This page brings together all of the previously Topic in Focus collections in one place, providing a unique way to explore the rich material available on the Bloomsbury Food Library. From eBook chapters and encyclopedia articles, to museum images and exclusive research and teaching resources, these Topic In Focus collections are your gateways to discover key topics within the field of Food Studies.
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Food defines us as individuals, communities, and nations, and has been used for centuries as a means of art and expression. From eBooks written by key scholars to digitised image collections, this carefully curated Topic in Focus brings together the wealth of material available through Bloomsbury Food Library, and provides a crucial gateway into the fascinating relationship between food and art.
UK Winner of the Entertaining category of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020, Feast and Fast (2019) explores food-related objects, images, and texts from the past in innovative ways and encourages us to rethink our evolving relationship with food. This richly illustrated book showcases hidden and newly-conserved treasures from the Fitzwilliam Museum and other collections in and around Cambridge. It teases out many contemporary and controversial issues - such as the origins of food and food security, overconsumption in times of austerity, and our relationship with animals and nature – through short research-led entries by some of the world's leading cultural and food historians. Click here to read more.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the 100-year-long Home Economics project was reconfigured as critical art practice. Recipes become scores, orchestrating the performance of food. Marking a break from both domestic computing and Home Economics studies, second-wave feminist artists of the 1970s turned many assumptions from both of these fields upside down. Lindsay Kelley explores this further in this chapter from Bioart Kitchen (2016). Although the feminist movement shunned recipes and cookbooks, food and eating were central concerns. Feminist art responded to both Home Economics and domestic technology by developing tactics shared by food activists and ecofeminists. The kitchen became a political space capable of effecting change and mobilising resistance.
Will Cotton is a contemporary artist whose whole career revolves around his preoccupation with sweets and desserts. He connects a very traditional method of representation, realistic paintings on canvas, with contemporary discourses of desire, pleasure, the culture of fantasy, air-brushed beauty, and celebrity. The tradition goes back to Dutch seventeenth-century still lifes, many in the Vanitas style that often boasted exquisite depictions of exotic fruit such as peeled lemon, ripe peaches, half-eaten berry pies, oysters, and rare birds—all objects of pleasure and symbols of indulgence. In this chapter from Food and Museums (2016), Nina Levent interviews Cotton to discuss his inspiration, his process, and some of his recent projects.
Several chefs today offer culinary creations that prompt a multisensory experience: an emotional response sparked by a combination of flavors and textures, experienced intimately by each diner. In this chapter from The Handbook of Food and Popular Culture (2018), Yael Raviv will focus on exploring food as a medium for art (rather than a subject) and will examine the role of chefs at the intersection of food and art, within the larger narrative of food as a creative medium. Beginning in the 1930s, Raviv explores the role of food as a medium in certain avant-garde movements and looks at their influence on later work in the studio and the kitchen.
Bloomsbury Food Library provides access to a rich variety of images from leading galleries and museums around the globe. This painting by Dutch artist Frans Hals (ca. 1616-17) depicts Vastenavond (Eve of Lent, or Shrove Tuesday). Known elsewhere as Mardi Gras, the occasion is celebrated with a carnival devoted to foolish behavior and popular foods such as pancakes and sausages. The suggestion that the central figure is a boy in drag is supported by the hairstyle, which looks peculiar for a woman of the time. He is flanked by two familiar characters of the comic stage: on the left, Pekelharing (Pickled Herring), and at right, Hans Worst (John Sausage).
As the multisensory enters the mainstream, going from ASMR videos on Youtube to major advertising campaigns, awareness of the role our senses play in how we interact with the world has never been so high. Eating is of course a multisensory experience, as we engage with the visual, olfactory, haptic, taste and even auditory aspects of what we consume and produce. Explore some of our content that opens up discussion about the senses, and what that means for how we eat.
Does food have an aesthetic, and can it even be an aesthetic object? Explore with Jakob Wenzer in Food Words how, in the history of the hierarchy of the senses, visual and auditory are at the top while taste and smell have traditionally been relegated to the bottom. Food has been endlessly scrutinized in relation to its symbolic, visual powers in art history. But can the academic study of food extend to an appreciation of the other senses?
