"Why Food Matters"
Interview with Distinguished Yale Professor
Paul Freedman

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"Why Food Matters" Interview with Distinguished Yale Professor Paul FreedmanEat My Globe
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Paul Freedman Interview Notes

In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, talks to one of our regular guests, the Chester D. Tripp Professor of History at Yale University, Paul Freedman, about his terrific new book, “Why Food Matters.” Along the way, they talk about food in feast and famine, its roles in ethnicity and cultural appropriation, its impact on gender, and its relationship to taste and the human need for conviviality. Paul is always a great person to interview, and this is one of our favorites so far.

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TRANSCRIPT

Eat My Globe

Interview with Distinguished Yale Professor,

Paul Freedman


MUSIC


SIMON MAJUMDAR (SM):

Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began over two years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can get out and about, to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, and this is really important. This is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you’ve enjoyed the episodes of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So, thank you very much, and keep listening.


INTRO MUSIC


SIMON:

Hello, everybody. I'm Simon Majumdar and welcome to a very special episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn't know you didn't know about food. And on today's very special episode, I am delighted to re-introduce one of our favorite guests and in fact, a third time interviewee on Eat My Globe, Professor Paul Freedman. Professor. how are you?


PAUL FREEDMAN (PF):

Very good and delighted to be with you, uh, this third time. Flattered and honored.


SM:

[Laughter]


Well, we're so pleased to have you on here. And I know all of the conversations we've had before. First of all, just to let everyone know, if they haven't had chance to go and listen to the interviews we've done before, we did one on your magnificent books. Certainly one of my favorite food books of the last decade, uh, “10 Restaurants that Changed America.” And so that was the very first time we chatted.


And then for the second, your equally fabulous book, “American Cuisine.” And so if anyone hasn't listened to those, and in fact, if you haven't gone and bought those books or read those books, please do go and check them out. They are magnificent books and they will definitely add to your understanding of cuisine.


But we're here to talk about something else. Now, just to give people a little bit more of a background about you, perhaps you could just tell them a little bit about yourself, cause you come food from a very kind of different life, I think.


PF:

Well, yes, I, I'm a medieval historian and that's what I have been teaching for several decades. Um, I got into food partly because I'm always interested in class and how people define themselves.


So, in the Middle Ages, what kind of food do peasants eat? What kind of food do nobles eat? And, particularly, what kind of food do nobles think that peasants eat? And so. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

. . . the, uh, it's not just, uh, kind of the sociology of food, but the culture of how people think about food. And then I've been interested in the United States, particularly, uh, and a little bit comparative history and um, contemporary world cuisine.


So, um, uh, yeah, it's, it's sort of odd to have this set of interests. It's been fun for me, but there, there are people who I've met, who've said, oh, I thought there were two Paul Freedmans, one, a medieval historian, and one, you know, someone who writes about barbecue and stuff.


SM:

Which is, which is one of the reasons that I like you so much because you do cover such a wide spectrum with obviously with your knowledge and with your writing.


You're here today to speak about your latest addition to the food world of writing is, “Why Food Matters,” which has published by Yale University Press. Um, tell us a little bit about this book and because people are going to go, well, of course it matters, you know, go away. Uh, but you go into some depth and really beautiful writing. I will, we'll put all the links to this onto the podcast so people could go and buy it. And they must because I sat and read this in one sitting.


Tell us about the series that “Why Food Matters” is in. And then tell us about why you wanted to write this particular book. And then we'll go in and I have some quite specific questions about it that were raised by reading this. And I thought that was such an interesting book.


PF:

Very good.


Yale University Press, the publisher, has a series called, “Why [X] Matters.” So, they have things like, “Why Architecture Matters” or “Why Translation Matters.” Um, they're short books without footnotes. Uh, they're not really intended, however, as in productions. They’re opinion pieces or arguments about why things that we know that they have some importance, but why they really matter to our lives.


And as you said, Simon, the response to “Why Food Matters.” I mean, duh, you can't live without it. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

. . . that's not enough for you. The, uh, way that I approached it then was to acknowledge its biological necessity, but also to try to think of how it matters in terms of two basic things.


One is our identity. How we think of ourselves. And that may be as an individual. I'm an individual who loves grilled cheese sandwiches and doesn't like wild rice or something like that.


Uh, how it matters to us culturally, as communities. So, unfortunately, food is often used as a way of expressing contempt for other people in Italy. Anti-immigration demonstrations have featured signs that say, uh, “Polenta Si; Couscous No.” Uh, polenta. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

. . . uh, supposedly being as Italian as you can get. Although in fact, it's made with corn, uh. . .


SM:

Yup.


PF:

. . . maize, uh, an ingredient that didn't exist in Italy until the 16th century. Um, couscous is a symbol of North Africa, therefore of foreigners of immigrants. Um, even though it's also eaten in Sicily.


So, um, the other set of meanings besides identity really has to do with the present and future. Uh, as a historian and not a scientist, I don't have anything unique to say about, uh, the climate emergency or the effects of the COVID epidemic. Uh, nevertheless they do take on a kind of importance and three dimensionality in terms of history, both because there are examples of more localized climate change in the past and how people have responded. Catastrophe and disasters that it has involved, but also, uh, at least attempts at resiliency and the same with, uh, disease. So, uh, the book is intended not as an introduction, um, for, you know, the beginner, but as an opinion piece, even when might say a manifesto as to “Why Food Matters” to us individually and collectively,


SM:

Which I think you certainly go on to argue very successfully in the book and people will suddenly see that when they read it.


