Event—Public Programming

Foodways of the Midwest


These days, "Midwestern cuisine" is likely to evoke brats, gelatin-based salads, hot-dish casseroles, and perhaps a few regional specialties like deep dish pizza or deep-fried cheese curds. But the region’s culinary history is far more complex than these stereotypes suggest.

This symposium will explore the complex histories that have shaped the real and quite varied cuisines of the Midwest. In the morning session, participants will cover the native foodways of the Indigenous peoples of the region before discussing the foods that entered and shaped the Midwest culinary idiom through successive waves of migration, including traditions that arrived with groups of European immigrants; traveled north with the Great Migration; and accompanied Latino workers from Mexico and Latin America.

In the afternoon, presenters will explore the rich history and culture of midwestern beer and brewing, which played an integral role in the economic, social, and cultural development of the region. In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, immigrant groups brought their beer and beer cultures to the Midwest, creating a tapestry of styles, traditions, and drinking establishments that led to the area's dominance in the US brewing industry. The afternoon session will begin with an introduction to the origins and development of beer in the Midwest and conclude with an examination of the growth of craft beer in the region and its importance in the national landscape.


9:30 am: Coffee and continental breakfast

10 am: What Is Midwestern Food?

  • Gary Morseau, Sr., Director of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi's Food Sovereignty Initiative - NOTE: Due to unforeseen circumstances, Mr. Morseau was unable to join us
  • Cynthia Clampitt, author of the books Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest and Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland.
  • Michael Innis-Jimenez, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Alabama, and author of Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940 and the forthcoming book, Made in Chicago: Mexican Food, Tourism, and Cultural Identity
  • Sherry Williams, Founder and Curator of the Bronzeville Historical Society, studies African American cultural assets, including African heritage foodways and early Black farming and gardening practices in the United States

11:30-12 pm: Roundtable discussion with speakers and audience

12-1:30 pm: Lunch break

1:30 pm: Better Than Pop: A History of Midwestern Beer and its National Influence

  • Liz Garibay, Executive Director of the Chicago Brewseum and a historian exploring history and culture through the lens of beer and alcohol.
  • Alison Orton, PhDstudent in history, University of Illinois at Chicago, studying how the nineteenth-century beer industry was affected by immigration and influenced Midwestern cultural identity
  • Pat Doerr, Managing Director, Hospitality Business Association of Chicago

2:10-2:30 pm: Roundtable discussion with speakers and audience

2:30-3:30 pm: Reception

Midwestern craft beers and snacks

This program is part of the Newberry’s What Is the Midwest? project, funded by a major grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone. Make a donation today.