Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Eating Right in the Renaissance

Eating Right in the Renaissance

Ken Albala
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 324
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eating Right in the Renaissance
    Book Description:

    Eating right has been an obsession for longer than we think. Renaissance Europe had its own flourishing tradition of dietary advice. Then, as now, an industry of experts churned out diet books for an eager and concerned public. Providing a cornucopia of information on food and an intriguing account of the differences between the nutritional logic of the past and our own time, this inviting book examines the wide-ranging dietary literature of the Renaissance. Ken Albala ultimately reveals the working of the Renaissance mind from a unique perspective: we come to understand a people through their ideas on food.Eating Right in the Renaissancetakes us through an array of historical sources in a narrative that is witty and spiced with fascinating details. Why did early Renaissance writers recommend the herbs parsley, arugula, anise, and mint to fortify sexual prowess? Why was there such a strong outcry against melons and cucumbers, even though people continued to eat them in large quantities? Why was wine considered a necessary nutrient? As he explores these and other questions, Albala explains the history behind Renaissance dietary theories; the connections among food, exercise, and sex; the changing relationship between medicine and cuisine; and much more.Whereas modern nutritionists may promise a slimmer waistline, more stamina, or freedom from disease, Renaissance food writers had entirely different ideas about the value of eating right. As he uncovers these ideas from the past, Ken Albala puts our own dietary obsessions in an entirely new light in this elegantly written and often surprising new chapter on the history of food.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92728-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Spelling
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    It would be almost impossible for a person living today to escape the influence of nutritional science. A vast array of dietary guidelines is promulgated through every media and on every item of packaged food. Whether or not these rules are followed, the terms of the discussion are all too familiar: calories, saturated fat, vitamins and minerals, cholesterol. We all know that many of us are intensely diet and health conscious. It would probably come as a surprise, though, to learn that five hundred years ago literate Europeans were equally obsessed with eating right. Then, as now, a veritable industry...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Overview of the Genre
    (pp. 14-47)

    The urge to categorize foods according to a rational system appears to be at least as old as civilization itself. Every major world culture has devised a method of appraising foods and many of these survive to this day in some form. The ancient Chinese system based on ideas of yin and yang, the Hindu Ayurvedic system, and the Levitical kosher laws still inform food choices around the world. While the system of humoral physiology no longer directly affects Western ideas about food, its history is long and influential. Its roots stretch from the ancient Greeks and through the early...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Human Body: Humors, Digestion, and the Physiology of Nutrition
    (pp. 48-77)

    This chapter is a guide to the basic theory that underlies all Renaissance discussions of food and nutrition. Human physiology, digestion, and especially the four humors are central to the entire topic and inform all specific food recommendations. These ideas are usually, but not always, set in the context of the broader topic of “hygiene” or rules for maintaining health by means of diet, exercise, and regulation of all external factors that affect the individual. The theories originate in the Hippocratic corpus and the writings of Galen and can be thought of as the substructure that links all dietaries in...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 3 Food: Qualities, Substance, and Virtues
    (pp. 78-114)

    Like human beings, all other living creatures and plants, according to the system of humoral physiology, have their own inherent complexion. When these creatures are used as food, their elements, being transferred and assimilated into our bodies, naturally alter our own complexion. Thus, a food product described as hot and dry, or “choleric,” will ultimately increase the choleric humors in the individual who eats it. The difficulty in understanding this system fully stems from the fact that “hot and dry” and other qualitative terms used to describe food do not refer to actual tactile properties. A food need not be...

  10. CHAPTER 4 External Factors
    (pp. 115-162)

    This chapter focuses on a broad range of factors that were thought to play a major role in the maintenance of health and on how these factors relate to food. They have a direct bearing on the administration of diet and “hygiene” in its original sense because they can be manipulated and altered to conform to the needs of the individual and his or her complexion. That is, one can seek out better air, get more or less exercise, or have more or less sex in order to alter the humoral balance of the body. In Renaissance terminology, these factors...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Food and the Individual
    (pp. 163-183)

    At first glance, it may seem that taste preferences and food choices are informed by simple biological and economic factors. A person eats whatever tastes good and can be readily obtained. In fact, it is almost never so simple. As a species, we learn to eat foods that are not immediately pleasant and sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to find calorically inefficient foods. We also spurn perfectly nutritious foods that can be had for the taking. Obviously “taste” is something profoundly shaped by cultural, social, and psychological factors. A food sacred to one society may be taboo to another. What...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Food and Class
    (pp. 184-216)

    The social connotations of food are perhaps the most powerful determinant of dietary preferences. This is especially the case in a nutritional theory whose basis entails the literal incorporation of a food’s substance and qualities into the consumer. An item considered gross and crude and associated with the peasantry will render the consumer peasant-like because those same elements that make up the peasant will be absorbed by the consumer. To a courtier, magnificent banquet dishes not only signify wealth, power, and sophistication but transfer those properties directly into the individual diner. An exquisite dish makes the eater exquisite. Thus, the...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Food and Nation
    (pp. 217-240)

    It has been suggested thus far that the major changes within Renaissance nutritional theory reflect larger transformations of European society, culture, and thought. The most conspicuous features of this new outlook have been described as reactions to various greater trends: a demographic surge, inflation, a greater disparity of wealth, the differentiation of social strata, and divergence of high and low cultures. One other significant development may be discerned in the recommendations of dietary regimens, and this is a growing consciousness of regulation, order, and rational government at a personal level in terms that parallel the rationalization of political states. In...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Medicine and Cuisine
    (pp. 241-283)

    There can be no doubt at this point that the Renaissance genre of dietary regimens reflects both medical and culinary concerns about food. But the question remains whether the principles of humoral physiology actually informed eating habits, or whether dietary authors merely accommodated current culinary practices into their medical theories. Ultimately, this is a chicken or egg dilemma. This chapter does not make a systematic attempt to claim priority for one or the other but rather explains the relationship between the two, which was sometimes coincidentally similar and sometimes plainly antagonistic. The points of intersection and the major differences between...

  15. POSTSCRIPT: The End of a Genre and Its Legacy
    (pp. 284-294)

    Why did the genre of dietary regimes come to an end in the mid-seventeenth century? The theories themselves certainly did not disappear overnight, and there were physicians still defending humoral pathology well into the nineteenth century. But the application of humoral medicine to the study of food and the popularity of this particular genre did indeed trail off. It would be too simple to claim that new iatrochemical and iatrophysical theories suddenly replaced the older Galenism. New theories were just as often blended with older ones, particularly because they themselves offered no comprehensive new way to think about food. Ideas...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-308)
  17. Index
    (pp. 309-315)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 316-316)