Food: A Cultural Culinary History

Course No. 9180
Professor Ken Albala, Ph.D.
University of the Pacific
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Course No. 9180
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Course Overview

Eating is an indispensable human activity. As a result, whether we realize it or not, the drive to obtain food has been a major catalyst across all of history, from prehistoric times to the present. Epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said it best: "Gastronomy governs the whole life of man."

In fact, civilization itself began in the quest for food. Humanity's transition to agriculture was not only the greatest social revolution in history, but it directly produced the structures and institutions we call "civilization."

In every era, the unfolding of history has been intimately tied to the need for food, the production of food, and the culture of food. In all major religions, food choice has been an integral part of religious identity. The quest for spices and exotic foodstuffs led to the European discovery of the New World, as well as to the connecting of the entire globe through trade. In 1840s Ireland a single food—the potato—changed the course of history. Modern warfare, from Napoleon's conquests to World War II, was made possible by advances in food technology.

In our own times, more people worldwide now recognize the McDonald's "golden arches" than the Christian cross. Beyond feeding our bodies, food choices and ideologies express social distinctions, as well as our values, concerns, and aspirations. For all of these reasons, food offers a deeply insightful lens on human history, shedding new light on the evolution of social and political systems, on cultural interactions, economic empires, human migrations, and more. Through food culture, we see how primary biological needs have shaped all human lives through the ages. The history of food is the history of human life at its most elemental, its most intimate, its most essential. It's also a story of ingenuity, creativity, and remarkable human behavior to rival any other aspect of culture.

In Food: A Cultural Culinary History, award-winning Professor Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific puts this extraordinary subject on the table, taking you on an enthralling journey into the human relationship to food. With this innovative course, you'll travel the world discovering fascinating food lore and culture of all regions and eras—as an eye-opening lesson in history as well as a unique window on what we eat today.

Incorporating extensive study of historical recipes, food preparation techniques from around the world, and activities you can try at home, these 36 colorful lectures take you through the entire spectrum of food history, from the cuisine of ancient Egypt to the great flowering of European cookery in the Middle Ages, and from the celebrity chefs of 18th-century France to our own Zagat- and Michelin-rated restaurant culture. Along the way, you learn in depth about food production and technology in each era; the social, economic, and political factors surrounding food culture; and thinking on diet and eating through the centuries. The result is a compelling inquiry that will change the way you look at both history and food itself.

Food as a Driver of Human History

As context for exploring humanity's remarkable food cultures, you observe the integral role of food in the unfolding of civilization. From prehistory to our own era, your study includes these seminal subjects:

  • The revolutions of agriculture: Learn how agriculture arose in the prehistoric world and how it spurred the development of urban organization, political systems, social classes, militaries, and trade.
  • Food and faith: Grasp how food practices became core expressions of religious faith in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as in the Eastern traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism.
  • 1492 and food globalization: Track the great trading empires of the Venetians, Portuguese, and Spanish, and the "Columbian exchange," where plants and animals from five continents were transplanted across the world.
  • Coffee, tea, sugar, and slaves: Discover how the trade in a group of superfluous luxury items in the era of European colonialism altered the focus of the global economy.
  • Eating in the Industrial Revolution: Learn how capital-intensive, mass food production in the Industrial Revolution forever changed human diet and nutrition.
  • Big business and food imperialism: Observe the vast industrialization of food production in the late 19th and 20th centuries; its economic and human consequences; and the ideologies, movements, and practices that arose to oppose it.   

A Global Richness of Culinary Cultures

At the heart of the course, you delve deeply into classic food traditions around the world. Among civilizations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, your inquiry highlights these traditions: 