You may be familiar with Marcel Proust’s story of eating a madeleine and its evocative taste triggering an essential memory of times past. Work along with David Sutton in Remembrance of Repasts to learn how food has long featured in anthropological work as a means to create commensality, and how this links to taste and memory.
Would you eat jellied eel? How about fermented cabbage? Maybe those foods elicit feelings of disgust, as one person’s luxury is another person’s turn-off. But how does taste become enshrined within culture? This key question is one that is posed in the introduction to Making Taste Public: Ethnographies of Food and the Senses and scrutinised in the case studies that follow. The chapters consider taste as a social construct, and challenge the idea of taste as an elitist subject for discussion.
We often pride ourselves for having ‘good’ taste whether that be in food, art, fashion or other social aspects of life but what does that really mean? In The Invention of Taste, Luca Vercelloni explores the history of taste from Renaissance Italy through to modern day, tracking its transformation from a simple biological sense to an expression of sensibility.
Join Alex Rhys-Taylor as he takes a sensory tour of East London in Food and Multiculture, and explores the material culture of the city. Rhys-Taylor shows how a multi-media ethnographic approach to his research opens up the multi-sensory, and argues that it is through smells and flavours that a new space comes to feel like home, and helps different immigrant population to shape their cultural identities.
With a new year comes the desire to start afresh: be healthier, more mindful, do your bit for a greener planet, and what better way to turn over a new leaf than by changing your diet? Vegetarianism and veganism have never been more popular as the economical, ethical, and environmental implications of eating meat and dairy become increasingly pressing.
Discussions around diet are rarely neutral affairs - with a certain amount of stigma attached to what people eat and with motivations for eating a certain way linked to cultural norms and religious morality. Learn about the Biblical roots for vegetarianism and whether Jesus was a vegetarian. Also, explore with Christophe Robert how refraining from eating meat can be considered life-affirming and nourishing due to the imperative to not kill during his time in Vietnam where Buddhist thinking is prevalent.
The philosopher Descartes argued animals could not feel pain, and that therefore killing them to eat was not problematic. More recent philosophy has moved away from this perspective. Read with Nigel Pleasants about the parallels of animal treatment and perceptions of slavery, and how nowadays the choice to give up meat is a much easier one.
Read why Carol J. Adams sees real issues with continuing to eat meat while attempting to challenge the patriarchy, arguing that our food choices either re-affirm or knock away at established hierarchies. Develop an understanding of the key tenets of both a feminist and vegan ethic of care, and how women and animals are aligned in marketing, advertising and language. Going meat-free may be even more political than you realise!
Plenty of research has shown that going vegan would lessen the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment. Kerry Walter notes that in the US, 400 million beef cattle are killed per year. These animals are well fed, and produce corresponding quantities of waste, which pollute the water and atmosphere around them. If we want to preserve our environment, is it necessary to stop buying in to the cattle and dairy markets?
Explore the “cannibal-savage” film genre with Erin E. Wiegand. This entire genre of horror films has been categorised around the killing and consumption of animals, and its parallels with killing and consuming humans. Shockingly, some films in this tradition feature real scenes of animals being killed. This genre addresses anxieties about our humanity, and the violence required to consume flesh from animals.
The idea that food and identity are connected is by no means a revolutionary one. Scientists and researchers have long studied the role of gastronomy in cultural identity to find that the story of a nation’s diet is the story of a nation itself. Discover more about the ways in which food can construct, invent and sustain identity on a national level.
Accounts of food riots frequently mention that the protests are centred on one food item, usually a staple or key ingredient integral to the culture’s cuisine. In Reading Food Riots: Scarcity, Abundance and National Identity, Amy Bentley sets out to discover how food riots play into national identity and if we can gain increased understanding by paying attention to the one item that is held up as a symbol?
There is always one national dish which is eaten more by tourists than the people who live there. In Roatán, this is seafood. Despite eating less seafood than ever before the people there still use seafood memories to create their national identity. Heather J. Sawyer explores the notion of seafood narratives as a valuable way to gain insights about food culture in Tourism, Seafood Memories, and Identity.
Tomato Sauce, Spaghetti, Bolognese, these are all very typical ‘Italian’ foods. However, ‘Italian’ food was actually invented by Italian-American immigrants to such a great degree that it has had a boomerang effect on the cultural identity of Italy itself. Find out more in Semiotics of Sauce by Maryann Tebben.
