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Foodways: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming related to foodways as documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Image of Nagashima family, Billings, Montana, home garden and foodways.
Kay Young, photographer. Nagashima family, Billings, Montana, home garden and foodways. August 20, 1979. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to the diverse array of food-related traditions, or “foodways,” as documented throughout the American Folklife Center (AFC) archival collections. Foodways traditions can encompass the processes of preparing certain dishes, including recipes that are passed down over time within families and communities, as well as practices relating to sourcing and growing food, and the relationships food practices and shared meals have to broader ceremonies, rituals, and traditions, such as storytelling. Importantly, the study and documentation of foodways brings to light political, economic, social, environmental, and historical intersections of food production, eating habits, and the preservation of culture between generations, connecting people, including diasporas, across time and place.

A substantial number of AFC collections include documentation of foodways traditions, sometimes by ethnographers with the specific aim of collecting examples of food practices and agricultural heritage, like the Dairy Farm Workers in New York's North Country and Fresh Produce Workers in Arizona collections. Food-related traditions have also been documented in broader cultural projects, such as in the Center's numerous ethnographic field survey collections, as well as the collection, Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia, which foregrounds foodways as a way to understand Appalachian cultures, their traditions, and relationships to the environment. These collections and more are linked to in the Digital Collections section of the research guide.

The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.