  • Status and ritual in ancient Rome: Learn how Roman food reflected social rank, wealth, and sophistication, and investigate the dining habits of the upwardly mobile as well as the gastronomic eccentricities of the emperor Heliogabalus.
  • The exquisite flavors of medieval Islamic cuisine: In a culture with no injunction against pleasure, learn how the medieval Muslims' sensual dishes—richly spiced, colored, or perfumed—reflected visions of a paradise on earth.
  • Aztec food culture: In this unique New World tradition, discover the Aztec way of life—the indigenous foodstuffs, eating rituals, and "signature" foods, from chilies to chocolate.
  • Sumptuous dining in the Renaissance: Study the sophistication and complexity of Renaissance-era food culture in the writings of Platina, Ficino, and Messisbugo, and witness the extravagance of banquets at the court of Ferrara.  
  • The genesis of French haute cuisine: Grasp the aesthetics of French 17th-century cookery, based in refinement and pureness of flavors and study four Gallic cookbooks that revolutionized culinary history.
  • "Scientific" cooking in the 21st century: In our own diverse era, encounter the phenomenon of "molecular gastronomy"—technology-enhanced food creations designed to titillate and amaze the palate.

A Colorful and Diverse Learning Experience

Expanding on the lectures and in-studio demonstrations of food preparation techniques, the course guidebook presents a series of 39 hands-on activities—where you can learn how to make everything from Egyptian beer to Elizabethan "Chickin Pye"—that give you direct experience of how people cooked, ate, and thought about food in past eras. You also practice medieval eating rituals, track the rich evocation of food in art, and immerse yourself in the poetic ambiance of classic Japanese dining.

Across the span of the centuries you sample important food writing from many cultures, from the world’s first surviving recipes written in cuneiform to the lavish dishes of Apicius of Rome, and from the classic medieval cookbooks of Taillevent and Chiquart to the 19th-century Guide Culinaire by Escoffier.

And, throughout the series, the lectures pulsate with surprising and intriguing details of the human adventure with food:

  • Dinner knives with rounded tips were developed to reduce the threat of violence at the table.
  • The English word "dinner," from the Latin disjejunare, literally means "break-fast."   
  • The banana, which we know as a single fruit, actually exists in hundreds of diverse varieties.
  • The world's first restaurant-based food culture was Edo-era Japan.
  • The separation of sweet and savory flavors that we know today is relatively recent historically. Before the 16th century, meat and fish were often cooked with sugar, fruit, and syrups.
  • 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.

Food: A Cultural Culinary History offers you an insightful and startlingly different view of our civilization that you won't find anywhere else, revealing the development of societies and cultures through the single factor that has driven human life more than any other. In the process, you discover the stunning richness of world cultures as seen in their distinctive food traditions, and greatly broaden your own enjoyment of fine food.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Hunting, Gathering, and Stone Age Cooking
    Consider food as a major catalyst in human history, and what food choices reveal about our values and ambitions. Then study food culture in prehistoric times—our ancestors’ wide-ranging diet of everything from mammoths and seafood to acorns, insects, seeds, and grasses—and the ways in which how they ate directly drove evolution. x
  • 2
    What Early Agriculturalists Ate
    The transition to agriculture was perhaps humanity’s single greatest social revolution, with mixed results. Explore the factors surrounding the rise of agriculture, how plants and animals were domesticated, and why agriculture directly led to civilization as we know it. Learn how the menu of foods favored by agricultural societies came about. x
  • 3
    Egypt and the Gift of the Nile
    Ancient Egypt’s prosperity, court culture, and isolation from conflict led to a sophisticated food tradition and the first “elite” cuisine. Study the archaeological evidence of their food customs, the religious significance of foodstuffs and animals, and the components of their cuisine, encompassing grains, wine, bread, numerous vegetables, and wild game. x
  • 4
    Ancient Judea—From Eden to Kosher Laws
    Practices regarding food were deeply integral to the lives of the ancient Hebrews. Explore prescriptions regarding food in Genesis, and consider that the Fall itself was an act of eating. Then learn about the Hebrew rituals and meaning of sacrifice, and note the Hebrews’ complex food prohibitions, rooted in what was considered clean and unclean. x
  • 5
    Classical Greece—Wine, Olive Oil, and Trade
    Grasp how the ancient Greeks’ need for arable land led to their imperial and mercantile system, and consider what we learn about their food culture from Homer, Hesiod, Pythagoras, and Plato. Observe the role of food in the rituals of festivals, religious cults, and symposia, and study simple components of the classical Greek diet that later influenced the rest of the world. x
  • 6
    The Alexandrian Exchange and the Four Humors
    Alexander’s conquests heralded an era where previously unconnected cultures mixed on a large scale. Trace the diffusion of foodstuffs over vast trade networks in the Hellenistic period. Study early dietary regimens based in Galen’s famous theory of the body’s “humors,” and the influence on food culture of philosophical schools such as the Stoics and Epicureans. x
  • 7
    Ancient India—Sacred Cows and Ayurveda
    Ancient India gave birth to culinary traditions that still carry wide influence. Learn about the culture of the Aryans, whose religion prefigured Hinduism; food customs relating to caste; and the traditions of vegetarianism in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Also study the dietetic system of Ayurvedic medicine and the components of Indian cuisine. x
  • 8
    Yin and Yang of Classical Chinese Cuisine
    Chinese culture produced what is arguably the most complex, sophisticated, and varied culinary tradition on earth. Trace the rise of civilization in China from the Hsia to the Han dynasty, the social and technological factors underlying China’s elaborate food traditions, and the role of Taoist thought and Chinese medicine in diet. x
  • 9
    Dining in Republican and Imperial Rome
    Here, delve into intriguing contrasts in the dining habits of the ancient Romans. From the simple food customs of republican Rome, follow the expanding empire and how exotic food became a status symbol. Examine a cookbook aimed at those eager to flaunt their wealth, see how the satirist Juvenal responded, and witness the bizarre gastronomic decadence of the late empire. x
  • 10
    Early Christianity—Food Rituals and Asceticism
    Food and its symbolism played a distinct role in the development of Christianity. Observe the role of food in Jesus’s parables and miracles, as well as in the ritual of the Eucharist. Learn about early Christian and monastic dietary prescriptions, practices regarding ritual fasting, and the significance of purification through self-denial. x
  • 11
    Europe's Dark Ages and Charlemagne
    The fall of Rome and the rise of Germanic tribal kingdoms brought marked culinary changes to Europe. Study the “barbarian” diet and the culture of “fast and feast” rooted in the opposing ideals of Christian asceticism, meat-eating virility, and classical moderation. Trace Charlemagne’s dynamic rule and his impact on food culture. x
  • 12
    Islam—A Thousand and One Nights of Cooking
    The rise of Islam brought a new way of thinking about food. Contemplate the Muslim cultural values that permitted pleasure, the cultivation of the senses, and the creation of an exquisite cuisine. Study Islamic eating rituals and Persian-influenced culinary techniques, such as perfuming food and cooking meat with sweets. x
  • 13
    Carnival in the High Middle Ages
    In the wake of the Crusades, learn about the great innovations in medieval cooking spurred by contact with Islamic civilization, based in the sophisticated use of exotic spices and herbs. Trace the food rituals and exuberant indulgence of Carnival, and grasp the symbolism of outlandish folktales relating to food. x
  • 14
    International Gothic Cuisine
    Ironically, the plague in 14th-century Europe produced societal shifts that led to a resplendent era in food. Assess the influence of three seminal cookbooks and the craze for spices and sugar in the flourishing of “Gothic” cuisine. Study specific recipes, cooking techniques, and the culture of medieval court banquets. x
  • 15
    A Renaissance in the Kitchen
    The Italian Renaissance brought a new aesthetic approach to cookery, featuring great complexity of presentation. Uncover some of the era’s extremes in books by food writers Platina, Ficino, and Messisbugo, and note connections with the self-conscious sophistication of Mannerist painting. Study menus and recipes from the staggeringly elaborate banquets of the court of Ferrara. x
  • 16
    Aztecs and the Roots of Mexican Cooking
    Contemporary with the European Renaissance, Aztec culture produced a unique food tradition that survives today in Mexican cuisine. Learn first about Aztec society, its indigenous foodstuffs, and distinctive diet. Also study descriptions of lavish Aztec banquets; “signature” foods, from avocados, beans, and chilies to chocolate and maize; and the Aztec philosophy of balance and moderation in eating. x
  • 17
    1492—Globalization and Fusion Cuisines
    Humanity’s desire for spices and other luxury items eventually connected the entire globe. Track the powerful trading empires of the Venetians and Portuguese, the Spanish conquest of the New World, and the “Columbian exchange”—where plants and animals from five continents were globally transplanted, changing eating habits around the world. x
  • 18
    16th-Century Manners and Reformation Diets
    Across Europe in the 1500s, witness new dynamics in culture that brought the use of cutlery, elaborate tableware, ritualized behavior at table, and food ideologies distinct from courtly fashions. Also observe the effects of the religious Reformations on eating habits, seen in new dietary freedoms, fasting practices, and moralistic thinking about food. x
  • 19
    Papal Rome and the Spanish Golden Age
    Here, explore the rise of distinct regional and national cuisines, focusing on Italy and Spain. Review the monumental culinary writings of Bartolomeo Scappi, bringing together specialty dishes from all of Italy. Then study excerpts from two classic books of Spanish cookery as they vividly evoke Spain’s rich food culture. x
  • 20
    The Birth of French Haute Cuisine
    In the mid-17th century, France assumed a preeminent position in the art of cooking. Here, grasp the aesthetics of the new French cuisine, based in subtlety, refinement, and pureness of flavors. Discuss four French cookbooks that revolutionized culinary history and set the context for a variety of cuisines that follow. x
  • 21
    Elizabethan England, Puritans, Country Food
    English cookery’s unflattering reputation conceals a rich and varied culinary past. Consider the religious and political factors that produced a “schizophrenic” gastronomy, contrasting native and foreign influences, courtly and country cooking. Learn about the wide range of British foodstuffs, and compare recipes using odd, baroque embellishments with ideologies promoting simple, traditional fare. x
  • 22
    Dutch Treat—Coffee, Tea, Sugar, Tobacco
    The 17th and 18th centuries saw the rise of European colonial empires, where trade in exotic foods abetted slavery and forced labor. Follow the conquests of the Dutch, British, and French, and grasp how the trade in a group of entirely superfluous luxury items changed the focus of the global economy. x
  • 23
    African and Aboriginal Cuisines
    In this lecture, learn first about distinctive African foodways that predated extensive outside contact, encompassing traditions such as rich stews and “fufu” (starch-based porridges), regional eating rituals, and important indigenous foodstuffs. Then review the surprising variety of Australian plant and animal species used in aboriginal cookery but never adopted by European settlers. x
  • 24
    Edo, Japan—Samurai Dining and Zen Aesthetics
    Contemplate the traditional Japanese reverence for nature as reflected in their respect for the natural flavors of all foods. Study the elements of Japan’s refined and elegant cuisine, the origins of sushi, and the aesthetics of ritualized manners, decoration, and presentation in the world’s first restaurant-based food culture. x
  • 25
    Colonial Cookery in North America
    Eating habits in the American colonies incorporated a wide variety of cultural influences. Contrast the culinary fashions of Virginia, modeled on the English gentry, with the mercantile, Puritan ethic of New England; the varied foodways of the Dutch settlers, Germans, Quakers, and Quebecois; and the unique cuisine of Louisiana. x
  • 26
    Eating in the Early Industrial Revolution
    The Industrial Revolution brought far-reaching changes in food production and culture. In the British Isles, observe how the advent of industrially organized farming, urban labor, and mass production led to artificial modification of food and a decline in the quality of diet, as well as human-made disasters such as the 1840s potato famine. x
  • 27
    Romantics, Vegetarians, Utopians
    In the 19th century, food-conscious social movements reacted against the ills of industrial society. Delve into new dietary ideologies that stressed purity, backed by both quasi-scientific and religious thought. Follow the rise of vegetarian societies, Utopian social experiments, and health reform movements that gave us graham crackers, breakfast cereals, and granola. x
  • 28
    First Restaurants, Chefs, and Gastronomy
    European culinary art blossomed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Learn about the West’s first true restaurants in 18th-century Paris and the formalized structure of meals served in multiple courses. Follow the exploits of four of the first celebrity chefs and the development of “gastronomy”—the science and art of eating well. x
  • 29
    Big Business and the Homogenization of Food
    Here, investigate the process by which late 19th-century food production became a vast industry. See how technological developments such as freezing, canning, and pasteurization gave large companies increasing control over food production. Trace the fortunes of the peanut from health food to junk food, and the global implications of industrial food processing. x
  • 30
    Food Imperialism around the World
    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European colonialism expanded across the entire globe as a form of economic empire building. Grasp how Western powers came to control massive production of export crops in nonindustrialized countries, and how political maneuvering enabled large companies to dominate global markets in foodstuffs. x
  • 31
    Immigrant Cuisines and Ethnic Restaurants
    This lecture explores the significant ways in which American eating habits have been shaped by immigrants. Investigate the social phenomenon of immigration, and how food cultures are imported and adapted. Learn how Italian, Jewish, and Mexican foods entered the American mainstream, and what accounts for their wide and sustained popularity. x
  • 32
    War, Nutritionism, and the Great Depression
    In early 20th-century America, discover how World War I changed the way civilians eat. Observe how corporations dictated the American diet, and witness the advent of chain supermarkets, junk foods, the marketing of food with health claims, and the government’s new role in food supply in the wake of the Depression. x
  • 33
    World War II and the Advent of Fast Food
    Food technologies developed to aid the war effort became the template for American eating in the postwar era. Follow the proliferation of freeze-dried and convenience foods, TV dinners, and chain restaurants as they shaped food culture. Study the phenomenon of fast food and the McDonald’s business model that became a global phenomenon. x
  • 34
    Counterculture—From Hippies to Foodies
    Explore the revitalization of food culture in the late 20th century, beginning with the health food movement and new dietary ideologies. Track the vibrant new era in food reflected in the work of influential food writers and cooks, artisan food producers, “slow food” culture, and farmers’ markets. x
  • 35
    Science of New Dishes and New Organisms
    Science is transforming both how we prepare foods and the foods themselves. First, witness the meeting of science and fine dining in the ingenious creations of “modernist” cuisine. Then grasp the principles of the genetic modification of foods, its promise and potential dangers, and the implications of technologies such as cloning and hydroponics. x
  • 36
    The Past as Prologue?
    Conclude with Professor Albala’s intriguing predictions on the future of our food culture. Contemplate potential trends in food supply, industrial processing, agriculture, and food delivery. Also consider the projected obsolescence of our forms of shopping and home cooking, and possible successors to traditional cutlery, plates, and kitchens. x

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  • Historic recipes
  • Culinary activities

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Your professor

Ken Albala

About Your Professor

Ken Albala, Ph.D.
University of the Pacific
Dr. Ken Albala is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he teaches food history and the history of early modern Europe. He is also a Visiting Professor at Boston University, where he teaches an advanced food history course in the gastronomy program. He earned an M.A. in History from Yale University and a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. Professor Albala is the author or...
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Food: A Cultural Culinary History is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 108.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from On a "Cultural History of Food" This was a superb course, superbly presented. I do mean it. We are surrounded by carbohydrate, and never think how it got there, essentially on every street corner in every American city, and now seducing the rest of the world as well. Perhaps nearly unique in history, we take food, a little like breathing, for granted. This course teaches you otherwise, and is taught with an aplomb and panache that I cannot compliment enough. Amidst all the plethora of solid information, details and anecdotes are skillfully woven in with a delectable concision and good humor. The course, as well, is indeed a history of "culture" almost as much as of food, and how the two are in fact so closely intertwined. Professor Albala, in his presentation (we had just the CDs) has about his voice a charm and occasional chuckle that adds further delight to the wealth of information he conveys. We would love to have him for dinner; I mean to share it with us, of course, but no "rooster combs, or "hummingbird feet" should be expected!
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Please Sir, can I have some more? I was given Ken's DVD as a gift. The person who presented it to me must love me very much. I am active in the culinary arts, and found Ken's knowledge and enthusiasm to be refreshing and inspiring. He presented the material in a manner that I found to be quite pleasing and entertaining.
Date published: 2016-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I want seconds! This is been my favorite Great Course to date! Learning about different cultures' and eras' approaches to food was absolutely fascinating. I learned, for example, that many Indians do not eat leftovers. And Pythagoras believed beans had souls. And the Cavendish banana is going extinct. Cocktail parties will never be the same again – I have loads of trivia to share! My one critique is that the professor only occasionally demonstrated how to make particular dishes. It would have been exciting if he had prepared one dish for each lecture. Then again, I'm not so sure I want to try medieval food…
Date published: 2015-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course, with qualifications I generally enjoyed this course, but as other reviewers have pointed out, it is marred by the professor's leftist, anti-capitalist bias. Of course, if you are leftist and anti-capitalist yourself, you probably won't even notice the slant. But on the plus side, I liked the fact that he included recipes in both the lecture and the course guidebook. The ancient Greek recipe for shark steak was good (you can keep the retsina though), as was the green bean casserole made with fresh ingredients.
Date published: 2015-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Food for thought A fascinating course, with much – well, food for thought. There’s a tendency to think that nutrition has gradually improved over the centuries, with the change from hunter gathering to the agricultural revolution, and on via scientific advances to the range of food , and styles of cuisine available today. But has it improved? Hunter gathering provided a wide range of natural food, and was resilient – if something was in short supply, there were alternatives. Agricultural monoculture limited what was available, and resulted in disasters such as the Irish potato famine. Professor Albala also discussed – reasonably tactfully – what is on offer from the multi-national food processing companies and the fast food outlets of today. Improvement? Criticisms? Just one. No mention of fish and chips! (Yes, I’m a Brit.)
Date published: 2015-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Please sir, I want some more...Food history! This course is easily the most interesting presentation of history and culture through food. I have been a professional Chef for over a decade and in each lecture I have found such fascinating information about food - including dispelling a whole host of myths that are widely accepted in the food industry, but are just not true. Thank you, Professor Albala, for your tireless efforts in researching and arranging this enormous amount of information that goes back to the beginning of human civilization right up to modern day cuisine. The lectures were so entertaining and informative that I found myself saying "Really?", or "No kidding?", or "Wow, how interesting" throughout the course.
Date published: 2015-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating History of Food I received a Great Courses gift certificate and was so excited to spend it on Food! This is a really fascinating course on what people have eaten through the ages and how food is so integrated with culture. The professor is entertaining and knowledgeable, and displays a true love of the topic when presenting. He also shares several ancient but still relevant recipes which I look forward to trying. I travel a lot and count on the Great Courses to keep me in quality information throughout my journeys. I highly recommend this course - food and history all wrapped up in one.
Date published: 2015-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of My Favorite Courses This is a wonderful course. The course looks at the eating habits of various cultures and relates food habits to the rest of society. Ken Albala is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the the subject. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating Trip through the History of Food I truly enjoyed this course because the professor did a fine job of reviewing food eating habits and condiments in a thoroughly enjoyable manner. I look at food in a different way now, and have a greater appreciation for the many choices we have today.
Date published: 2015-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Food, a Cultural, Culinary History I haven't heard all yet but it is fascinating. I'm a foodie, love to cook, so this is a real treat for me. I suppose "food" isn't for everyone, and I'm a history buff, but I really enjoy this lecture series.
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Much more than food! M. Ken Albala is really enthusiastic about is subject, it keeps us interested! Seeing the History through food facilitates learnings!
Date published: 2014-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not Just Food It was interesting to see how the history of food also covered historical and political issues. This course should be of interest to more people than cooks.
Date published: 2014-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Novel infromation for Foodies If you love everything food, you will like this course. Learn why chopsticks are not badly designed forks, they were a very civil alternative to knives and sticky fingers. Find out what great culture ate mice and puppies. This course places history at the dining table and shows how food influenced the course of events. Make dinner not war.
Date published: 2014-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from it is a nice course I got the the lecture in audio so I guess I missed much of the course, which might have had better impact if i had the visual. And still, I found it to be very informative and interesting
Date published: 2014-12-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, but . . . . Interesting, but less information about food & diet of each period of history than I expected.
Date published: 2014-12-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from An Unsatisfying Meal I consider myself to be a foodie, junior grade, and I like to cook, so I was really looking forward to this course. I got the CD version to listen to on my commute. In the first half of the course, there were several great insights: the Passover Seder, developed during the Hellenistic period, is modeled on a Greek symposium, or drinking party, for example. However, around 1500 AD, this course went off the rails. In describing the rise of global trade networks built around high value foodstuffs like sugar, coffee, and tea, it is clear how much the lecturer disapproves of European expansion. Later, when he gets to the last 150 years, the lecturer thinks every single development in food processing and modern agriculture was a mistake. In his world view, we should all spend one or two hours a day preparing food, using only locally grown food, produced by small farms. He continually uses the phrase "big businesses pushed small producers out." He never considers that maybe by being more efficient, or catering to consumer tastes, businesses got big because the customers deserted other producers, who then went out of business. He mentions distilling twice that I can think of, given this historic cultural development about three sentences. The practice of using hops for beer gets no mention at all. I don't feel like I'm a dupe of a capitalist conspiracy, just because I like Kentucky Fried Chicken, or because I have frozen vegetables that are out of season in my freezer. A more even handed approach would have raised my hackles less.
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating Presentation This CD series is more than I could have expected. It is an overview, yet detailed, and peppered(no pun intended) with humorous anecdotes and stories.
Date published: 2014-10-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Food: A Culinary History The content is good...The professor knows his stuff and is personable...However he has a bad habit of starting every 2nd or 3rd sentence with "UMM" Gets to be very distracting and annoying...
Date published: 2014-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An outstanding learning experience Professor Albala’s lectures here are an exceptionally well-articulated and instructive series that bring together human history from all over the globe using food as the backdrop and narrative for the evolution and reinvention of our primary cultural activity – eating. I thoroughly enjoyed this series of lectures and highly recommend them to any gastronomically thinking person. His command of so many historical periods and perspectives on culture provide for hours of thoughtful reflection. Good stuff all around. Joe W, Brookeville MD
Date published: 2014-08-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Puff pastry Yes i enjoyed this course, DR. Albala has a very enjoyable, cocktail party style of lecturing. Seems to wander at times, but always brings his points home. This course is as much about history and culture as food. I was expecting more on the development of agriculture (the history of maze fore instance) than was presented. Overall I expected more substance on food itself than the course delivered. Can not deny though that the course and prof were a nice treat.
Date published: 2014-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! This was my first Great Course and it was a DVD version, which I watched over a period of weeks. The course was very interesting. It does a fantastic job of taking you through culinary history and showing you how and why different people eat certain foods or why they eat a certain way. I found many of lectures of the modern era the best. For example, how global trade affected what we ate and why or how WW II changed the food industry entirely and the origins of fast food. The content was superb! The professor and presentation were also excellent. I watched the DVD version and they used two cameras so as he was lecturing they would shift the camera and use a transition, which I found very useful at keeping me engaged. No matter which camera they focus in on he is looking straight at the viewer, which was very helpful to me. He uses plenty of photos and drawings throughout and his speaking style and delivery were fantastic. I absolutely loved this course and received a lot of value from it. I sincerely, hope the professor does some future courses on similar or related topics for other courses.
Date published: 2014-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broad ranging and stimulating This enjoyable and informative course deals with a myriad of subjects related to food: the influence of ritual and religion, including taboos; the availability of specific foods to the numerous cultures treated; the difference in eating habits between levels of society; the role of food in stimulating exploration and colonialization; exchanges in foods across the globe due to such exploration; the role technological innovations have had in increasing food supply with a subsequent inevitable increase in population and health, often followed by Malthusian crises; explanations of changing attitudes regarding health, from Galen’s theory of humors to modern discoveries of a host of nutritional categories. Spice these lectures with recipes (and even some demonstrations of food preparation techniques), included not so much as ends in themselves but as a way of spurring interest in how approaches to eating--and banqueting--have changed and how they define the evolution of food history and you have an integrated history of how we have arrived where we are and what has influenced our eating habits, whatever your eating preferences: fast or slow food. The professor is also to be applauded for speaking in favor of ethics in food production and its relationship to the quality of food and, thereby, to the protection of health.
Date published: 2014-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This course and professor did a tremendous job presenting the material. I found it well thought out and informative. It has peaked my curiosity to learn more and I would recommend it to anyone who likes food or history. I hope professor Albala does a follow up course soon on related subjects.
Date published: 2014-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I never knew that food history could be so interesting. My parents were foodies before the term became widely used. So I was exposed early on to various cuisines. But I never thought much about food throughout the Ages and especially how much food and the securing of it influenced history. Dr. Albala has brought all that to light in a very interesting fashion. His enthusiasm for the subject is infectious and his grasp of his subject matter profound. I've learned a lot about food, but perhaps as much about world history in such an effortless way. A great course. Well worth the time and money.
Date published: 2014-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Single Lecture Ever This is absolutely, positively the most fabulous lecture I've ever seen. It covers a vast scope of history, and the interwoven relationship between food, culture and the development of the world. The only thing I could ask for is that some of the lectures could easily have been longer as they seem to only scratch the surface. The number of new facts about the world that I learned, ones not even having to do with food, are beyond count. Ken does a great job covering al the subjects and being extremely objective, taking a wide lens to the subject and not getting bogged down taking sides. Truly a wonderful work, I will be recommending to everyone who cares!
Date published: 2014-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from DVD review. ©2013. Guidebook 290 pages. I found this to be a very interesting course covering a wide range of issues related to food. You really come away with a sense for how culinary arts change and recycle over time. As it is global in scale, you also get a good feel for regional differences around the world. It’s much more than just what’s for dinner in say, ancient Greece or Japan. The course focuses on a variety of drivers that force change: culture, economics, religion, etc. I finished the course a little while ago but I still think about it; for this reason, I’d say it’s memorable. In short, it’s a reasonable supplement to my other history courses. The professor kept my attention throughout the course, so 36 lectures flew by. In fact, from the Renaissance onwards, I found myself watching several lectures a day straight. The filler “um” seemed to be relied on way too much for my taste, but that was the only distraction. Several reviewers commented that the professor’s politics interfered with their enjoyment of the course, but I found that kind of criticism to ring hollow. While it seems fair to conclude that that the professor supports artisanal food producers, local farmers, and perhaps laments the effects that agribusiness lobbyists have had on the food industry, his only political/economic gripe is with unfair business practices and the exploitation of labor (see Lecture 30—which by the way was really eye opening). There are a few cooking demonstrations during the course, but not too many. However, for each lecture there’s a related Culinary Activity in the Guidebook. I didn’t do them, but I’m going to try a couple if I can find the ingredients. The hefty Guidebook is a wonderful reference and review in its own right.
Date published: 2014-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Great Course! What a master story teller Professor Albala is! He weaves a fascinating and very informative series of tales of the interaction of human development, science, exploration and globalization into the foods we eat and the way we eat them. His scholarly overview is amazingly detailed and ingeniously presented. I highly recommend this to anyone who eats food.
Date published: 2014-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hunger for a better diet changed everything Ken Albala's course, "Food: A Cultural Culinary History" is a fascinating exploration of how food has dictated from gatherer-hunter into the industrial complex that it is today. It is both interesting and entertaining. Professor Albala presents these subjects in a way that is gripping in that the what our ancestors ate had very much to do with their social alliances, progressions and explorations. It also gives one food for thought in how our present conditions are the result of this history. Professor Albala's delivery is witty and well-paced, one can tell he is quite knowledgable of the subject matter. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is involved with the food industry (gives you a greater appreciation of how we adapted to environmental conditions) and/or who want a broader historical perspective. There is also some nifty recipes includes and demonstrations on how our forefathers and mothers prepared meals. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough, Accurate, & Entertaining Just finished this course & as a foodie & history buff - I loved it. The course makes great connections between food and society and covers parts of history that are normally skipped over. Highly recommended for anyone who loves food or history.
Date published: 2014-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the World, part Food! The Great Courses CD's have turned the monotony of my 35 minute commute to and from the office into a wonderfully entertaining and educational experience! I've listened to many of the Great Courses, have enjoyed and learned from almost all of them, but Prof. Ken Albala's "Food: A Cultural culinary History" may be the best! It's so much more than "food." As a Professor of History #History buff, indeed, Mia Michelle!# Professor Albala's presentation is more a non Mel Brooksian "History of the World, Part Food!" His obviously progressive political opinions, rather than detracting from the narrative, give it a strong point of view, and his grasp of the subject, as well as his enthusiasm and sense of humor make this a complete winner. Students of history, amateur chefs or just somebody who loves to eat and wants to know what he likes got to be what he likes will thoroughly enjoy this course.
Date published: 2014-03-18
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