Food and Cultural Heritage: Preserving, Reinventing, and Exposing Food Cultures looks at the ways food is used to create identity claims as cultural heritage. On a national and international level, Elisa Ascione analyses the ways in which UNESCO has institutionally designated the food and cuisines of several countries as “intangible cultural heritage”.
Hainanese Chicken Rice is considered one of Singapore's national dishes and is a ubiquitous sight throughout the country however a debate has raged on for decades as to who actually invented the recipe. Malaysia and Singapore, once part of Malaya before they split, both lay claim to the dish and pay little mind to their shared heritage and culture instead using the dish as a power symbol of their singular identities. Join Cynthia Chou as she unpacks the much contested debate in How Chicken Rice Informs about Identity.
Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.
A century ago, confronted by the scale and danger of an industrializing food system, public health investigators and legislators remade responsibility for keeping food safe. Despite these measures, however, the anxieties over food safety have become an increasing concern for the everyday consumer. Discover more about contemporary food-related anxieties, the processes in place for ensuring food safety and the ways in which food security can go wrong.
It’s common knowledge that water is vital for life, and it is recommended that humans drink at least 8 glasses a day, but water has not always been seen in such a positive light. For classical authors like Pliny the Elder and Marcus Pollio Vitruvius, desirable or undesirable properties were associated with the source of the water one obtained; rainwater was usually held to be the best water, while water from melted snow or ice was generally viewed as harmful. The nineteenth-century saw great changes in views of drinkable water and equally great changes in predominant notions of who was competent to judge water quality. This chapter explores the history of the kinds of water that were viewed as suitable to drink.
There is a paradox at the heart of contemporary anxieties about food which centres on the question of why Western consumers report such high levels of food anxiety in public opinion surveys when food is, arguably, safer today than at virtually any time in human history. Why, then, are there such high levels of public anxiety about food, given its relative abundance, alleged safety and general affordability, compared to many other times and places? Explore the root of contemporary food anxieties, such as food security, domestic food safety, and the increasing gap between food producers and consumers.
It should come as no surprise that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the lead federal agency charged with ensuring the safety of the food supply in the United States, considers foodborne microbial pathogens and the toxins they produce to be the most important of the various food safety risks. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that the public often tends to focus too much on pesticide residues and food additives, wrongly believing that the risk from these materials is as great as that from pathogenic microorganisms. In this chapter, Michael W. Pariza explores the principles of food safety with regard to traditional foods as well as novel foods developed through genetic modification.
In the United States, cheese safety is promoted through pasteurization. In the United States, cheese safety is promoted through pasteurization. In this chapter, Heather Paxson looks at artisan cheesemaking as a rebellion against the industrialization of the cheesemaking process. Since 2000, the number of artisan cheesemakers in the United States has grown exponentially. More than half of the country’s approximately 750 cheese-making artisans today work with unpasteurized (raw) milk. It is important to understand how constitutionally unstable foods such as handmade cheeses are material embodiments of ecosocial worlds that are far from uniform and are riddled with politics.
Inspired by the recent online Oxford Food Symposium on herbs and spices, we are delving into the fascinating and world of spices. From podcasts to eBook chapters, we have brought together key material which explores the heritage of popular ingredients, and their social and cultural power to help forge a sense of national identity. From the different spice cultures in India, to the history of the cultivation of opium poppies in West Central Anatolia, traverse the globe and learn more about the history of spices.
In this Ox Tales podcast from the Oxford Food Symposium, Aylin Öney Tan talks to Anna Sigrithur about the village of Isamailkoy in the Afyon Provence of West Central Anatolia, which is working to continue the cultivation of a traditional crop, the opium poppy. International pressures to crack down on opiates have led to strict regulations in Turkey, making opium poppy production particularly difficult. Click here to listen and find out how the villagers of Isamailkoy are facing these issues and preserving their traditional poppy.
Like the differing architecture and linguistic features, the North and South of India have separate staple foods, with many variations between their traditions. Cooks from the North may have many dry spices in store, such as cardamom, ginger, turmeric and black pepper, while cooks in the South use few dried spices, and instead rely on fresh ingredients that are purchased day to day. The regional variation is more complex than a simple North – South divide, however; click here to learn more about the culture of food in India, and the many variations between the regions.