I wanted to ask you then moving on from that some questions, but I wanted to start with maybe a question about, uh, at the very beginning of the book you say, and I'll quote, if I may, that there's an enduring tradition in Western thought that apart from its biological significance, food does not matter. That it's not an intellectual subject. And that surprised me because apart from just going well, is that really true? Because you know, I've read enough books going back centuries that started talking about food in a very kind of thematic way. I think it's always mattered even in terms of the functional side of what you should eat, what you shouldn't eat. You know, writings about that. And so I just wondered why you started with that. Not dismissive, but slightly kind of, um, well maybe dismissive viewpoint?


PF:

Yeah, we can call it dismissive. I think the, uh, Western tradition, acknowledges. . . . uh, all traditions acknowledged that medically food is important. Uh, just as we said, it's important biologically. But where it's not important in the Western tradition, but in other cultures, such as that of China or of a classical Islam, Islam of the Caliphate of Baghdad is as a subject of intellectual speculation and discussion. Um, art and music are, uh, very important topics for intellectuals to discuss in the classical medieval and modern traditions. But food is seen as somehow, uh, trivial because it's ephemeral. Although, after all, music is ephemeral too, um, maybe because it's material and biological?


So, uh, Plato in his Republic, uh, Socrates recommends that in his ideal state people, uh, devote almost no attention to food. They should eat barley cakes and, uh, that's about it. And then his interlocutors say, oh, come on. That's, that's really not a real life. And so we graciously consents to a few herbs and some acorns, uh, by the fire. And, uh, I mean, this isn't intended as comical, but nevertheless, the notion that real intellectuals don't care about food. But food is a distraction, uh, is a venerable idea, not just among scientists who are famous for this time of, you know, food is just a fuel attitude.


SM:

I w. . . and I wondered about that certainly in, uh, later centuries, if part of that was linked to the kind of Christian ethic, the Protestant work ethic, the fact that indulging in something such as food, particularly feasting and all of that, uh, might just be seen as something that was just not to be done as well.


PF:

I don't think so. Partly because some very religious people like the Hutterite or Amish communities in the United States and Canada love food. I mean, they're very pious and Protestant. Um, uh, and, and certainly the Catholic tradition, even if gluttony is a deadly sin, uh, has not been, uh, really all of that disapproving of food, at least for the populous. It's really more an intellectual dismissal. So that you can have some of the same people who think sex and rock and roll are wonderful. Uh, but who think food is merely a distraction?


Well, this isn't true of recent years, the whole phenomenon of food enthusiasm is another subject. But, uh, when I was a student in California in the 1960s and early 70s, that's sort of what I'm thinking about. And you were supposed to eat seaweed and brown rice and not think about food very much, uh, but sex and, and certainly rock and roll and drugs were just not on just fine. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

. . .  but all important.


SM:

When do you see the kind of food enthusiasm as well? We're definitely experiencing now, you know, hence me doing a podcast like this. Um, when do you see that really coming in? Um, I mean, in my case, probably I'm thinking about the 90s was where I started seeing it, but I'm wondering from your point of view, the Food Network and books like this, that would, that makes sense to everyone now, you couldn't have done probably in the 70s. So when do you think it came in this kind of enthusiasm for it?


PF:

I think the 90s, um, uh, the Food Network is introduced, I think, around 1993, 1994, but it really gets going around 2000 with contests. So, um, contests, Iron Chef, uh, in particular. Personalities, um, Emeril Lagasse, for example, um, and then also the internet and the smartphone, uh, where food becomes, I mean, food has always been an item of personal expression or of, uh, ostentation for rich people. The change is that it becomes kind of like you don't, your playlist is, uh, and it's part of the democratization of taste and the expansion of taste, both in terms of class and of, um, uh, internationality. So, I think at first it was thought to be a kind of fad or just, you know, an enthusiasm that, you know, might, might go away. Clearly, it has not. And clearly it is part of a spectrum that includes what I guess I would think of as social positioning, you know, like my, um, obscure, uh, Yunan restaurant is more authentic than yours kind of thing you see on Yelp. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

. . . um, or, um, mine is more sustainable. A lot of it has to do with increased concerns over the future. Uh, and, uh, it's a form of pleasure that can be indulged in with, uh, friends that people manage to fit in time for, in their busy lives. And that lends itself to what I think of as a friendly kind of social network competition.


SM:

Which is, which is yes, certainly how I fit food into my life.


I'm very pleased to see Iron Chef got to mention, given that I appeared on about 50 episodes of Iron Chef.


PF:

Indeed.


I mean, you know, better than anybody. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

. . .  what originally was thought of as a kind of joke. You know, when it was first televised, it was just televised in, in the United States. At least it was televised, you know, in Japanese because, uh, who needed to understand what was going on. It was just so hilarious. And then obviously in some sense, it grew on people that this was a real competition and that, uh, it fit in with, um, acting, posing, uh, uh, bad mouthing, uh, as well as talent.


SM:

Yeah, absolutely. And knowing all the chefs as I do, who are Iron Chefs and seeing how, how seriously they took the competitions, how very seriously they took the competitions. Uh, I could definitely, definitely attest to that.


Um, so in the book, “Why Food Matters,” you, you go through food in a number of themes, and I'm not sure we'll have time to go through all of them now. And actually, I don't want to, because I want people to go out and buy the book and to read it and to kind of understand your thoughts than just what we're able to do now.


But tell me about how you, how you started coming up with those themes first, because obviously you can come from so many different directions when you're talking about themes in the book. And then we'll, I have a few questions about some of the themes that are in there.


PF:

So, uh, the themes are partly how food, um, uh, makes us feel happy. So about celebration, about conviviality, about food, uh, consumed in company.


