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“Food: A Cultural Culinary History” Course Review.

The Great Courses: Food: A Cultural Culinary History 

Professor Ken Albala (@kenalbala)

University of the Pacific

2013

Professor Albala’s credentials:

  • Teaches food history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in European Studies from the George Washington University.
  • MA. in History from Yale.
  • PhD. in History from Columbia University.
  • Author/editor of numerous books.

Technical details:

  • The course is divided in 36 lectures of 30 minutes each (18 hours)
  • Available to watch online and optional download features as a video or audio file in different formats.
  • It comes with a PDF course guide.

Course Overview.

Beginning with the first organized human groups around food hunting and gathering in the Stone Age, to the agricultural advancements of the ancient empires, followed by European colonialism, all the way to our contemporary health, dietary worries and environmental challenges…. The course embarks on a very ambitious task of exploring and explaining relevant aspects of food procurement, evolution of cooking skills and the development of dietary patterns and preferences as a consequence of trade, war, religion, environmental changes, migration and technology.

The scope of the course begins with a universal vision, however it does highlight North America’s own agricultural and gastronomic history, but it concludes with a global analysis and even some predictions of what the future of food will be in the near future.

 

Things I wanted more of:

Recipes!

There are some well-chosen and interesting recipes that Prof. Albala prepares in front of the camera but as a cook and food writer I would have liked to see more of that.

What they get right:

The visual resources used are very simple, many still graphics, maps and stock photographs, and although they might seem austere I honestly don’t think that is an issue because the actual content of the lectures is really good.

With such an ambitious program I think Prof. Albala made an epic task in distilling key aspects of each studied period without dumbing it down. He delivers every lecture with evident passion and knowledgeability.

Conclusion:

If you already are a curious foodie and have invested time and effort reading about cultural and historical aspects of food this course will definitely resonate with many other studies, authors and approaches.

If this is your first serious plunge into gastronomic history it will definitely open up many possibilities to explore, understand and indulge your curiosity.

It is exciting to explore the evolution of gastronomy not only as a sequence of historical events, but the subtle cultural, anthropological, political and sociological perspectives that provide fascinating dimensions to consider and explore.

I was gifted this great course as a birthday present (MrD always knows best!) and quite binged on the lectures.

Definitely recommend it!

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