Food: A Cultural Culinary History

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Albala is wonderful! I find Dr Albala ti be both highly informative and entertaining. It's wonderful to find a food historian who actually cooks!
Date published: 2020-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Ken Albala I am so pleased with Dr Albala’s lectures. He is the most interesting so far.
Date published: 2020-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic history!! While I love professor Albala in “Cooking through the Ages” which I watched first and LOVED, in this series he proves himself as an amazing historian! I have been a student of history all my life and found history through this “food” lens to be truly informative and fun. Highly recommended!!
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A history course, not a science course. Notably lacking discussion of sanitation, food safety, foodborne illness or nutritional status in the cultures mentioned. No knowledge of nutrition or food chemistry is required. The lecturer uses words like "taste" and "tasteless" without defining them or showing how they were measured. The lecturer provides an impressive amount of historical analysis, although a bit weak on economics. Eventually, the lecturer rails against imperialism, big business and corrupt politicians. So far so good. But when discussing man-made famine and US food aid during World War 1, the lecturer avoids the deaths from starvation by the British food blockade in 1919, the US invasion of Russia 1918-20, food policy in Soviet Russia and the Holodomor, continuing through food as a weapon in World War 2. I am left wondering if I should have been a bit more skeptical of earlier lectures. Recommended as a good overview.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title was perfect. This course taught a great deal about the evolution of food through the ages. Ken Albala was interesting, informative and enjoyable to hear.
Date published: 2020-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than History, More than Food! This is one of the most interesting and useful of all the many Great Courses we have purchased and watched. Prof. Albala's expertise goes far beyond food, far beyond history, and has a delightful presentation manner. His grasp of the subtleties of history, his understanding of how it's written and by whom, was delightful. We watched this series about 6 months ago. We plan to watch it again with a group of friends - masked and socially distanced, of course. Thank you Ken Albala, and thank you, Great Courses!
Date published: 2020-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative My wife is in the food industry. Totally solid in his knowledge of the workings of what’s going on. Particular to her industry it is out dated, my only complaint. But I love Ken.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of food history. Professor Albala gives a good overview of food history, but not a lot of food preparation detail, compared to the vast types of food in the world. This is not really a criticism. There are so many foods that humans eat and food cultures out there that it would be impossible to discuss them all in these lectures. Professor Albala is a very good lecturer. He can be funny, adding to, at times, dry information. This course has more history of cultures than I expected. It adds to the food aspect, by giving some context to the food that many cultures embrace, such as Kosher and Halal. He goes into detail about the history of serving food, such as the feasts in the Middle Ages and the Enlightened Period. He discusses how spices have entered into the food culture and how these spices aided in discovering the new world and expanded trading routes. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in food and food history. It is not a cooking show, it's a history lesson.
Date published: 2020-05-17
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Food: A Cultural Culinary History
Course Trailer
Hunting, Gathering, and Stone Age Cooking
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. ...

35 min
What Early Agriculturalists Ate
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....

32 min
Egypt and the Gift of the Nile
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....

32 min
Ancient Judea-From Eden to Kosher Laws
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....

31 min
Classical Greece-Wine, Olive Oil, and Trade
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. ...

31 min
The Alexandrian Exchange and the Four Humors
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....

28 min
Ancient India-Sacred Cows and Ayurveda
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. ...

32 min
Yin and Yang of Classical Chinese Cuisine
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....

31 min
Dining in Republican and Imperial Rome
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....

30 min
Early Christianity-Food Rituals and Asceticism
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. ...

31 min
Europe's Dark Ages and Charlemagne
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....

30 min
Islam-A Thousand and One Nights of Cooking
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....

30 min
Carnival in the High Middle Ages
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....

33 min
International Gothic Cuisine
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....

31 min
A Renaissance in the Kitchen
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....

31 min
Aztecs and the Roots of Mexican Cooking
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 ...

30 min
1492-Globalization and Fusion Cuisines
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....

31 min
16th-Century Manners and Reformation Diets
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. ...

30 min
Papal Rome and the Spanish Golden Age
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....

29 min
The Birth of French Haute Cuisine
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. ...

30 min
Elizabethan England, Puritans, Country Food
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....

30 min
Dutch Treat-Coffee, Tea, Sugar, Tobacco
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....

31 min
African and Aboriginal Cuisines
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....

31 min
Edo, Japan-Samurai Dining and Zen Aesthetics
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....

33 min
Colonial Cookery in North America
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....

32 min
Eating in the Early Industrial Revolution
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....

32 min
Romantics, Vegetarians, Utopians
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....

30 min
First Restaurants, Chefs, and Gastronomy
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....

31 min
Big Business and the Homogenization of Food
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....

31 min
Food Imperialism around the World
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....

31 min
Immigrant Cuisines and Ethnic Restaurants
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....

31 min
War, Nutritionism, and the Great Depression
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....

31 min
World War II and the Advent of Fast Food
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....

30 min
Counterculture-From Hippies to Foodies
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....

32 min
Science of New Dishes and New Organisms
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....

32 min
The Past as Prologue?
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....

31 min
Ken Albala

It may seem monomaniacal, but I teach about food, I write about food, I love to cook, I read about food for leisure-what better recipe is there for happiness than to make work and play completely seamless?


Columbia University


University of the Pacific

About Ken Albala

Ken Albala is a Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he won the Faye and Alex Spanos Distinguished Teaching Award and has been teaching for more than two decades. He holds an MA in History from Yale University and a PhD in History from Columbia University. He is the author or editor of more than two dozen books on food, including Eating Right in the RenaissanceFood in Early Modern EuropeCooking in Europe, 1250–1650The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance EuropePancake: A Global History; and Beans: A History, winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Jane Grigson Award. He also coedited The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries; Human Cuisine; Food and Faith in Christian Culture; and A Cultural History of Food in the Renaissance. He served as the editor of several food series with more than 100 titles in the past two decades. He also edited the four-volume Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia and the three-volume SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues and coedited the journal Food, Culture & Society. His textbook Three World Cuisines: Italian, Mexican, Chinese won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Foreign Cuisine Book in the World. He also coauthored the cookbook The Lost Art of Real Cooking and its sequel, The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home, a handbook of kitchen and home projects. His most recent book is Noodle Soup: Recipes, Techniques, Obsession.

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