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History on the Plate: The Current State of Food History
Historically Speaking
  • Ken Albala, University of the Pacific
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The sudden and dramatic interest in food scholarship in the past two decades might lead one to believe that food history is a new and emergent field. The recent proliferation of monographs, studies of individual ingredients, and comprehensive encyclopedias is impossible to deny. But the roots of food history as a branch of the discipline are nearly as old as history writing itself. Athenaeus of Naucratis in the 2nd century A.D. set out to record every detail of ancient food habits in his Deipnosophistae and effectively founded a distinct genre in the Western tradition. The Food Canons (Shih ching) written in T’ang Dynasty China by Meng Shen, Athenaeus’s counterpart in the East, chronicle every food consumed at court, and when and how it arrived. One might even posit that the Hebrew Bible is essentially a narrative of successive epochs defining the relationship of the Jews to God based on their diet and is thus a form of food history, as is much of the mythology concerned with food around the globe. So, too, are the many chronicles of the Middle Ages, which record great feasts as a way of legitimizing royal power.
Citation Information
Ken Albala. "History on the Plate: The Current State of Food History" Historically Speaking Vol. 10 Iss. 5 (2009) p. 6 - 8 ISSN: 1941-4188
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