Uh, also how food separates us, both really people, um, in even the richest countries, unfortunately, don't have enough to eat. Um, and yet at the same time, a huge amount of food is thrown out.


Uh, but also how food separates us in terms of the cultural imagination. So for example, I have a chapter on gender. When was it decided that women like different kinds of food than men and actually not all that long ago? Um, the one thing that distinguished men and women was supposedly that women liked sweet food, but by the 1890s, beginning of the 20th century, women were identified with light food as well as sweet desserts. So, the notion that women are more fussy about food or more interested in dieting or less interested in hardy or spicy food is, is a relatively recent idea.


Similar distinctions, um, uh, or not the same distinctions, but a similar form of making distinctions with regard to race, um, with regard to upper and lower class tastes.


Um, and then some of the themes, uh, towards the end are what's going to happen with food. The way we eat food, grow food, uh, ship it, package it, is actually not sustainable. What kinds of changes are we likely to see? Has the COVID epidemic taught us anything? And th, that last was a little tricky because the book was written during the first part of the COVID epidemic. And then, you know, in its last draft, I had to kind of frantically revise both because the epidemic was going on longer and because, uh, oh, various things that I had predicted what happened in April, 2020, um, uh, weren't happening or weren't happening to the degree I'd expected.


SM:

Yes, it was COVID was very interesting. I think the food world has definitely adapted actually very well in some ways. . .


PF:

Surprisingly well.


SM:

. . .  with delivery systems, you know, that we, we, for a long period before we couldn't go into stores, we were getting all our food delivered and things were working very, very well.


Um, let's, let's go through some of these themes because they, they are really fascinating. And let's start with the one that I think you start within that area is feast, you call it feast and famine.


So that sort of the potential absence of food there, the disparity of how it's distributed, um, and the kind of the pleasure of osten. . . uh, of ostentation, all of these kinds of things, uh, is to me, is right at the heart of, I think this book, when I read it. It made absolute sense to start there and particularly interesting at the time I was listening to a podcast about Colonel Gaddafi and they were talking about how he managed to, or decided to cut off grain supplies, cut off rice supplies, to anyone who kind of challenged him and use that as a position of power.


So this whole thing of, you know, whether it's the absence of food through, uh, just climate, whether it's absence of food through disease, whether it's absence of food through power, um, is, seems to be at the heart of it.


I mean, tell us a bit about how you thought about that, where you started with that.


PF:

It's important both really, as a variation on the common sensical idea that we need food to stay alive. But in fact, uh, a lot of people don't have enough food at least to flourish or to live a reasonable life.


A lot of that has to do not with overpopulation or with some kind of, uh, inevitability. Uh, an awful lot has to do with war and with, um, criminality, uh, on an international scale. So that, um, you know, the work of, uh, Amartya Sen, uh, particularly was shown that, um, a lot of global poverty is really not the result of some kind of shortfall or even drought or other meteorological conditions. It's imposed as your example of Colonel Qaddafi shows deliberately as a product of war against civilians or as a byproduct of tyranny and, uh, oppression. But it's also partly neglect, and the way things, uh, just are organized, the United States is a very wealthy country and which, you know, a fifth or sixth of the population doesn't really have enough food to eat on a regular basis. So the term food security, uh, is kind of a euphemism to cover up really a horrible, uh, ingrained malnutrition.


So definitely the absence of food is at the heart of any beginning to answer the question of why food matters. So is ostentation will be, um. . . Ostentation is not just having more than you need to eat. It's, it's the fact that supermarkets have on the average, something like 35,000 different products. It's that, uh, the average produce item in your supermarket, uh, in LA, uh, comes from, uh, a couple thousand miles away. Um, even in L. . .  even in California, where a lot of food is grown, actually a huge amount of the food comes from Mexico, uh, or, uh, Peru, uh, in the Northeast, where I live, uh, even greater. This is a kind of ostentation. It may not look like it, but it's a kind of showing off that you can have things that, uh, uh, regardless of season or location.


SM:

And I think the other part of that as well, and you talk about it, um, you were talking about obviously food, food deserts, food insecurity, and also, uh, waste.


You know, I've just been reading that in the United States, a third now of everything that we produce is thrown away, which is shameful. When you, particularly, as you said, a fifth or a sixth of the people in this country, particularly a lot of children don't know, not necessarily what they're going to eat. They don't know if they're going to eat every time. So I think as well, it's creating quite a, kind of a, a broken system in the United States. And I've been, I say, fortunate enough to go work at some of the food security places, uh, whether it's home, uh, you know, uh, food banks, but you see how it impacts people on a very daily basis, even now here in the United States.


PF:

That's incredible. Um, you know, there are projects like, uh, one that started in Portugal called, “Ugly Fruit,” which is to try to get fruit that's merely doesn't meet the color or shape standards, but it's perfectly fine.


Uh, another problem is, um, it's hard to give away food, uh, because of health regulations. And, um, yeah, I think this is, uh, this is one of those problems that's so bad that in a way it's a metaphor of low hanging fruit applies that you could probably, the last 20% of food waste would be hard to deal with. But you could go, you could do better than that scandalous amount that we're wasting now pretty easily.


SM:

Absolutely.


Let's move on because I, again, just being conscious of your time now, let’s. . .


You talk about religious rules. And obviously that's something that's fascinating to me because of my background, you know, with my degree in theology from way back when, in my history of my kind of previous life, where I thought I was going to be an Episcopalian priest. . .


PF:

I don’t think I knew that. Wow.


SM:

Did you not know this?


PF:

No. I learn things ever ytime.


SM:

Alumni of King's college London. So I have a degree in theology from Kings college, London, maybe people listening don't know that either.


