in Food & Drink | September 3rd, 2020
As you know if you’re a reader of this site, there are vast, interactive (and free!) scholarly databases online collecting just about every kind of artifact, from Bibles to bird calls, and yes, there are a significant number of cookbooks online, too.
But proper searchable, historical databases of cookbooks seem to have appeared only lately. To my mind, these might have been some of the first things to become available. How important is eating, after all, to virtually every part of our lives? The fact is, however, that scholars of food have had to invent the discipline largely from scratch.
“Western scholars had a bias against studying sensual experience,” writes Reina Gattuso at Atlas Obscura, “the relic of an Enlightenment-era hierarchy that considered taste, touch, and flavor taboo topics for sober academic inquiry. ‘It’s the baser sense,’ says Cathy Kaufman, a professor of food studies at the New School.” Kaufman sits on the board of The Sifter, a new massive, multilingual online database of historical recipe books. Another board member, sculptor Joe Wheaton, puts things more directly: “Food history has been a bit of an embarrassment to a lot of academics, because it involves women in the kitchen.”