‘The colour shall be green’: Food and Chromaticism in the Later Middle Ages
Colour is intimately associated with our appreciation of food, yet we must not expect the hues and lustre of medieval foods to have offered the messages we might anticipate. For medieval people, colour provided important information about the nature of objects, and that was no less true of what they ate than of anything else. On one level colour might expose moral and spiritual connotations, on another it might offer indications of characteristics of a foodstuff according to medieval humoral theories. Beyond this, a few texts – medieval recipe books – tell us about the creation of colour and food. Display was a crucial part of elite cuisine, and control of colour was essential. Recipes instructed cooks how to colour dishes and to add verisimilitude to made dishes. Heraldic colours and designs were employed for ‘subtleties’, the set pieces that came to table with wider messages. There were general cultural associations between colours and culinary preparations: some types of dish show common patterns of colouring, such as the use of green sauce for fish, and red for dishes known as ‘Saracen’. However fleeting the colours of foodstuffs, they offer a further dimension to our understanding of meals and the material culture of dining.
The Shifting Paradigm of Medieval Food Crises: Researching Dearth and Famine
In the past 20 years, pre-modern food crises have moved from being considered an object of study firmly limited to the past to becoming a complex subject requiring a thorough historiographical renewal in light of contemporary research and theories of distribution. Two independent dynamics have come together to create this paradigm shift. The first is the development of new research into food crises which focuses especially on the European Mediterranean, has been launched by ground-breaking French and Spanish research programmes on the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages and on medieval food crises. The second is the reception of models of economic research addressing present-day crises of subsistence in the Third World, especially the ‘Entitlement approach’ by Amartya Sen (arguing in its core that famine is not caused simply by a lack of food, but also by people’s inability to access existing food), and by its advocates and critics. This lecture will offer an overview of these developments and some of their major achievements, as well as looking at future perspectives that lie ahead in the study of medieval famine.
Please note that admission to this event will be on a first-come, first-served basis as there will be no tickets. Please ensure that you arrive as early as possible to avoid disappointment.