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Food: A Cultural Culinary History

Learn how the entirety of human civilization-war, trade, politics, art, religion, and more-has been shaped by our interaction with food in this delicious course.
Food: A Cultural Culinary History is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 164.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from History Plus Food Knowledge Absolutely fantastic course in every aspect! I binge watched this over a couple of days and have such a better understanding of history, not just food!
Date published: 2024-02-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The topic of this course is so fascinating that it's hard not to enjoy at least to some degree. It's also a topic that is massive in size - covering the history of food from prehistoric times until present - and this may very well have been one of the course's biggest flaws. Because there was so much to cover, the professor tended to speak on topics in generalities. This could be a bit annoying at times when more nuance would have been appreciated. While some people here seem to dislike the fact that some culture's dishes weren't given more attention, I thought it was completely appropriate to focus mostly on Western food. Still, the course topics were intriguing, particularly because they were so new to me (and probably to most others as well). The professor has a very affable personality, which worked very well for this course. With that said, he had a bad habit of saying, "um" far too many times. I wondered why no one on the production side of TGC tried to clamp down on that during filming, but I suppose it annoyed me less as the course progressed. As a whole, this was an enjoyable course. Not the most informative or engaging of TGCs, but a worthwhile watch on one of the most relevant topics in history.
Date published: 2023-11-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from disappointing the first one third is of questionable relevance - too much extraneous info rather than focusing on the topic. Fortunately, the other 2 thirds (almost) redeem the course; which could have been dome in half the # of sessions. In particular lecture #10 was allegedly on food & Christianity - really was mostly of the latter, & a very poorly done session. Insufficient attention is given to Asian & African cultures. Finally, Prof Albala has the habit of interjecting an almost nervous laugh into his speech pattern - it's awkward & unnecessary.
Date published: 2023-10-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Incredibly "Legit" Cultural Culinary History I started listening to the podcast of the book not that long ago, and I have spot out many keys notes since. The narrator and author of the book got not one, but many different facts wrong. He repeatedly gets the food from the Jewish Tanakh wrong, and he seems to have very little knowledge about the food itself, even though he is the author, the writer of this book. This is very hilarious, as if you want to succeed in your field, the audience would expect that the author have not little or satisfactory knowledge on the topic, but being able to know every single aspect on it. The author always mentions christian examples, which to be fair, is very single-eyed perspective of culinary history. When he talks about one of the most famous cuisines on earth, the Chinese cuisine, he uses as much time to barely define the most extravagant cuisine on earth, as he defines German cuisine. This is downright obnoxious, and it quite the plain fact that the emphasis on the book is on european food, which is to put it mildly, for generations very bland in flavour. When he can put in detail into flavourful cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Middle eastern, Persian, Mexican, etc. food, he puts barely any time and thought in. I would like to give feedback that the book should be rewritten, and given to a PROFFESSER that actually MAJORS in this topic at a TOP UNIVERSITY. Also, there should be more diversity in the book, not just european food.
Date published: 2023-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great course Professor Albala is an excellent and engaging speaker. I think of it as both a little bit of general history and a lot of food history. The topic is very interesting and the little bit of history puts the food history in context.
Date published: 2023-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most Amazing Lecture(s) EVER! I have a subscription to Great Courses streaming & discovered Dr. Albala's "Food: A Cultural Culinary History" - and was enthralled! It is the most amazing story of Man's food journey! An incredible combination of history, cultural analysis, food facts, recipes, & more all presented through Dr. Albala's expert eyes and with his wonderful sense of humor! I was NEVER bored & each lecture seemed to rush by! Was SO GOOD I am buying the DVD for my library to watch again whenever I want.
Date published: 2023-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delicious course! I like to eat, so I started to watch the course. I doubted that there would be enough material to need 36 lectures, but I needn't have worried. It soon was clear that this is not a traditional history course. Prof. Albala is very enthusiastic and a terrific lecturer - not once does he stop speaking to the camera - if he was using cue cards, I certainly couldn't tell. Frequently, he veers off on a tangent that, while interesting, may not have any direct connection to the topic, but, eventually, returns with "my point is" or "in any case". Not being a scholar of history, I only caught occasional mistakes - most notably, in ancient Jewish history - so I can't speak to the accuracy of all the "facts" he cited. He makes sweeping generalizations that may not be justified (sweeping generalizations can't