What’s for dinner? Early modern food consumption analysed using cesspit samples and culinary texts
Date: Thursday, 21 November 2019, 12 AM – 1 PM
Place: Simon Stevin Room (Plateaustraat 22, Gent): https://soleway.ugent.be/routes/2373
We cannot live on air and sunshine alone, the human body needs food and fluids to survive. It needs it now, it needed it in the past. But what did our ancestors’ diet consist of? When we want to find out what people ate in the past, we have to look at their refuse. Not only their kitchen waste, but also their excrements. Archaeologists find these waste-products in a variety of archaeological contexts, such as hearths, middens, pits, landfills, trash deposits and, for Medieval and Early Modern urban areas, cesspits. Cesspits are constructed to contain cess or human excrements, and as a secondary filling these pits often also contain kitchen waste, household rubbish and garden waste. Within this research project, cesspits form the primary context of analysis. Bio-archaeological samples are studied to understand what people ate. However, not everything we eat is conserved: organic remains do decay due to pre- and post-depositional processes. Additionally, they rarely tell us how a food product was consumed. Studying historical culinary texts, such as cookbooks and kitchen account books, helps to better understand the range of what was available for consumption. These documents provide lists of foodstuffs purchased and prepared that might be absent in the archaeological record. However, they only offer a glimpse of what was eaten, as cookbooks represent what was potentially consumed by the higher social classes and account books often only list (dried) bulk goods, excluding the fresh produce bought at the market. Each research discipline has it biases. Combining the results of bio-archaeological and culinary historical research is therefore a must. They complement each other and provide a more nuanced picture not only of what Early Modern citizens ate and how it changed through time, but also of the socio-economic positions of the consumer.
Merit Hondelink, a PhD-candidate at University of Groningen/Antwerp University, is a trained archaeologist, specialised in archaeobotany (the study of plant remains present in archaeological sites). Her research focuses on the changes in food preparation and consumption by Delft citizens in the course of the Early Modern period, between 1500-1800. She wants to know if and how the daily diet changed in the course of these centuries and how this reflects social stratifications within a city. Did the intensifying global trade and the influence of foreign food fashions effect what food was consumed and how it was prepared? Or did people stick to what was known and continued to eat what had been available for decades or even centuries? Merit studies these past food practices by analysing archaeobotanical samples from cesspits and studying historical documents (cookbooks and institutional account books). Additionally, she brings an experimental approach to her research. She recreates historical recipes to study the differences in kitchen and consumption waste and to better understand which biases occur after the deposition of food remains.
Department of Art, Music and Theater Sciences Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 41, Technicum Blok 4, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium Elizabeth.Vandeweghe@UGent.be
After getting my master’s degree in Art History in 2004 (University Ghent), I worked for seven years in the exhibitions department of the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels (BOZAR), where I was responsible for all publications of the exhibitions, such as Het Verboden Rijk (2007), The World of Lucas Cranach (2010). In 2012, I started working as an assistant at UGent, Department Art, Theatre and Music Sciences, while working independently for cultural institutions such as the Centrum Rubenianum and the Centre for Fine Arts. As a part time assistant to Prof. dr. Martens and Prof. dr. Jonckheere, I further developed my knowledge of and interest in the arts in the Low Countries, in particular in the 16th and 17th century. Since September 2015, I am enrolled as a PhD candidate under the title “The Art Historical Meaning of Culinary Representations in the Visual Arts of the Early Modern Low Countries” (working title), with a joint Phd at the University of Verona.