In cultures across the globe, traditional gender roles related to food preparation have been remarkably similar; generally, men hunted, and women gathered, prepared, and served. Through this traditional role of cook, women gained a unique, if precarious, power over men. They use their kitchens as a vehicle for their voices and their culinary creations as separate agents of action when their intent is to defy the system. Their challenges to the patriarchal status quo typically manifest as they play the parts of malevolent cooks, hunger strikers, and as food themselves. The male discomfiture with this power relationship is expressed through tales of women stirring bubbling potions in caldrons (witches) and notions of women as purveyors of poison and other forms of discord (b*tches). In this presentation, anthropological studies that outline the power of the woman-food connection will be used to analyze gender representations revolving around food in Medieval Iberian texts. The theories will illuminate the dinner menu as a tool for subversion of masculine authority in medieval Castilian culture.
The evil deeds, or maleficium, of European witches often involved some unusual dietary practices. The classical witch, Circe, served enchanted meals then transformed her guests into swine. Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both addressed food-influenced magic, used to steal crops or gain supernatural powers. These models influenced the medieval church as it began to delineate witchcraft from other crimes. Many women were charged with destroying crops through hail storms, as well as interfering with butter making. Additionally, women stood accused of the more sinister gastronomic deed of cannibalistic infanticide. This paper will explore the perceived relationship that medieval witches had with the town granary, what they themselves consumed, and what concoctions they brewed in those massive cauldrons.
Inspired by an excursion to Mount Grace Priory, where a human toe, cut off when a knife was dropped, was found among the kitchen rubbish, this paper investigates interdisciplinarily how and why parts of the human body (hair, nails, skin, fluids) became incorporated into medieval food and drink. Three main strands emerge: Intentional ingestion of body parts (cannibalism, drinking liquids that had feet etc. washed in it, medicine or potions containing body parts/fluids); unintentional ingestion (‘hair in soup’, magic potions clandestinely given to someone else); and auto-ingestion (eating part of oneself such as nailbiting, chewing hair, biting oneself in anger). A paper not for the squeamish and best served after lunch.