Recipes With History Cooking and Culture-Food and People History
"We do not sit at table only to eat, but to eat together"-Plutarch
The great press baron Lord Northcliffe used to tell his journalists that four subjects could be relied on for abiding public interest: crime, love, money and food. Only the last of these is fundamental and universal. Crime is a minority interest, even in the worst-regulated societies. It is possible to imagine an economy
without money and reproduction without love but not life without food.
Food, moreover, has a good claim to be considered the world's most important subject. It is what matters most to most people for most of the time. Yet food history remains relatively underappreciated. Most academic institutions still neglect it. Many of the best contributions to its study are made by amateurs
and antiquarians. There is no consensus about how to approach it. For some people, it is all about nutrition and malnutrition, sustenance and sickness; for others, less anxious to avoid condemnation for frivolity, it is essentially about cuisine.
Economic historians see food as a commodity to be produced and traded. When it gets to the stage of being eaten, they lose interest. For social historians, diet is an index of differentiation and changing class relations. Cultural historians
are increasingly interested in how food nourishes societies as well as individual bodies-how it feeds identities, defines groups. In political history, food is the stuff of tributary relationships and its distribution and management are at the
heart of power. The small but gallant and growing band of environmental historians sees food as linkage in the chain of being: the substance of the ecosystems which human beings strive to dominate. Our most intimate contact with the natural
environment occurs when we eat it. Food is a subject of pleasure and peril.
In this site, I´m not to replace other histories of food but to offer readers a useful alternative: to take a genuinely global perspective; to treat food history as a theme of world history, inseparable from all the other interactions of human beings with one another and with the rest of nature; to treat evenhandedly the ecological,
cultural and culinary concepts of the subject; to combine a broad conspectus with selectively detailed excursions into particular cases; to trace connections, at every stage, between the food of the past and the way we eat today; and to do all this briefly.
The first revolution is the invention of cooking, which I see as an episode of human self-differentiation from the rest of nature, and an inaugural event in the history of social change. I deal next with the discovery that food is more than sustenance-
that its production, distribution, preparation and consumption generate rites and magic, as eating becomes ritualized and irrational or suprarational. My third revolution is the "herding revolution"-the domestication and selective breeding of edible animal species: I deal with this before plant-based agriculture,
which is the subject of my fourth revolution, partly for convenience and partly to draw attention to my argument that at least one kind of animal husbandry-snail farming-was an earlier innovation than is generally admitted. The fifih revolution
is the use of food as a means and index of social differentiation: under this heading, I try to trace a line of continuity from the probably Paleolithic origins of
privileged entitlement in competition for food, down to the courtly and bourgeois cuisines of modern times. The sixth revolution is that of long-range trade and the role of food in cultural exchanges of transforming effect. The seventh is the ecological revolution of the last five hundred years, which is now usually called the "Columbian Exchange," and the place of foodstuffs in it. Finally, I turn to industrialization
in the "developing" world of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: what food contributed to it and what were its effects on food.