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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Why Food Tells Us More About a Culture Than Anything Else—Ken Alba

00:00 01:04:44
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You and your ancestor from 1,000 years ago have almost nothing in common. Your clothes are different. Your worship rituals are different. Your thoughts about the opposite sex are definitely different. Almost the only similarity is that both of you are driven to obtain food. In fact, one could say that civilization itself began in the quest for food. Epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said it best: “Gastronomy governs the whole life of man.” In this episode, Professor Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific puts the subject of food and its importance in history on the table. Ken has studied widely on the types of cuisine that would be featured at a Roman feast, a medieval banquet, or a Renaissance Italian civic celebration. He’s ground Italian flour to make the sort of bread one would eat in Pompeii. He’s made stewed rabbit in a homemade clay pot the way an Elizabethean peasant would. He hasn’t tried field-mouse-on-a-stick (a popular Roman delicacy) but probably not for lack of trying. In this episode we discuss How Roman food reflected social rank, wealth, and sophistication The Middle Ages produced some of history’s most outlandish and theatrical presentations of food, such as gilded boars’ heads; “invented” creatures, mixing parts of different animals; and cooked peacocks spewing flames. The sophistication and complexity of Renaissance-era food culture in the writings of Platina, Ficino, and Messisbugo, and the extravagance of banquets at the court of Ferrara. The aesthetics of French 17th-century cookery, based in refinement and pureness of flavors and study four Gallic cookbooks that revolutionized culinary history. In the 21st century, the phenomenon of “molecular gastronomy”—technology-enhanced food creations designed to titillate and amaze the palate.
November 27, 2017
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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