Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS FOOD HISTORY?
Food history is an interdisciplinary field that examines the history of food and nutrition, and the cultural, economic, environmental, and sociological impacts of food. Food history is considered distinct from the more traditional field of culinary history, which focuses on the origin and recreation of specific recipes.
The first journal in the field, Petits Propos Culinaires was launched in 1979 and the first conference on the subject was the 1981 Oxford Food Symposium.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO FOOD HISTORY?
Originally, I planned to research Scandinavian Studies. In 2015, Andrea Maraschi arrived at the University of Iceland for a post-doctoral project on wedding banquets. He taught the very first course in food history at the university, and I was hooked from the first session! I had to know more. Andrea was kind enough to put up with me and answer all my questions, even helping me develop my PhD topic, which began as an essay written for his class.
WHY DOES FOOD HISTORY MATTER?
Simply put, food history matters because food matters. Why do we eat the food that we do? How do recipes reflect culture? How do the skills and practices that make traditional food production get passed on from generation to generation? What can these things tell us about trends and tastes as they develop over time? These are the kinds of questions researchers ask to keep our world going.
Sound food history research has been helping food scientists make delicious, nutritious foods available to people everywhere for decades. It has helped marketing and product development. Above all, it's helped us understand what we eat.
DO YOU MESS AROUND WITH RECIPES ALL DAY?
No! Food History can be lots of things.
Everybody likes to eat. And everyone has something to say about food. Food is an important meeting point for people, coming together for a meal, and minds, making connections between the material life of the senses (human health, labour, technology and business) and symbolic worlds (religion, politics, culture and society).
Food History also holds important opportunities for interdisciplinary research across the humanities, social sciences and physical sciences. You CAN study recipes, or specific cookery personalities, like my friend Kevin and his amazing work on Fanny Craddock, British TV personality and the first “celebrity chef” from the 1950s to the 1970s. You can focus on a specific food or culture, like my work with dairy products in medieval Iceland, or you can focus on wider issues of European food culture such as famine or sympathetic magic as my mentor, Andrea Maraschi, does.