Everyone knows the stereotype of historians … they’re dusty old fellows with patches on their jacket elbows who smell faintly of book mold and are forever squinting at something tiny scribbled in the margin of an old book. Let’s face it; historian is not one of the sexiest career choices in the world. Whatever kind of history you pick, be it military history, government history or that popular catchall “world history,” there’s just not a lot of glamour. Food history, however, is a different kettle of (poached) fish entirely.
The most common title given to a practitioner of food history is that of culinary anthropologist. This is a fascinating field, in which world cuisines are researched and related across a broad spectrum. One of the most famous faces in this field is Deb Duchon, whose face will be familiar to viewers of the hit Food Network series “Good Eats” featuring Alton Brown. Deb is the go-to woman for anything involving food history for the show, and is seen on-camera frequently.
Culinary anthropology will take you around the world, as well. Consider the humble flatbread, a food item found in almost every world culture. In South America, it’s the tortilla. In Europe, it’s the crepe, and in America it most often takes the form of a pancake, although our culture is so homogenized that all the others take equal prominence.
Basically, it’s a simple, unleavened or lightly leavened bread that can be used either as a food on its own or to wrap around other foods to make them portable. In the process of researching the history of this food, a culinary anthropologist from a Texas university traveled all over the world, appearing on cooking shows and local-interest programming from Bangkok to Dublin.
Food history is more than just culinary anthropology, though. Any major history project needs someone who can serve as the voice of authority on what the people or culture involved ate, and you’ll always find jobs there. The possibilities for a food historian are truly limitless.