ISU professor’s lecture on food and the Great Depression to air on American History TV

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg gives a lecture recorded for CSPAN

Crews record Pamela Riney-Kehrberg's lecture on food and the Great Depression, which will air on Dec. 30. (Larger image) Photos by Christopher Gannon

AMES, Iowa – Feeding a family during the Great Depression required ingenuity and often sacrifice. It was common for parents to go without so their children had something to eat, said Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, a professor of history at Iowa State University. 

In a class lecture, which will air on C-SPAN’s “Lectures in American History” program on Dec. 30, Riney-Kehrberg shared stories from her research and interviews with people who lived during the Depression. These stories described how families stretched what little food they had, and tried to conceal their poverty.

Riney-Kehrberg talked about her great-grandfather, who worked on a road crew with a man who refused to eat his lunch with the other men. Her great-grandfather eventually learned the man was embarrassed to eat with the group because he had nothing but potato peels in his lunch pail. It was an example of the shame many people felt during the Depression.

“This was particularly true of men, who believed it was their duty to support their families,” Riney-Kehrberg said. “Many never quite recovered from the experience of being unable, sometimes for years, to support their families.”

Macaroni, eggs and potatoes were staples for many families because they were cheap. Riney-Kehrberg has collected recipes from the Great Depression that illustrate the creativity of cooking with limited ingredients. One woman’s diary described making different types of potatoes – fried, mashed, baked – for all three meals. Some women would serve the same meal in a bowl for breakfast, a plate for lunch and a cup for dinner just to make it seem different.  

Riney-Kehrberg’s lecture will air at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Dec. 30, on C-SPAN 3. You can also livestream the lecture (requires sign in with provider) at: The lecture is also available as a podcast: