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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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 Tremendous He has total mastery of the subject area and adjacent areas. Very interesting and entertaining. Loved it.
Date published: 2014-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent introduction to culinary history As an amateur food historian and historic food reenactment enthusiast, I've enjoyed several of Professor Albala's books and was thrilled when I saw he had prepared a food history overview for The Great Courses. We're about half way through the course and am enjoying it very much -- he's a very engaging speaker. Thanks so much for offering this course!
Date published: 2014-03-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Historical fact or Professor Albala's myths? This is only a review of the first five lectures. I was unwilling to spend more time listening to additional unsubstantial claims attempting to disparage the Stories of Bible as myths. I am open to hearing a different point of view. However, in my humble opinion you need to cite sources or facts to back up your claims. Maybe Professor Albala would not take offense to my assertion that his first five course lectures consist of many myths rather than facts. Considering his attempt to make his own ever- changing definition of what a myth is. After stating that the Stories of the Bible are myths. He first defines a myth as something that is true. Later he implies that a myth is not absolute truth but is a story told to teach a a lesson. Is it the truth or not? Latter (I believe in lesson 5) He goes on to talk about the cult of Dionysus and gives what he says is a direct quote "He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood will not be made one with me or I with him" This quote is very similar to Jesus' words at the last supper. Prof. Albala then continued in an attempt to correlate the cult of Dionysus to Jesus. I watched the clip many times and was never able to hear or see a citation of the quote's source. In my opinion if you are going to use a book (the Bible) as a source of your teaching. You should know what it teaches. Not just pick and choose the teachings or lessons that fit your agenda. For instance, the five times "myth" appears in the New Testament (1Timothy 1:4, 4:7;2, Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14; and 2 Peter 1;16.) the word myth is used in a pejorative sense. It is clearly not intended for the Stories of the Bible to be viewed as myths. Whether the bible is the true word of God. Or just a fictional story (myth), that is based on some historical fact, primarily used to teach a lesson, and convince people to behave in a certain way, is the greatest mystery each person will be faced with. Professor Albala was not able to change my initial belief that the Bible is the true world of God. For those who still have questions I recommend The "Everlasting Man" by G. K. Chesterton or the #1 bestselling book of all time: "The Bible." If this corse was redone and focused on the actual history of food, I believe I would have watched the whole course. He is enthusiastic and entertaining. The Professor did have several food preparation examples at the end of lectures that were very interesting.
Date published: 2014-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining, Fun, Stimulating and Very Worthwhile Prof. Albala offers insight into the history of food that is presented in a highly easy-to-appreciate manner. I listened to a little of this course prior to purchasing since the subject matter could have been deathly boring. But Prof. Albala is anything but. His enthusiasm and genial style stimulates additional thinking and makes for quite a fascinating subject. I would buy any course that he teaches and am recommending this excellent series of lectures to friends.
Date published: 2014-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Great A really great history. This should be essential for all students and adults in school. We literally eat every day, and food impacts our health and culture. A really perfect balance between the big picture and the details, which is incredibly hard to do. And a great personality, funny and also inspiring.
Date published: 2013-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful I have already recommended this DVD and book set informally, and am finally compelled to make it official. Professor Albala is a terrific communicator to general audiences. That's a rare and valuable trait in an academic. That Albala is so respected in his field (see his other books and accolades, folks!) makes this all the more impressive. His enthusiasm for culinary history is obvious here, not to mention contagious. And I am learning so much! Good thing I can watch the DVDs again, because the content is so rich I need to re watch to remember it all! I appreciate Albala's willingness to qualify his generalizations, too, letting me know there is more to the story than he has time to point out in a survey of such ambitious (global) scope. All-around A+.
Date published: 2013-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Professor Albala was superb in his presentation. He was witty, informative, and made this course one of my favorites. His explanations and visuals were great. I can only hope that there will be more from him in the future.
Date published: 2013-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, excellent course Both entertaining and informative, this course is an outstanding one. Professor Albala is a delight to listen to: he obviously knows and appreciates his subject matter, and he is fortunately able to both speak good English and not mispronounce French words. Wonderful. I certainly would like to see another course (ANY other course) from this professor.
Date published: 2013-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating subject and the perfect professor As an employee of The Great Courses, I still am amazed at how our academic research team continues to find such remarkable experts as Professor Albala. Professor Albala is everything one could ask for in a Great Courses professor. He is clearly a foremost authority in the field, he is completely and transparently passionate about the subject, and he is a fabulously entertaining storyteller. I watched one lecture on video but listened almost the entire course on audio, and found it to be completely suitable to both. Professor Albala does invlude a few demonstrations of how ancients foods were prepared, but I never felt like I was missing anything critical in the audio version. If you are a fan of food and a fan of history, this course will delight you. Entertaining from start to finish, this course paints a vivid picture of daily life through history via the unusual prism of food, food rituals, and food technology. Of course, along the way, I dare you not to learn something new about hunter-gatherers, agrarian economies, the impact of cities, the industrial revolution, etc. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2013-12-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was really looking forward to this course, but the professor was badly organized and kept piling on aside after aside that had nothing to do with food. Example: Details on the differences between Sunnis, Shiites and Sufis, with no mention of what that had to do with what Moslems ate. Padded with lots of general historical information and given in a manner that falls far short of the tightly focused, disciplined courses given by the best Great Courses teachers.
Date published: 2013-12-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fairly tasty and easy to digest I enjoyed this course and learned a lot about food and its preparation across a wide range of ancient and more modern cultures. I found Prof. Albala a very engaging and enthusiastic lecturer; he'd clearly be a very fun person to have at a dinner party. I did find the first 28 lectures much more interesting and satisfying than the final 8. The latter 8 lectures were broadly on the subject of food, but meandered into issues like colonialism and the formation of banana republics in Central and South America, and the usual screed against fast food, agribusiness and so on. I agree with the other reviews that see a bit of typical left-wing anti-business academia in this course. But overall it's fun and useful.
Date published: 2013-11-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I challenge GC to correct this course Culinary history is at most a third of the course content. If you have a reasonably good background in “western civilization,” much will not be new, although a lot of the history has a decided spin. Prof Albala seems to believe that the first tragedy in human events was the Agricultural Revolution and the second the Industrial Revolution – with its “so-called labor saving devices” and its food industry that “seized control” of all aspects of food production and consumption. If you share Prof Albala’s world view and enjoy having your beliefs affirmed, you will probably like the course, as Prof Albala is a skilled speaker and comes across as a fun guy. While I found the Albala view of history annoying, I found Lecture 35 - which focused on genetic engineering of plants - inexcusable. Prof Albala starts out by noting the profusion of misinformation about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), then goes on to present anti-GMO urban myths as facts. Leaving aside the relevance to culinary history, there is no excuse for this ignorance – there is plenty of readily-available good information (e.g, GC’s genetics course by David Sadava; various reports on genetically engineered food by the National Academy of Sciences, all available for free on the Internet). Because of its potential effects, the worst misinformation in Lecture 35 is Prof Albala’s (good-natured, of course) attack on Golden Rice, which has been genetically engineered to contain beta carotene (provitamin A), and has the potential to save millions of the world’s poorest children from blindness and death. If he had spent a few minutes at the Golden Rice Project website, Prof Albala could have dispelled his errors: 0.3 pound (not 20 pounds) provides 100% of a child’s vitamin A needs, which is far more than the amount needed to prevent blindness; the rice will be provided free of charge and people will be able to replant the seeds (they will not “become dependent on the company who sells” the Golden Rice). Also, the genetic trait will be incorporated into local rice varieties (there won’t be a single variety that would be unsuitable in most places, as Prof Albala believes). There is even a well-documented and even-handed Wikipedia article on Golden Rice. There is no excuse for his misinformation. After anti-GMO activists trampled a test plot of Golden Rice in the Philippines in August 2013, eleven eminent scientists published a Science magazine editorial (also available free on the Internet). “If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage,” they state, it is the “concerted campaign” against Golden Rice by various organizations and individuals. Prof Albala, with his negative misinformation - though presented in his friendly and good-natured manner - is part of that campaign, and so by extension is GC. What more effective campaigner than a well-spoken, friendly, credentialed professor speaking under a name like GC’s? Mark Lynas, a former anti-GMO activist summed up the issue, in an on-line article in Slate magazine: “The simple question is this: If the anti-GMO campaigners do manage to delay the launch of Golden Rice, how many more children will die? ….The future success of the anti-GMO movement will be written on the gravestones of these children, who will die painfully but out of sight in remote poverty-stricken communities across South and East Asia.” If GC is the kind of company it claims to be, it will remove this course from its offerings until it investigates and corrects the errors in Lecture 35.
Date published: 2013-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delicious! I thoroughly enjoyed this course, the content, which began with Hunter Gatherers and continued to the present day, the wonderful presentation by Professor Albala, and the pictures and demos included in the course. i also liked the 'food for thought' in the Guidebook.
Date published: 2013-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable! This was one of the most delightful series I have ever viewed from the Teaching Company - and I have viewed a bunch! Professor Albala was amusing, informative, and a generally warm guest to invite into my living room. I learned a great deal about two of my favorite subjects - history and cooking.
Date published: 2013-11-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Another Marxist and Anti-colonialist I wanted to like this course. Some topics are interesting, and I appreciate the Great Courses for attempting to link the culinary world with history. The instructor makes me cringe during many parts of his presentation: Why must the instructor litter the course with Marxist views and anti-colonial biases? If I wanted such views, I'd turn on the news, to hear delusional paternalizing opinions. He's clearly an anti-capitalist; however, capitalism has freed many people in the world. Not every system is perfect, but the free markets allow us to innovate drudgery, create things that are useful, and open doors to other cultures, compared to any other system in history. Even with Capitalism's shortcomings, it has managed to feed billions of people, those who, under another "system" would have died from the inability to merely feed themselves. (The Irish Potato famine and its related deaths are not from, what the instructor concludes, the outcome from the horrors of capitalism). This instructor, unfortunately, belongs to the camp of people who believes capitalism is corrupt and colonialism destroyed many cultures, their foods, and relinquished all artisan efforts. In fact, capitalism makes room for "inefficiency," hence, the quest for Hermes bags and Michelin Star restaurants. Even the "Green" movement is by all means, an inefficient quest for energy. Capitalism allows free ideas and solutions to emerge for a period of time, until it is either innovated, or no longer of use. Capitalism doesn't make us all greedy, it makes more people able to prosper and feed themselves. It allows the average person to be of use and fortunately, frees many of us from working the farmlands, allowing us to explore other talents. When he's not quoting Marx, or making up some gibberish about Jesus Christ, the Middle East, or bastardizing and degrading "Wealth of Nations," the content is entertaining. I'd recommend the listener to approach this content with caution; do not take this course as a serious history course. I view the instructor for what he is: another history "buff" who's enamored with his own charm and feels the need to conveniently alter and simplify history. You know the ones, the people who believe "A caused B, therefore A is bad." While it's emotionally entertaining, it is most likely, complete and utter falsehood.
Date published: 2013-11-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Food: A Cultural Culinary History This is a poorly organized, meandering course, in which much of the time is devoted to what seems to simply be "filler". More than a little of the content is just bizarre (not to mention irrelevant to the topic). For one example (there are many), Professor Albala includes a detailed discussion of precisely what both Pontius Pilate and the Jewish crowd were thinking at the crucifixion, as well as what Jesus really said at the Last Supper. Overlooking the question of how Albala came by this inside info, what does it have to do with the topic of the course? Professor Albala presents enough reasonably on-topic substance for a course roughly half the length of this one.
Date published: 2013-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Banquet of Information My wife and I stood up and applauded at the completion of this DVD course, even though no one else was in the room. We trust that Professor Albala received our grateful 'thought waves.' We felt that his culinary theme was the perfect vehicle for teaching us more general history than we had learned in years of regular school courses.
Date published: 2013-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course one will simply 'eat up'. A brilliant purchase to savor. The cherry on the cupcake of magnificence. In short, this course provides such information as to intrigue and inspire the mind. A rich culinary history up to present day is eloquently presented. One is lead through time with insight into food and history, and how they are so inextricably combined. It ended, as many well good things do, leaving me hungry for more.
Date published: 2013-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Overview of Food History As a chef, I have a fascination with food history. In this course, Professor Albala does a phenomenal presentation with humor, anecdotal sidebars and a depth of knowledge that is truly extraordinary. I would recommend this course to all foodies - it is absolutely stellar.
Date published: 2013-09-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Oooooops!!! I enjoy (still in the first lectures) this course. Prof. Aldala is a "show-man" and tells us a lot of historical things (with some withdraws highlighted by one of the reviewers) - general and superficially in a very casual way. It doesn't matter. History is not the aim of this course and certainly not the place to discuss the Darwinian theory and its contradictions. BUT: to my astonishment, while explaining the movement of the different agricultural products, we are surprised to see the country BRAZIL highlighted in a yellow color but identified as "Argentine"!!!!!!!!!. A distraction? I suggest a correction be made a.s.a.p.!