It is difficult to identify the place of origin for some spices; throughout history they have been introduced to many habitations worldwide, making it tricky to determine whether a spice is indigenous to the area or not. Historic written sources that mention plants, such as the works of Aristotle, Virgil and Pliny, can be problematic as factual records, emphasised by the contrasting names of spices in Greek or Latin texts. This chapter explores the difficulties of reconstructing the ancient history of spices, and attempts to outline the origin of spices used historically and today.
In this chapter from Culinary Nationalism in Asia, Jean Duruz builds on issues of migration, place-making and identity, and explores the cultural and gastronomic scene of cities. Focusing particularly on Spice Alley in Australia, a complex of restaurants and other retail spaces, Duruz describes the creation of ‘Asian’ eateries in the Sydney dining scene and how this fits within ideas of Australia’s national imagination. Click here to join Duruz on a trip down Spice Alley as she hunts for Iasksa, a distinctive Nyonya dish.
In this chapter from Food and Identity in England, 1540–1640, Paul S. Lloyd describes the cultural implications of spices, which, as a staple synonymous with foreign continents, provided a ‘link with the sophisticated Mediterranean world’. This lifestyle of abundance was a hallmark of cultural identity for the elite classes in contemporary English society. Lloyd explores the use of spices during the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries and provides extensive details on the prices of the various spices.
The simple act of cooking reveals much about a culture, from its food choices, local produce, food preparation and eating habits. This Topic in Focus places a spotlight on cooking culture and brings together key material to guide and support your discovery of this key topic. From podcasts and eBooks, to pedagogical research tools and reference works such as Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia, discover how the act of cooking can shape cultural identity.
Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia, edited by Ken Albala, reveals how much we can learn about a different culture from its food choices, food preparation rituals, and eating habits. This four-volume reference work covers Africa and the Middle East, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and Europe. In this chapter Leena Trivedi-Grenier looks at traditional Aboriginal Australian cooking and the organisations that are preserving this culinary heritage, with a ‘food culture snapshot’ illustrating traditional recipes such as damper bread and quandong crumble.
Over the past few decades, there has been a resurgence in indigenous food ways all around North America led by a network of people who are bringing back traditional food, cooking knowledge, and ancestral seeds into their communities and onto their tables. In this Ox Tales podcast from the Oxford Food Symposium, Anna Sigrithur talks to Sean Sherman, owner of The Sioux Chef and author of The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, and Elizabeth Hoover, American Studies Professor at Brown University, to discuss this cultural cooking revival.
Bloomsbury Food Library provides a host of carefully curated learning and research tools to support instructors creating courses, and students new to a subject. This lesson plan by Joanne Hollows introduces students to key approaches to understanding food as a cultural form, combining theories and insights from disciplines such as sociology, geography, and anthropology. With links to additional reading, discussion topics, and homework assignments, this lesson plan is a useful navigational tool to make the most of the extensive content available on the Bloomsbury Food Library.
Bloomsbury Food Library provides access to an extensive host of image collections from leading museums and galleries from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to the National Archives, which offer students and instructors innovative ways to discover and research food in context. This 1944 photograph from The National Archives for example, provides a unique insight into the culture of cooking and eating in wartime Britain. Three women prepare and hand out food to a large crowd of children at a stand in the London Underground, which doubled as a public deep shelter during World War II.
The significance of food culture is recognized as an identity marker by many Costa Ricans. In this chapter from Cooking Technology, Mona Nikolić Lai explores cooking techniques as markers of identity and authenticity in Costa Rica’s Afro-Caribbean foodways. With the significance of authenticity as a measure for the legitimacy of a cultural experience, cooking techniques are gaining in importance, both as proof of authenticity of the Caribbean food on offer, and as a means of constructing and displaying local Caribbean identity.
The activity of cooking has come to occupy an increasingly ambiguous place in our use of language. Over the last 100 years or so, culinary practices have become increasingly mediated by the incorporation of cultural objects, such as pans, and open-fire cooking has gradually been replaced with ovens, hobs, and microwaves. However, the verb “to cook” is limiting in itself if we adopt the popular understanding of the word espoused by Lehrer, since it includes only food that has been transformed by heat. By that rationale, does cooking include the heating up of beans in a microwave, but not elaborately prepared sushi? Click here to find out.