Um, but I, I'm really fascinated about that because obviously, you know, the Ep, Episcopalian Church, which has kind of Rome without the candles, as I always used to call it, uh, there were very many rules about the things that you ate. Fast days, many things about this. So it comes right into this, the whole religious viewpoint of food.


So tell me where you started from there. And then I wanted to talk about some of the kind of modern movements that aren't necessarily religious in terms of, of, uh, uh, you know, believing in a higher being and all of that. But they are followed almost in a religious way.

I wanted to talk about veganism and vegetarianism and things like that, that people react to in that way and get terribly angry about. So I'd just be interested how kind of religion came into this?


PF:

Well, I think the, um, religions tend to regulate food, but they do so from very different perspectives. There are religions that define certain foods as prohibited. Uh, obviously Judaism and Islam have, uh, absolute prohibitions on pork.


Uh, the religions of India have prohibitions, uh, but, um, people that subscribe to them partly on the basis of region or of, um, you know, what is, uh, at one time was cast so that, uh, Gujarat is much more vegetarian than Kerala, for example. Or, uh, the people who are in the Brahman casts are more likely to be vegetarian, uh, than, uh, some of the craft or, uh, uh, warrior, uh, castes. The distinction in the Christian religion has been that, on the one hand, Christians distinguished themselves from Jews at their origin by being omnivorous. That is by not having, uh, restrictions on what you could eat, but on rather regulating time. So there are certain days of the week or of the year in which you can't have meat and in which, um, dairy products also, uh, maybe prohibited.


And so this, uh, interested me as different concepts of fasting or of abstaining, and they could be for reasons, not of physical health, but of spiritual health. Uh, an attitude towards the material or an attitude towards self-discipline. So that, uh, Ramadan, for example, is a fairly harsh regime in many climates, particularly the original ones, uh, of Islam. Um, if Ramadan comes during the hot time of year and in some parts of traditional Islam, most of the year is pretty hot. Uh, it's difficult to abstain from sunup to sundown. But the pleasure of, uh, having the meal, uh, when the sun sets is, is part of the. . . both experience of self-discipline and of the conviviality I was referring to earlier.


With regard to modern movements, they certainly do have some of the same, uh, fervor of religiosity, the same, uh, missionary zeal. Uh, it's not only that I'm a vegan by choice, but you ought to. Uh, the reasons are not, of course, divine ordinances on the order of Leviticus and the various dietary laws. Uh, there really, I guess, threefold one is, has to do with health, which is kind of the modern, secular religion. Um, anti-cruelty, uh, with regard to animals. And, uh, uh, most strongly or powerfully, at least in terms of, uh, uh, growing adherence, uh, sustainability and environmental responsibility.


SM:

Yeah. And certainly the people who follow these and promote them do so with an enormous amount of almost religious passion. So I get many emails if I put a picture of roast lamb or whatever on my Instagram.


PF:

Tell me about it. Again, I was in California in the 70s, and I can't tell you how many people claimed that if, um, people stop eating meat, there wouldn't be any war.


SM:

[Laughter]


PF:

You know, and Hitler was a vegetarian, but that's only, or a flexitarian, that's only a partial refutation of that motion.


SM:

[Laughter]


I'll have to remember that. I'm not sure I knew that Hitler was a vegetarian or a flexitarian.


PF:

He sometimes ate meat, you know, but because he wanted to show he was German and you know, that he was macho. So, uh, but, but his own preference, his own, uh, dietary fads were vegetarian, yeah.


SM:

Fascinating.


PF:

His last meal before he committed suicide was pasta.


SM:

Wow. I see. This is stuff that I didn’t know. I always learn so much when you come on here.


Let's, let's move on. . .


PF:

Very important facts too.


SM:

Great, important facts. I love this.


Now. Okay. The next chapter, and this was when I saw it, and you start talking about taste and I'm going well, of course, food matters because of taste because we either liked something or we don't. It's very subjective, uh, element of, of food. But I think as I read your chapter on this, what you're talking about is kind of society’s, uh, love of certain things and making, almost putting that across the whole of a society. And the one I was thinking about is, is Rome, because I was just doing some work on dining in ancient Rome. And so we were talking about Rome and their passions for things to the point where they had, I think it's Silphium that actually went out of kind of existence because they ate so much of it. Um, and then obviously other areas that I read in the book imports of spices to the west, you know, impact of sugar.


So just again, tell me how you, you went into this very, very wide subject of taste and some of the kind of impacts that it had. So things like slavery and colonization that altered the way that we, we, our tastes change.


PF:

This really goes back to our earlier conversation about why food matters and why Western intellectuals have tended, uh, not to, uh, see that. Uh, in particular historians, even in my very enlightened and very large department, I’m the only person interested in the history of food. And when I retire, they will replace me as a medievalist, not as a food historian. But it's obvious or should be obvious that, um, matters of taste, even frivolous ones, have affected history. You mentioned the two most examples, spices and sugar. It really is true that the, uh, exploration and eventual colonization undertaken by European powers in the late 15th, early 16th century were largely motivated by the desire to find a direct route to spices.


So spices and sugar are great examples of the importance of what seemed to be frivolous products. Frivolous in the sense that unlike saying, you know, weed or some basic grain, you don't need them to survive.


And the tastes for spices in medieval Europe was much greater than the taste for spices in modern Europe. And the demand for these things fueled the voyages of Columbus, De Gama, and other Europeans who set out to find a cheaper and more direct ways to obtain pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and the like. But, um, that ended up obviously colonizing, uh, much of the globe.