Date published: 2013-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another voice heard from Usually when someone rates a product or service as excellent across the board that opinion is somewhat weak, in this case it is not. This series is a foodies dream come true in the sense that it fills in all, well many, of the missing links in how we understand food and history and culture. This series is a collision of all three told with the wit, wisdom and humor of Will Rogers. I now have about six friends who want to borrow these CD's to which I say, "Go buy them like I did, these are going to my folks."
Date published: 2013-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic overview of the history of food Most history courses cover kings, queens, wars, etc. It was refreshing to listen to a course covering one of the most important human topics - food! The professor does an excellent job of surveying food throughout history, including little-known facts that are central to how we view food today. Well done!
Date published: 2013-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course Except One Negative Point I really enjoyed this course because the professor presented the lectures from a historical and cultural viewpoint. He takes a global perspective and needless to say, his knowledge of cultures of the world's nations is immense. He also gives us a wonderful historical panorama before he actually talks about the foods people eat in different nations. The illustrations are an eye-feast. The only negative remark I have about this course is professor talks about Hamo erectus, Neanderthals etc, all kinds of Darwinian fanciful stories. Stephen Meyer completely debunked the idea of Darwinism with his latest book Darwin's Doubt. The sudden appearance of major phyla during the Cambrian Explosion rules out the Darwinian gradual evolution. This professor ought to read that book and hopefully would revise this course without Darwinian myths in the beginning of the course.
Date published: 2013-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from especially good on recent times This is my favorite (so far) among a number of Great Courses. Not only is the history of food with cultural variety explored here, but understanding history through consideration of food happens too. The later was a nice surprise. Also, professor does particularly well at sustaining the commonality of human nature over time and how that relates to the resources, technology, trade and culture, determining foods and related human behavior in different places and periods. That all was engaging through most of the lecture. Then came the 20th century.... As I lived through a good part of that, my expectations weren't high, and was I wrong. The end was the best part. Having someone layout how events in recent times have affected food choices and identify trends and directions I take for granted, was a truly educational eye-opener. And a good sweep of what that says about our current moment and direction in future, ably covered. That was great. Also, in human nature is a sensibility that our current time is the crux, all that matters. But of course, something comes after us, and likely not just more of the same. And this course hits that right on the head. (I refrain from divulging more.) Good course for foodies, those interested in cultural history, or even any historically minded person, and engaging enough to be general interest for thoughtful people too. Everyone eats. Eat up mentally here.
Date published: 2013-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite History Course, Ever! Studying history in the context of food is a wonderful idea because everyone can relate to it. I never had much interest in studying history because most of what was presented related to kings, battles, and the like. This course is truly eye-opening because much of human history evolved around food sources. I learned so much in this course and every lecture was a gem that I looked forward to. The professor is an expert in the field and his presentations are masterful, because he uses a friendly, conversational style. Don't miss this wonderful course!
Date published: 2013-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My new favorite! I can recommend without hesitation this lecture series! Engrossing, informative and a real treat!
Date published: 2013-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary I can't say enough about this fascinating and enlightening course. If you know something about history and something less about food history you'll find that the way Albala puts them together is thrilling. Although I'm only on lecture seven I am already sad to think it will be over before too long. A lot of so-called foodies think they know the subject; Albala not only knows it but knows how to present it..
Date published: 2013-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, Interesting, and Unique What better way to whet your appetite for history than by throwing in a little food into it? Ken Albala's presentation is easy to follow, relevant, and enjoyable. I found myself exclaiming, "Really?!" more than once. He gave a balanced point of view regarding GMO's and other issues. This is one of the best presentations I've purchased yet...and there have been many!
Date published: 2013-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent horizon-widening expirience This is an excellent horizon-widening course, which is also very smoothly and interestingly presented. Specifically: looking at history from gastronomical point of view is fascinating. One can understand history from a very original point of view while almost "drooling" thinking about the tastes. Very well done, and perfectly balanced.
Date published: 2013-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative & Entertaining This lecture series is one of the best I have ordered. Professor Albala is extremely well-informed, but more importantly, he delivers the lectures in an entertaining and relaxed manner such that I am riveted to my car while driving - wanting to continue driving to finish the lecture. He also makes dishes from recipes from the distant past, which only adds to both the informational value and fun of this lecture series. Foods of the past become very real. I highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2013-06-22
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