By Barbara Wheaton
Humanities Research Group, Vol 7 (1998)
Introduction: I am a culinary historian: I study how food is obtained, preserved, prepared, and eaten, and the very considerable freight of cultural meaning that these processes carry with them. The need for food affects every life, every day. It is essential to survival, but it is also central to religious and secular ceremony. From the earliest times until the present day, it is one of the major elements of national and international trade.
As I have pursued my studies, specializing in the history of the kitchen and table in France from the Middle Ages down through the centuries, I have found myself looking at works of art, memoirs, travel literature, newspapers, and treatises on agriculture and on architecture.
There are many sources. In recent years archaeologists have developed techniques for examining bones to find indications of how the animals from which they came were butchered, cooked, and eaten. The history of wine -making has been pushed further back into the past through the analysis of tartaric acid residue in ancient Middle Eastern ceramic pots. James Deetz, in his splendid book In Small Things Forgotten , has demonstrated how the marks of wear on domestic artifacts show how they were used.