To celebrate the 2021 Oxford Food Symposium, which this year focuses on the subject of food and imagination, we have brought together some key material from the Bloomsbury Food Library that explores the imaginative, creative process that transforms what we eat, and its power to shape the self. From food fetishism modern media, and the creative process of food blogging, to the study of food art, and the geographical imagination, this Topic in Focus is your gateway into this fascinating topic.
To understand how food stitches together such a wonderful mosaic of materialities, people, places, spaces, and scales takes what David Harvey and others have called a “geographical imagination.” This geographical imagination is vital in helping us to understand and interpret the vast array of information and data now available concerning food and all its many dimensions. A geographical imagination provides a powerful window, not just on who eats what, but also on how the world’s food systems are put together and why food production and consumption work—or don’t—for different people and places. Read more with this chapter from the recently published Geographies of Food.
This chapter from Food History: Critical and Primary Sources explores the development of the food blog as a primary site of self-formation in the twenty-first century. Like cooking, food blogging involves the production of material culture, but it is the production of material media based around the object rather than the object itself. Blogging involves a number of creative processes, including writing, photography, and combining words and images, all of which are performed using digital technology. Thus, food blogging may be considered a form of digital creative production that involves making new material media through digital technologies.
In the case of food media, it is clear that imagination has played a central role for a long time. We have seen how food television has, since its beginnings, straddled a tenuous boundary between education and entertainment, and between fantasy and reality. This chapter from Food Media looks at two British celebrity chefs, Heston Blumenthal and Nigella Lawson, who both exemplify the strongest vicarious and imaginary function of food television, not because it really is impossible to learn anything from them, or to recreate at least some of their dishes in an everyday kitchen, but because their brands are built on fetish.
In this chapter from Food and the Self, Isabelle De Solier examines the creative process of making something with your own hands, and its significance in self-making and identity. The manual, or specifically hand-based, nature of production in cooking is central to its appeal as a form of productive leisure in postindustrial self-making. De Solier traces this need to engage in creative and productive activity through history, and outlines the modern need to be a producer of material objects not just a consumer. This form of material production is of utmost importance as a new mode of self-making through material culture in a postindustrial society.
Many chefs today offer culinary creations that prompt an emotional response sparked by a cobination of flavors and textures, experienced intimately by each diner. They offer multisensory, participatory experiences and blur the boundaries between art and everyday life. This chapter from The Handbook of Food and Popular Culture focuses on exploring food as a medium for art (rather than a subject), and aims to think through the work of professional chefs in the context of art and “high” culture. Beginning in the 1930s, Yael Raviv explores the role of food as a medium in certain avant-garde movements and proceeds to look at their influence on later work in the studio and the kitchen.
Women’s predilection for food imagery and symbolism in literary works has been a growing interest for scholars at least since the 1980s. Dacia Maraini’s ‘obsession’ with food dates back to her traumatic experience of a Japanese concentration camp during the Second World War. The hunger she suffered then inevitably shaped her aesthetic and literary imagination. Food – or lack of it – has become a quasi-ubiquitous motif in her writings. Maria Morelli analyses this recourse to food imagery in Maraini’s works and argues that the act of preparing, presenting or consuming meals, while reaffirming food as central in the shaping of the female experience, also bespeaks the author’s preoccupations with an essentialist model of female identity.
For 30 years, since the publication of her landmark book the Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol J. Adams and her readers have continued to document and hold to account the degrading interplay of language about women, domesticated animals, and meat in advertising, politics, and media.
Serving as sequel and visual companion, Adams’ brand new book the Pornography of Meat charts the continued influence of this language and the fight against it. With over 300 images, this new edition brings the book up to date to include expressions of misogyny in online media and advertising, the #MeToo movement, and the impact of Donald Trump and white supremacy on our political language. Read the opening chapter here. [Content Warning.]
Adams’ has also contributed to the Object Lessons collection, a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Burger is a fast-paced and eclectic exploration of the history, business, cultural dynamics, and gender politics of the ordinary hamburger.