History of food seminar examines its influence on culture

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Besides sustaining societies, food may also be capable of creating cultures, nationalism and ethics, according to Rachel Laudan, a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science. In the seminar “Just What is the History of Food” held Monday, Lauden discussed the importance of food within society, the technological developments in processing food and the role food plays in culture.  

“My understanding of food history involved three components,” Lauden said. “Food is an artifact for something humans need that is processed. Culinary philosophy, culture beliefs are incorporated when processing cuisine and cuisine as the organization in the food we eat.”

Laudan discussed how different places possess their own independent cuisine, but as cultures merge, empires expand and nations develop technology, cuisines may fuse together as well.

“You have a rather vertical model of cuisine,” Laudan said. “Each place has its own cuisine that sort of grows up in different parts of the world although they may prop up against each other.”

However, a society’s diet could also change through altering their cuisine independently.

“I decided to map the outlines I saw of [how] cuisines change over time and space,” Laudan said. “When people change their beliefs, their religion or what they think is healthy, their diets change. At least that was my theory.”

Associate history professor Bruce Hunt was called on during the event to comment on Laudan’s speech and her work.

“I think the most important point is the focus on recognizing that almost all the food we eat is processed in some way,” Hunt said. “It’s easy for people to think that food is something that is or should be just plucked from the field, but even putting food in jars and or transporting them is a form of processing.”

Hunt said food systems are deeply embedded in the history of how society has developed over time. He commented on how technology is used in different aspects of food production and how it is used even after production, when companies aim to place packages of food into the hands of the consumer.

Taeeun Kim, a biology and Plan II Honors freshman, said she attended the seminar to learn more about food and society, the subjects of a signature course she is taking on world hunger.

“I thought this seminar was interesting, because I was able to explore how food came to be how it is,” Kim said. “It will definitely help me connect the problems we have around the world regarding hunger with the realistic aspects of food production today."