Uh, sugar is another example. Sugar is something that, um, uh, Europeans and Americans love. And they, they use it, uh, in the 17th, 18th century, particularly in new beverages or what were then new beverages, tea, coffee, and chocolate. All of which, the people who originated these beverages didn't use sugar. So the, the, uh, uh, Mesoamerican, uh, native inhabitants drank chocolate, uh, but with peppers or flowers or other flavorings. The Chinese, to this day, don't put sugar in tea and coffee was a bitter drink in Arabia and, uh, the first areas where it was grown and made into a beverage.


Europeans love sugar in all of these things and quite a considerable amount of sugar. And they would drink tea, chocolate and coffee with pastries, you know, tiny, even more sugar. So the, um, raising the sugar in the New World was made possible by slavery. Uh, at first, the European powers in the Caribbean and in Brazil attempted to use the native population, uh, who were dying out and they made the importation of Africans, uh, into a part of a gigantic industry, uh, and the most profitable industry that really made the colonial New World. Uh, and this not, again, this is not like petroleum in the modern world or something that is sort of vital to the machine functioning. It's because, uh, uh, you know, people in their drawing rooms and, uh, cafes, uh, like to add sugar to these beverages.


SM:

So something that you could look at as, as you said, big, very frivolous, completely changed the world.


PF:

That’s right. That’s right.


SM:

The demographic of the world. It changed the transport systems of the world. It changed diseases in the world as people moved around. And all for the sake of sugar or coffee, or just remarkable.


One of the things I've been doing recently reading about the Civil War is they talk a lot, a lot of the generals talk about, if you drink coffee, your men will hold. And they talk about, you know, on the Union side, they had real coffee and they were part of the reasons they thought that they were doing better in the Union was because they were drinking coffee every day. And at the same time, all of that coffee was being brought up from Brazil, where it would have been grown by slave, you know, grown by slaves. Which is. . .


PF:

Irony. Just put it mildly.


SM:

Yeah. Irony, which is very, very interesting.


So, uh, I think, cause when people read this, they should see just the impact that something like, yeah, something frivolous, light, sugar, like coffee, uh, can have on the world just because of our love of something like that. And I think it's a really. . . . For me, that was one of the most fascinating chapters in this. So please do go and read that.


Um, I'll move on to something else that I wanted to talk about cultural appropriation, because you talk about this in the next chapter. And I always think of that as a very modern thing. I think of it as social media. I think of me cooking something from Korea and I put it on my Instagram and people going, you're not Korean and you know, how dare you cook our food? And there's lots of arguments happening there. Or if you alter a recipe with an ingredient that you have more locally in place of something that say someone has an India, I get lots of criticism for this, you know. Uh, but I think you argue that it's been going on a lot longer than, you know, kind of this kind of very modern, obvious social media element.


PF:

Appropriation is how cuisines are formed. So you can't have a cuisine without appropriation. If you, you can't have Italian cuisine without things like polenta or tomato sauce. Um, and they come from New World ingredients, so they must've appropriated them. Um, at different times, people have appropriated or mixed or fused, uh, culinary styles. So Japanese restaurants with a French aesthetic, or vice versa. The grievance that to my mind is legitimate is where people make money out of other people's recipes. So, um, or fail to give credit or marginalize. Uh, so for many years, uh, what was called Southern cuisine was implicitly understood as white cuisine and only grudgingly knowledge, any kind of connection to African-American origins or African-American cuisine. And then certainly certain incidents, white chefs have kind of, um, used the knowledge or traditions of Black chefs and then profited from that. But, uh, apart from questions of profit, I take a fairly, um, tolerant or loose or, um, on unarmed and vigilant line towards appropriation.


SM:

Which is something I would agree with as well. You know, I'm a great believer that any person from any place can cook anything that they want. What they need to do is give credit and not just using it, as you say, for profit, where they're using somebody else's kind of endeavors over centuries, or some of which, as you've mentioned with, uh, African-Americans has involved quite a bit of kind of disadvantage as well. So I was just really interested in that.


But I was interested then when we move on to talk about diversity, because you really talk about that in some depth there, and you're talking about both in terms of men and women, um, you're talking, obviously there's a diversity of race. You're talking about many things there. Um, tell me a little bit about that. You mentioned it at the very beginning. You said that was a very important part of what you were doing when you look at this and how we look at how women were supposed to eat, how men were supposed to eat because of food, because of their activities. And I get a lot of this from India where the men were supposed to be eating the, kind of [inaudible] food, you know, in my family, because they were the ones going out to working at my aunties and uncles, my aunties, rather than they were supposed to be doing the lighter food because they were at home and they didn't need to have such strenuous activity. So I, I I've had a bit of that in my life. Uh, but I'd just love to hear how you thought about that and where you started with, again, what's a very wide subject.


PF:

Well, I'd be interested to know how far that distinction in, uh, India goes back in. Uh, if you look at, uh, cookbooks from before the Civil War in the United States, they're full of advice to women. So they're not just collections of recipes and all sorts of household advice, child rearing advice, having dealing with servants equipment, uh, but they never really say anything about, uh, your job is to please your husband or your husband, uh, has different needs and desires. The assumption is that you prepare food, that everybody, husband, children, um, it was going to eat together and everybody will like it. The only thing, as I mentioned before, is there are two things that we're supposed to characterize women and distinguish them from men. One was cravings during pregnancy. It was obvious that women have certain kinds of, um, odd in the sense of they didn’t have these desires before. “Odd” desires during pregnancy and a predilection for sweets.


But otherwise you only start to see this notion that often these cookbooks address women, you have different tastes from your husband and what you might have for lunch with your, uh, female friends. Uh, and these tend to be things that are colorful, light. Once jello was invented involving things like jello or different colors or mayonnaise, or whipped cream or pastry shells. But, but save that for your lunches. Your husband doesn't want to come home to, um, uh, you know, whipped cream. . .


