Wpg Free Press: History class studies how our lives are affected by what we eat
When it comes to food, we often talk about the latest trend, the newest gadget, the hottest ingredient.
Dr. Sarah Elvins, a professor of history at the University of Manitoba, is more interested in looking at our culinary past. She teaches a course in American food histories, which includes such topics as indigenous food knowledge, food and the immigrant experience, wartime food and rationing, the rise of advertising and convenience foods, the connection between the counterculture and health food, and food and affluence in the 1980s. Though the course deals with American history, there is a lot of overlap with the Canadian experience.
“What I like about this course is you can talk about racism, you can talk about class, you can talk about gender, you can talk about technology,” Elvins says. “You can talk about all these things through the lens of food.”
Elvins also hopes that looking at the way we cooked in the past will give us a better understanding of the way we cook today.
At a recent class the Free Press attended, Elvins asked her students to bring in food they had made themselves using historical recipes. The results, which included bread pudding, pfeffernusse, apple fritters and ginger cookies, were sometimes delicious and always interesting.
“I tell them, it’s not a bake-off. I’m not going to judge you on your presentation,” Elvins says with a laugh. “I’m interested in using this as a way to think about work in the kitchen.
“If you have to whip those egg whites by hand, you start to think about the history of the egg beater. You think about kitchen layouts and technology and what people had access to and what was the common knowledge of the time.”