Dietary Dilemmas: Influences on Consumer ‘Choice’ in Preindustrial Societies
13.00 – 13.10 Welcome & Introduction to BrIAS.
Frits Heinrich - BrIAS Program Director | Vrije Universiteit Brussel | Social and Cultural Food Studies (FOST) | Industrial Microbiology & Food Biotechnology (IMDO)
13.10 – 13.20 Introduction: Influences on Consumer ‘Choice’ in Preindustrial Societies.
Beat Kümin - BrIAS Fellow | Department of History & Food GRP, University of Warwick
Session 1: Religion
13.20 – 14.10 Keynote: 'Religious dimensions of early modern Irish food & drink choices'.
Susan Flavin - Trinity College, Dublin
Session 2: Society & Culture
14.10 – 14.30 ‟His Abomination is the Beef Leg and the Catch of any Fish”: On Religious Food Regulations in Greco-Roman Egypt.
Arnaud Delhove & Alexa Rickert - Université de Namur
14.30 – 14.45 Exotic luxury or dangerous novelty? Conflicting narratives in the reception of ‘New World’ foods in Europe.
Serin Quinn - University of Warwick
14.45 – 15.00 Q&A & Discussion
15.00 – 15.15 Coffee break
Session 3: Law & Politics
15.15 – 15.30 Taverns and the Propination Monopoly in the Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Jan Blonski - EUI Florence
15.30 – 15.45 Consuming under constraint - food regulations and their effect on consumer choice in eighteenth-century Brussels.
Robin Rose Southard - Vrije Universiteit Brussel | Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST)
15.45– 16.00 Q&A & Discussion
Session 4: Economy & Medicine
16.15 – 16.30 Creating space for consumers to choose? Spatial deregulation in mid-nineteenth- century Brussels.
Dennis de Vriese - Vrije Universiteit Brussel | Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST)
16.30 – 16.45 ‘The foundation to all good nourishment’: Drinking water for good health in seventeenth- century England.
Daniel Gettings - University of Warwick
16.45 – 17.00 Q&A & Discussion.
17.00 – 18.00 Roundtable: Conclusions and Perspectives
Susan Flavin (Trinity College Dublin)
Beat Kümin (BrIAS/University of Warwick)
Kim Willems (VUB-Marketing & Consumer Behaviour)
Peter Scholliers (VUB-FOST)
Frits Heinrich (BrIAS/ VUB-FOST/IMDO)
Dietary Dilemmas: Influences on Consumer ‘Choice’ in Preindustrial Societies
Rather than just individual taste and personal preference, food and beverage selection typically reflects a complex matrix of influences: legal frameworks, socio-economic resources, religious norms, health considerations, cultural customs, trading relations, peer pressures and increasingly – as expressed by this year’s BrIAS theme – considerations of sustainability. Zooming in on a range of preindustrial case studies, this workshop highlights some of the pressures facing consumers in the past. It asks what ultimately motivated their decisions and whether there are any lessons for the societies of today. The keynote is complemented by papers from (post)doctoral researchers and a roundtable featuring perspectives from Antiquity to the present.
Jan Blonski (EUI Florence)
Taverns and the Propination Monopoly in the Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Throughout the early modern period, taverns became the most profitable source of financial income for noble estates which was also connected with the rapid increase of their number. And due to the changes in the European economy, the Commonwealth began to produce spirits from wheat and other grains. Adjusting to the new situation, the nobility throughout the seventeenth century acquired the propination monopoly understood as an exclusive right to produce and sell alcohol. It meant that only the owners of the land could produce liquors in their goods.
So what did people in early modern Poland drink as their daily beverage and what did they choose as their intoxicants? To what extent was their choice limited or determined by the legal bounding? During my presentation, I will discuss the manorial-corvee economy and the wars of the second half of the seventeenth century that remain the two most important contexts for the formation and the functioning of the propination monopoly. I will also present the dynamics of legal and economic transformations that created a framework for the social consumption of beverages and reflect upon the agency of consumers in making their own choices.
Jan Blonski is a PhD researcher at the European University Institute in Florence. Currently, I investigate the economic, social, and cultural functions of early modern taverns. I am generally interested in the popular culture and social changes of the early modern period (miracles and popular religious tales) as well as the methodology of history (historical anthropology, microhistory).
Arnaud Delhove and Alexa Rickert (Université de Namur),
‟His Abomination is the Beef Leg and the Catch of any Fish”: On Religious Food Regulations in Greco-Roman Egypt
Religious life in Ancient Egypt was subject to strict regulations, and the priests and other people who took part in the rituals had numerous rules to follow to be in a state of ritual purity, which included a special (and quite restrictive) diet. In this context, the ancient Egyptian term bw.t, ‟abomination” (sometimes not quite accurately translated as ‟taboo”) was of great importance. After an explanation of this notion, the paper first turns to the Greek sources, which dealt with these priests whose diet was “frugal and simple” (cf. Porphyry, De Abst. IV, 7), and then takes a look at the hieroglyphic regulations for the clergy and the so-called ‟nome monographs”, preserved on the walls of the late Egyptian temples. Based on these sources, the conditions for certain prohibitions of food will be examined.
Arnaud Delhove holds a PhD in Egyptology and a MA in Religious Studies from the Université libre de Bruxelles and specializes in Late Middle Egyptian and royal ideology in the texts from the Late Period to Greco-Roman Period of Egypt. He was part of the epigraphic team led by Michèle Broze and René Preys (FNRS/CFEETK), which published a new edition of the Ptolemaic door of the second pylon of the temple of Amun in Karnak. Since 2018, he teaches Egyptian language and literature at the ULB. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Namur in the project AGROS where he studies food transformation processes within the Greco-Roman temples.