SM:

[Laugher]


PF:

. . . or [inaudible] whip. Uh, he wants, and then, you know, the thunder food equivalent, so hearty foods. So, um, then the, the question of different tastes gets, uh, next to questions of sort of dynamics of power or advertisers loved these distinctions because they could brow beat women into, you know, if you don't cook food that your husband likes, um, he's, his eyes are gonna stretch. The notion that food and sexual temptation are somehow linked. So one of my favorites is a letter to a women's magazine in the 1920s in which a woman writes to say, my, uh, I always serve, um, white cake at home because I don't really like chocolate cake. Uh, but, uh, lately we've been going to my neighbor's house and she serves chocolate fudge pig, and my husband loves it. So the question is, is he trying to steal my husband?


SM:

[Laugher]


I love that.


PF:

Where to start with something like that?


SM:

Well, I could give you another example of how power is put into this. So many, many years ago when my, you know, neither of my parents are with us anymore, but when they would go to the very earliest, rather grim steakhouses that opened in Britain in the 1970s. My mother loved steak and used to try and order it, and they would refuse to serve the lady a steak. The woman would have like salmon, the woman would have vegetables. The man would have the steak and it was expected to. And in fact, my father, I'm pretty sure used to probably have one for dessert as well. Cause he liked steak. But my mother would go, I want to have a steak. And they would be like, well, you know, they’d question that very kind of like. . .


PF:

I mean, did they question it or did they, was it literally against the rules?


SM:

It wasn't against the rules, but she never ended up, she was, it was done forcibly sometimes.


PF:

They intimidated her.


SM:

That it intimidated her into going and having the salmon and then finishing with black forest gateau, which was the classic thing. And I mean really fascinated with stuff. I remember her telling me about that And this is in the 70s.


PF:

That's incredible. I've never heard anything quite that dramatic. The, um, uh, bookend to that is the New York Times had a little article some years ago, but not that long ago about, um, uh, women who go out on dates with men they've just met. Dinner dates in so far as that still happens, um, and order steak as a sign that they're not, um, but they're good sports, that they're not going to hassle the guy about what he eats because, um, it's not that the guy might worry about, uh, the young woman's own diet, you know, she prefers vegetables, that's fine. But he's very nervous that he's going to start telling him, you know, you shouldn't eat that. And so the ordering of the steak is a kind of I’m a regular guy. Uh, and, um, you don't have to worry about me with regard to that, at least.


SM:

I've I, that is fascinating. I hadn't heard that before.


Uh, the other thing that I think now is I think this power system is changing. So, you know, just to give people kind of view of my own private life, I'm on the other side, if I don't cook really lovely food for my wife, I know I've going to be in trouble. So I cook all that food all the time. So I think the power, it definitely had a relationship is very different.


[Laughter]


PF:

Yeah. But of course you actually are talented and not really [inaudible]. That does make a difference.


SM:

[Laughter]


Now, we, we talked earlier obviously about slavery. We talked about the impact of that because of some of the ingredients. Um, and we've talked about obviously the movement of people from the, uh, from Africa to the Caribbean, to the New World. Um, and I talked about recently in an episode on the History of Curry, the spread of curry around the world, through indentured Indian servants after emancipation. I was just wondering if you, if you still see any of these kinds of movements around today, because you talk about ethnicity of course, as you should do in the book. And I'm just wondering how, if you see these going around there, well, if there's anything now that might be at that scale, or even just even close to that.


PF:

Well, I don't think so, but not because there isn't transmission of all sorts of food. Uh, but because there there's too much going on. So there's nothing like curry or chop suey, uh, for, you know, Chinese spread of what passed for Chinese food. Uh, there there's so many different dishes that become popular for a while. Um, so, uh, there's what there is though is a kind of selectivity that people aren't aware of. There are some cuisines where like Thai food, the borrowing is disproportionate to the actual immigration. Uh, there, there aren't that many immigrants from Thailand, uh, in the United States, but there are many, many more Thai restaurants. Uh, on the other hand, there are a tremendous number of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, uh, in New York, for example, um, and of, uh, the movement of people who are American citizens. I emphasize from Puerto Rico. Uh, but there are very few Puerto Rican restaurants or Dominican restaurants that are patronized by people who are not Puerto Rican or Dominican. So there are certain kinds of foods that people select from and, and, uh, you know, that are commercially realizable and that, uh, put in a lot of different products, uh, and then, uh, others not. So there's an eclecticism. That means that no single product has the dominance, uh, that the curry did, uh, when it was first becoming popular in post-war Britain.


SM:

And do you see, excuse me, do you see a lot of that being the impact of, we, we talk about the Food Network, the impact of it being promoted by certain chefs. The thing I'm thinking about when I read your book, I was thinking about the one that I think about all the time right now is Gochujang. If I've pronounced that correctly, Gochujang, suddenly is now in every supermarket and has been used on everything now, but 10 years ago it was something that most people just didn't know, or they might just know it because of its use in Korean food. But now you're seeing Gochujang chicken wings just in grocery and being used in this.


PF:

Right. Right.


SM:

And, and that's because I think a lot of chefs started using it on Food Network and holding up that very recognizable red carton that Gochujang comes in. And, uh, is that something you’ve seen with just certain ingredients as well?


