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The history of food - some tips on how to write about it -
The history of food

If you are an aspiring or experienced non-fiction writer and also have an interest in food why not bring the two together and write a blog, article or book about the history of food. Writing about the history of food not only involves looking back into the origins of foods but also discovering the significance different types of food and cooking methods had in history.

You don’t have to be an historian to write about the history of food

You may be a cook or a baker with a keen interest in the history behind some recipes that have been handed down through your family. You may be someone who enjoys researching or travelling the world discovering the origins of different types of food and food preparation. Whatever your interests are in food, you already have what it takes to start writing a food history.

Bringing history to life through the study of food

Finding out about what people ate in the past and how they prepared it gives you the opportunity to present history in an interesting and different way. For example:

  • What did the Anglo Saxons eat?
  • Why did people in the past drink beer instead of water?
  • Why was the diet during WW2 considered healthier than it is today?
  • Were ‘sparrows on toast’ ever really eaten in Britain?
  • What dishes were served at a medieval banquet?
  • What did the early settlers in America eat?

There are a number of approaches to food history writing. For example, you might like to concentrate on recipes and their history or you may choose to write about the history of nutrition (i.e. the affects of a diet on health) or the history of diets (i.e. what people ate in the past). You could also consider the history of different types of food such as cocoa, rice and wheat or you could write about a specific aspect of the food industry.

Any aspiring writer can write about the history of food

You don’t need to be an experienced writer to write about the history of food. However, just like any genre of writing, you should make sure that what you write is readable, grammatically correct and not littered with spelling mistakes and typos. If you have an enthusiasm and passion for your subject this will naturally come through in your writing.

Include some pictures

If you want to add colour and interest to your history of food, look for some relevant pictures and images online or take your own photos. If you choose to use images you found online do make sure that you have permission to use them. There are some websites where you can source free images (i.e. free from copyright restrictions) and some where you pay a monthly subscription (or pay on demand) to get permission to use the images. and pixabay both provide images released under the Creative Commons CCO license which means that you can download, copy, modify, distribute and use them royalty free for anything you like. If you find an image that is not royalty free, check carefully what permission you need before using it.

How much research is necessary?

Whether you are planning to build on existing research and knowledge or are starting from scratch, the main thing all history books and articles have in common is the amount of careful and detailed research that goes into them.

One that caught my eye, because of its meticulous and thorough research, is ‘Great British Bakes’ by Mary-Anne Boermans who was one of the finalists in the Great British Bake Off in 2011 (see link below). From a library of nearly 1000 antiquarian cookbooks she has compiled a collection of traditional recipes some dating back 400 years.

A quick internet search will reveal a wide variety of food history books that are currently available. For example:

Dinner with Mr Darcy: Recipes inspired by the Novels and Letters of Jane Austin (by Pen Vogler)

How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables (by Rebecca  Rupp)

Balzac’s Omelette: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honore’de Balzac (by Anka Muhlstein)

To purchase any of these books, simply click on the links below.

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