be justified!). Like so many Great Courses, the course was very Europe/America-centric - something that truly irks me with their courses. Given the date of the course's release, the impact that "sheltering in place" during Covid had on people getting into cooking/baking/breadmaking is not included. Prof. Albala makes passing reference to the impact of a meat-based diet on inequality of food access worldwide; climate change; governmental policies that affect land use, food manufacturing and distribution; health; and animal welfare. As a vegan, I would prefer more emphasis on these topics. However, all in all, I realized connections that I had never thought of and enjoyed this course very much. I would love to invite him to a dinner party (not that we have them anymore...) I intend to watch Prof. Albala's other course re food. As another reviewer mentioned, do not watch these lectures when you're hungry!
Date published: 2023-01-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disjointed, often off-topic, careless with facts Food I wanted to really like this course. It sounds like such an interesting journey through various times and cultures and it was quite interesting, at times. The problem was that it became impossible to differentiate between fact and fancy. Certainly there was much in the book that seems to have strong backing, at least when read by someone who is no food scholar. However, there were so many glaring and even sloppy errors when dealing with particular cultures and history that I do know about that it left me unsure whether I could really trust anything else, and how much. And there really was a lot that I would have wanted to believe. Professor Albala, in his position in a university, surely could have even asked some friends to review some of his lectures. In dealing with the Hebrews and in a later chapter about Christians, surely someone would have informed him that the Pharisees were not orthodox priests in the temple and that the first writings of the Talmud were more than a century after the time that he describes. Surely someone could have told him that Paul didn’t invent the term Christians (it was a term used by outsiders to describe this new sect and meant “followers of Christ”) or himself create Christianity as a separate religion, but what’s more, why is this relevant to food? And, who is Professor Albala to say that Jesus’ remark that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood was an off-hand remark that only took significance later or whether it really meant what Christians say it meant. Was he there? How did he get such deep insight into what people were thinking when that’s not what they said? Why should we take his expert word when he says that the idea of Jesus as mediator was a later invention? He apologizes for any possible affront to anyone’s theology and uses the excuse that he is only looking at things from the perspective of culinary history, but such an apology rings empty when he is playing fast and loose with that history and fails to show how his theological interpretation (sorry, “culinary-historical interpretation”) really makes a difference to his point related to food. The fact that Christians eventually (actually centuries after Paul) developed a different food tradition is unrelated to whether Christianity is an invention of Paul or a more natural and broader extension coming from the religion of the Hebrews. And yet, he describes pre-medeival Christians beliefs from many centuries later as if they were the beliefs of the early Christians. When you deliberately make judgments and descriptions of a religion that are either blatantly false or at least completely unsuported, as well as unrelated to your topic, you can’t just hide behind an apology up front. Just to go into another area, since I speak Chinese fluently and have lived in a Chinese-speaking part of Asia for 40 years, his discussion of the culinary history of China was fairly good but still quite shallow and also showed some of the same sloppiness. Maybe some friends, students, or fellow professors could have told him that the “zi” in “Kongfuzi” (Confucius) doesn’t mean master. It is the “fuzi” part that means master. He was honored as Master Kong. He could have told us about how China became even more dependent on rice when they developed a variety that matured faster and could produce two crops in a single season. I could go on and on, but this just illustrates the problem and for many lectures, half of the time was spent on asides that seemed to be just a chance to propagate his own worldview without any firm tie to the subject that he has told us that he wants to talk about. It would have been much better if he had cut more of that out and spent more time on topic. In the end, it was just very disorganized, disjointed, biased, and too often off-topic. I was hoping for much more. It just shows that the title of “professor” doesn’t always mean as much as we wish.
Date published: 2022-04-29
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The drive to obtain food has been a major catalyst across all of history, from prehistoric times to the present. For this reason, 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. Now, in Food: A Cultural Culinary History, take an enthralling journey into the human relationship to food in the company of award-winning Professor Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific. 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.


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?


University of the Pacific

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.

By This Professor

Food: A Cultural Culinary History
Cooking across the Ages
Food: A Cultural Culinary History


Hunting, Gathering, and Stone Age Cooking

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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