PF:

Hot ones for some reason. So, you know, sriracha is not an import. It's a kind of, um, uh, entrepreneurs adaptation of, uh, um, you know, Thai, uh, uh, Indochinese, uh, concoction. Uh, before that, uh, you know, Tabasco or, uh. . . So the larger narrative is, when did Americans start eating hot food? Uh, growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, um, this was really not a mainstream American taste. I lived in Nashville, however, from 1979 to 1997. And I could see that, um, things like Buffalo chicken wings, blackened red fish, uh, um, really increased the amount of spice that, uh, Americans like. So there are, you know, there are these products that are new, but they're often not, uh, they're not that new, they're just another kind of hot, uh, sauce or spread, or flavoring.


SM:

Fascinatingly, um, with hot sauce, I did an episode on the History of Chili and the History of Hot Sauce, and obviously it's movement from West Africa. And, uh, it, the, the connection with hot sauce and African-American identity. And I talk about Beyonce who sang the song, you know, I've got hot sauce in my bag, swag, and it was all about that recognition that African-Americans and hot sauce had from going way back to when they were eating hot peppers in the Portuguese colonies in Africa.


PF:

Right.


SM:

And I thought that was really, really fascinating, and how that then spread from that community as did Southern food into the wider generation.


PF:

Americans really like, I mean, this is not the point of the book since it's supposed to be about globe, but Americans like a combination of hot and sweet and, um, spicy, the salted.


SM:

Yeah. Particularly I, you know, I'm a big fan of barbecue and hot sweet spices, kind of the flavor profile. . . .


PF:

That's right. Many people in the rest of the world actually don't like the sweet part of that. And I don't really much care for the hot part of that either. So I, as a medievalist, most of my work has been in Spain. And, you know, I suppose now in Barcelona and Madrid, there are barbecue restaurants, but really, um, compared to sushi or pizza, which they, you know, kind of, um, enthusiastically accepted. Uh, the only thing that would be harder to sell would be pancakes and maple syrup.


SM:

[Laughter]


I spent a lot of time or when I can in Madrid, it's my favorite eating city anywhere in the world.


PF:

Is that right?


SM:

Absolutely. I love Spain. And we had family houses there for many, many years. So I've spent a lot of time in Spain.


We're coming towards the end of our time. And I definitely want to ask you our fun questions we ask at the end, but I do want to just finish on this, unless there's anything that I've desperately missed out here about conviviality, you know, we all want to be convivial.


Uh, but you mentioned in this, that whole kind of joyousness of the book, and I was actually interested that that wasn't a starting point for you. The whole, the reason that people feel why food is important is because we have a great time when we're, when we're creating food. We have a great time when we're eating food. In fact, people may not know, or they could go up my website and see a video of us kind of cooking together for 10 restaurants that changed America for the Department of History at UCLA. And that was very, a very convivial, uh, set up. Uh, so I was just interested why this came at the end rather than the beginning. And why you think conviviality is so important to food.


PF:

I guess it's because, as I said, at the outset, as a historian, my interest in food has been how it differentiates people, rich and poor, male, female, racially, ethnically, um, uh, and above all in terms of, uh, uh, class. But, uh, so the conviviality is at the end because it's an admission that food is not just about division. It's about togetherness. But yes, you're right. You could, as easily start, I have started with togetherness and conviviality, and then shown how divisive and, uh, farught can be. I guess I decided I'd end on a positive note or delay the positive note, but you're quite right. It could have been, it could have been organized differently.


SM:

Yeah. Cause I, when I was thinking about it, I would, maybe I will depress the new, but I would start with the happy part and go into all the horrible stuff following it. Um, and I think what we're seeing now, the pandemic has been really interesting I think because what I realize more than anything now that I'm getting out again and having dinners with friends and doing all kinds of things is just how much I missed it. Just how important sitting at a table, whatever the food, with people, talking to them that you can't do on zoom, much as we tried to do zoom dinners and things like that. Horrible. Just, just sitting there. And I know you find this, obviously when you're lecturing to actual people, rather than over a screen as we're doing now, just because of our geographical location. So, do you think people just realize during the pandemic, just how much actually dining is necessary. Dining together is actually a necessary part of human kind of society.


PF:

Yes. I think that maybe they differed as to how much they realized it during the height of the pandemic. For myself, uh, for a while I thought, you know, restaurants are such a hassle. Um, I live near New York and you know, they're always kind of a performance or, uh, they always treat you as if you're a worshiper at a shrine and you know, the hell with this, I know how to cook. And I made all sorts of recipes that I wouldn't have had time for. And, um, you saved a huge amount of money. Uh, so I think, I didn't realize how much I missed it, um, until we started dining out again. And that, um, perhaps all of that complaining about restaurants was a self-protective device to distract myself from the fact that, uh, that I was, uh, deprived of something that is a normal pleasure.


SM:

I'm so. . . Well, definitely for me just going out, I, I remember sitting it up having a meal with my lovely wife and my favorite restaurant in LA, which is called Felix, a wonderful Italian restaurant and just going, I'm so pleased to be doing this. It was just after a year and a half almost of dining, and just. . . I felt my kind of conviviality as it were just building up inside me. And I felt like a proper human being.


PF:

Me too.


SM:

And I think that is a great way to kind of end the questions here. Unless of course there's anything I've missed out or you go, how dare you not have asked me.


PF:

No, no Simon. As always, you've been extremely thorough and. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


So let's, before we go on and finish and have our fun questions at the end, um, if people want to go and buy the book, uh, tell us about where they could find it, tell us, you know, about the publishers, tell us where they can find it, because I really want people to read it because it's of course it's, it's you. So of course it's incredibly thoughtful. It's incredibly, well-researched, it's beautifully written, very accessible. Uh, but I just think it's a very important book and a great part of this terrific series of which I've read others before. Uh, before I even knew that you were writing one in this, why does X matter?


PF:

Oh, well, it's published by Yale University Press. And I should just add to the very kind list of, uh, tempting aspects that you just enumerated that it's short. Uh, that's not footnotes. So, um, uh, yes, it's available from Yale University Press on their website or from the usual, uh, sources.


SM:

So I really recommend people go and get a copy. And then also, you know, people want to follow you on social media. I'm sure after they've listened to you talking on here, they'll want to, uh, tell us about your social media links, where they can find you.


PF:

I'm on Instagram and Facebook, but primarily on Twitter. And my Twitter handle is at Mornay, M O R N A Y P H F.


SM:

Which I, which I love all that. Um, and so that's fantastic. Please do go and, uh, find poll on that go and, uh, link to him. It always fun to see what he's posting. And also, as I mentioned before, please go and listen to, uh, the interview that we did on “10 Restaurants that Changed America” and on “American Cuisine,” both amazing books as well. So if you want to treat yourself to a kind of pull library, I'd go by all three. Uh, but as you know, and you will know more than anyone because this is your third appearance. We always like to finish with some fun questions. And you've now had to think about this three times, my question. 


Maybe I need to have special questions for you next time you come on. So they're different, but if this case I'm going to ask you these three questions and they can't be the same answers as before. So don't, don't dare do that. So, um, if Paul Freedman was a meal, what would it be?


PF:

Uh, um, I would say an omelet now, at least this time. An omelet because of deceptively simple. It's not easy. Uh, but, uh, so wonderfully satisfying. And, um, yeah, I guess I identify with myself because I could eat them, uh, for every meal. If know, there was one thing I, I was told I had to eat the same thing all the time.


SM:

Uh, great. I have to say a great classic French omelet, little runny on the inside.


PF:

A little runny on the inside, exactly.


SM:

The kind of, um, there's a great video of, uh, the glorious Jacques Pepin making an omelet, which of course he makes as if you know, which he has forever and ever and ever. And, uh, when I look at that, it is one of those that almost makes me want to lick the screen, and particularly as he just, he, he describes it just makes it so. Right. Wow. Well, that's a great one. I liked that. No one's ever suggested that before now, if you could, this obviously is a tough one. I think for you, if you could select any specific meal in history or a period in history in which to have a meal, what would it be? And obviously I'm expecting you to go back to medieval times perhaps, but maybe not.


PF:

I think not. Um, I mean, medieval food is spectacular. Um, but, um, uh, somehow not really. Uh, it's, it's a little alien to my aesthetic. The combination of vinegary, spicy, thin sauces, uh, dubious ingredients like peacocks. Um, no, I would say for actually liking the food and, uh, enjoying it in a gluttonous fashion, the late 19th century. Just the amount of game, of fish of, uh, elaborate sauces, of over the top desserts, can't beat it.


SM:

Would you, would you have to deal with, uh, wasn't the great American kind of disease at the time, Dyspepsia, because so much meat and so much rich food and didn't you have, you'd have to just deal, maybe take some of the local, local medicines at the time.


PF:

Right. Right. Uh, take the, uh, you know, the cure every, uh, year for a couple of weeks, that's a resort like Saratoga, or why not, why not go to Europe and go to [inaudible] or spa or some place.


SM:

Go to Battle Creek and eat cornflakes.


PF:

I think not. I think not. But maybe not. But, uh, but yeah, that's, that's the idea. Or have modern, um, you know, uh, acid reflux medicines or, uh, yeah. I mean, gout is the real problem, um, uh, to avoid, but I, uh, um, uh, as long as we're fantasizing, I would fantasize consequence free glutton.


SM:

[Laughter]


I love that consequence free gluttony. They were a great band in the 1970s.


PF:

Indeed.


SM:

Now, finally, before we let you go, what would you consider to be the greatest invention in food history?


PF:

Yeah. Well, here again, one wants to avoid the obvious, fire. Um, and, but, but incorporating fire, I'd say the cast iron skillet.


SM:

Oh, that's a great one. I love, I do probably 90% of my cooking in cast iron.


PF:

And now, I mean, one of the benefits of being old is, um, I think I've got two skillets that are at least 40 years old.


SM:

Oh my gosh. The seasoning levels on them must just be impeccable. I do. The only thing I do, I get asked about a cast iron skillets when I do cooking demos a lot. And the only thing I say to people is that, um, I think we kind of fetishize them too much now. It's like, you've got to have a certain cleaner, you can't put soap on them. I mean, then people do worry about them too much. And I go imagine, you know, the people on the manifest destiny moving west. I can't imagine, you know, those ladies or the men kind of worrying about whether they had to go to Williams Sonoma to buy their soap or whatever.


PF:

Right.


SM:

And I have to say, I treat mine well, but slightly roughly.


PF:

I think with respect.


Um, but my question for you is, uh, apropos both omelets and cast iron skillets. What do you cook an omelet with? Do you use a French copper tin lined omelette pan? Or do you use something else?


SM:

No, I use a good, a good non-stick pan. And the key is modernity. They're a really good non-stick pan is where I cook an omelet because I'm not skilled enough to use a copper one. So for me, I use a very. . .


PF:

To make sure that it doesn’t stick.


SM:

It doesn't stick. And that's just because I think those people who've been making them forever and ever just have a technique and they have a time thing in their head and they just do it. . . particularly when you watch someone like Jacques Pepin. Uh, but for me, a good nonstick is, is the thing. And you'll never fail. That's the thing. You'll never fail.


Uh, but thank you so much. And anytime, seriously, any time you ever, ever, ever want to come on and talk about anything. You're all. . . you have a standing invitation.


PF:

Thank you, Simon.


OUTRO MUSIC


SIMON:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.


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Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.


CREDITS

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”


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and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.

Published Date: December 6, 2021

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.