Alexa Rickert holds a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Tübingen and specializes in the temple texts of the Greco-Roman period of Egypt. She is co-responsible for the scientific edition of the sanctuary of Alexander the Great in the temple of Karnak (CFEETK/University of Tübingen). After several years of research in the project Der Tempel als Kanon der religiösen Literatur Ägyptens (Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities), Alexa taught Egyptian philology as a research assistant at the University of Münster from 2019 to 2022. At the moment, she is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Namur in the project AGROS and is studying the connection between the food offering to the gods and the diet of the priests.
Dennis De Vries (Vrije Universiteit Brussel - HOST)
Creating space for consumers to choose? Spatial deregulation in mid-nineteenth-century Brussels.
In 1847 the Brussels municipal council determined to remove the last vestiges of what they considered early modern restrictions to commercial freedom within the meat sector. Lifting many centuries-old restrictions confining fresh meat sales to the city’s two meat halls and handful of markets, butchers were now free to sell meat from their own homes. In doing so, they had a vision of a new type of urban market for meat, one much more beneficial for consumers. They expected butchers to seize this new-found freedom to scatter around the city allowing consumers the luxury of having a butcher close by where they could buy meat cheaper than before. This paper seeks to assess this commercial freedom did in fact lead to easier consumer choice in purchasing fresh meat. To do so, it explores the degree to which butchers did indeed scatter into the city, bringing meat closer to consumers. Next, it evaluates meat prices to determine whether various types of meat became more accessible as a result. Finally, it turns to the practical composition of urban meat consumption as it explores changes in which animals were consumed.
Dennis De Vriese is a fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In the past he studied social inequality aboard long-distance ships through the lens of food and shifts in perception of meat quality. Currently he is working on a PhD on the deregulation of Brussels’ market for meat in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In this research, he focuses on changing regulation, its justifications and how both shaped the urban economy. His research interest include social inequality, food history, material culture, and economic (de)regulation.
Daniel Gettings (University of Warwick)
‘The foundation to all good nourishment’: Drinking water for good health in seventeenth-century England.
Seventeenth Century England saw a huge volume of vernacular print that sought to explain the healthiest way to live one’s life. From abstaining from certain behaviours, to avoiding specific places, these works offered a range of opinions for the health-conscious early modern reader, but it was on the subject of diet that they had more to say than any other topic. This paper wishes to explore the huge amount that seventeenth-century authors had to offer on the topic of drinking water, and the health concerns but also great benefits that it theoretically posed.
Despite growing scholarship on drinking water in recent years, both resulting from and parallel to the blue humanities movement, even recent works on early modern food and drink still seem eager to claim that water was not really consumed in this period. This paper draws on a wealth of early modern print literature that debated the health benefits of drinking water, as well as supplementary sources like ego documents and scientific reports, to problematise that claim, and to explore the dilemma that drinking water posed to the early modern consumer.
Daniel Gettings is a third year PhD candidate at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. He is supervised by Professor Beat Kümin on a project entitled “Sustaining body and soul: the early modern English and their water, 1550-1750”. The project seeks to examine the cultural understandings of water in early modern England as a means of accessing everyday life and how contemporaries saw their world.
Serin Quinn (University of Warwick),
Exotic luxury or dangerous novelty? Conflicting narratives in the reception of ‘New World’ foods in Europe
It had long been understood that foods from the Americas such as potatoes or tomatoes were met with hostility and suspicion upon arrival in Europe. Even those that had a more positive reception, such as chocolate, were thought to have needed to be adapted to fit European tastes, as the original was considered unappealing. Research over the last decade has begun to counter this narrative, showing that European chocolate consumption was done in imitation of Indigenous American practices, and that potatoes were well received and incorporated with remarkable speed into European diets. There remains, however, an open question between the two strands of scholarship. Can these foodstuffs both be sought after and spurned? What factors contribute to the uptake of one food, but not another?
This paper will address the contradictions and conflicts found within English responses to foods indigenous to the Americas, with the aim to provide a more nuanced understanding of the topic than simply trepidation or fascination. It argues that both responses coexisted, influenced by a number of factors. Media representations, religious/moral concerns, the English colonial project, and crucially the nature and taste of the food itself all held different sways over consumer choice and ultimately created the distinct trajectories that each foodstuff had in England.
Serin Quinn is a PhD student at the University of Warwick, in the third year of her study. Her PhD is on the reception of the tomato in England, and she has previously worked on sweet potatoes, with a forthcoming article on that topic accepted at Food & History.
Robin Rose Southard (Vrije Universiteit Brussel - HOST),
Consuming under constraint - food regulations and their effect on consumer choice in eighteenth-century Brussels
Keeping urban centres adequately supplied of the staff of life was an incredible challenge in the eighteenth-century. One of the tools in the hands of the city to meet this challenge was regulating the food supply by issuing ordinances. These documents outlined who could sell food, where, when and what could be sold and at times, also from who you were allowed to buy. The ordinances were the result of a complex negotiation between different socio-economic actors. This meant that they were heavily influenced not only by the city government which issued them but also by lobby groups such as food sellers, workers, and consumers. Choices these consumers were able to make in purchasing their subsistence products were consequently incorporated in this system. This paper discusses this regulatory landscape of food, its effect on the consumer and, to an extent, the effect they were able to have themselves in forming the rule of law in eighteenth-century Brussels.
Robin Rose Southard is a doctoral student studying at the VUB under supervision of prof. dr. Wouter Ryckbosch. She is affiliated with the Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST) research group. Her current project studies the urban food supply of early modern cities in a corporative context, with a particular focus on how this tied into food regulation and the actions of the socio-economic actors involved. Her broader field of interest is early modern urban socio-economic and cultural history.