Food is elemental. It feeds the body but also fuels culture, identity, and our economy. The foods that define us as Texans are as diverse as the regions, ethnic traditions, and industries that populate the 268,597 square miles of the state.
What we present on our table is not only a product of our own history and taste but the culmination of a vast and complex enterprise. From the farmer, rancher, or fisherman to the industry promoter and state official, the people and organizations behind the scenes are all part of a thriving system of food production, transportation, marketing, sale, regulation, and state support. The collections in the State Archives bring together publications from state agencies and others associated with the history of Texas cuisine that showcase how our tastes and styles have evolved over the years.
The social, physical, and emotional significance of mealtime is never more evident than in troubled times. Texans, like people in all parts of the country, experienced hardship and scarcity during the lean years of the Great Depression and later learned to pull together to conserve and ration food and commodities during World War II. People eating the same foods and facing difficulty together is major way that community and social bonds are formed. Government promotion of rationing and other strategies for addressing food needs often relied on calling upon the public’s patriotism. (Poster from 1944, left).
States often proclaim foods as “official” to promote a local product and state industries. Nothing says, “Welcome,” like a heaping serving of peach cobbler. Peaches in Texas are a familiar sight, especially at stands along the roads of Gillespie County in the Hill Country surrounding Fredericksburg. Other official Texas foods include chili (state dish), pumpkin (squash), pecan pie (pie), sweet onion (vegetable), pan de campo (bread), and chips and salsa (snack)! Interest groups, or organizations of people and enterprises, influence policy and are often at the forefront of promoting industries, and this is also the case in Texas food production. These groups work to shape the laws and regulations which govern and sustain economic industries of the state. Helping to establish the “official” Texas food in any category is one way to increase awareness of a product and celebrate a state tradition.
Fairs, festivals, fiestas, and other celebrations held around the state market local products and in turn promote the state’s diverse cultures and economic interests by highlighting and serving favorite dishes. Established in 1886, the Texas State Fair is the granddaddy of all state celebrations. The Texas Department of Agriculture uses the opportunity to promote home-grown flavors annually at the Food and Fiber pavilion, where one may find Texas meats, honey, nuts, sauces, and much more from the wealth of products raised and grown in the state.
These and other items can be browsed in the permanent online exhibits on the TSLAC website at www.tsl.texas.gov/lobbyexhibits. Millions more records can be accessed online for free in the Texas Digital Archive at www.tsl.texas.gov/texasdigitalarchive.