasure and pain and leisure and labor, via food.

The dissertation on which this project is based was a semifinalist for the 2017 Krooss Prize for the best dissertation in business history, awarded by the Business History Conference. It received honorable mention for the 2016 Michael Katz Award for the best dissertation in urban history, awarded by the Urban History Association. It was a finalist for the 2016 Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize for the best dissertation in American Studies, awarded by the American Studies Association.

McCulla’s additional scholarship elaborates on the connections among identity, consumption, and material culture in realms of food and drink. An essay published by Good Beer Hunting (September 2021) used two “runaway ads” to explore the world of Patsy Young, an early American brewer and a fugitive from slavery in early-1800s North Carolina. This article won a 2022 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award. An article published in Gastronomica (Winter 2019) used artifacts and oral histories collected for the Smithsonian to argue for an unexpected link between the strategies and culture of mass manufacturing and the birth of microbrewing at San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company in the 1960s. It received third place for best historical writing in the 2020 Awards in Beer Journalism from the North American Guild of Beer Writers. An article published in Quaderni Storici (April 2016) investigated the spatial effects of the white ethnic revival on African Americans, Italian Americans, and Vietnamese refugees in New Orleans.

McCulla is developing additional articles on alcohol consumption and slavery; souvenir dolls of New Orleans food vendors; and the male-gendered worlds of American homebrewing and computing clubs in the 1970s.

Image: William A. Walker, The Levee-New Orleans, Currier & Ives, 1884, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress