What could be better than France and food? The special issue editors of “Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History,” Erica J. Peters and Bertram Gordon, are proud to publish this issue of French Historical Studies attesting to the growth of interest in food history. In this guest post, they give an overview of the topics selected.
In the last generation, food history has gained increased attention on the part of researchers and the general public. The Food History News website currently lists fifteen culinary history organizations in the United States, Canada, and Australia and some twenty-two academic periodicals are devoted to food studies. The five articles published in the FHS special issue offer a broad range of social and cultural insights into the development of French gastronomy ranging chronologically from the introduction of coffee into seventeenth-century France to the black market restaurants in Paris during the Second World War.
Acquiring a new taste for coffee, seventeenth century consumers willfully ignored the slavery that helped produce it. The new beverage also fueled images of sexuality onto exoticized harems as Julia Landweber shows in “‘This Marvelous Bean’: Adopting Coffee into Old Regime French Culture and Diet.” In his “La construction de la renommée des produits des terroirs, Acteurs et enjeux d’un marché de la gourmandise en France (XVIIe-début XIXe siècle),” Philippe Meyzie demonstrates how the promotion of terroir in the eighteenth century ties into issues of social status among an aspiring middle class in France.
Two articles focus on the social dimensions of food in turn of the twentieth century France. Martin Bruegel‘s “Workers’ Lunch Away From Home in the Paris of the Belle Époque: The French Model of Meals as Norm and Practice” shows the gap between a popularly imagined “repas normal,” or standard meal, and the reality of the more meager lunches of the working class French, while Patricia Tilburg makes a parallel case for the midinettes, working women who survived on street food for lunch. As with the “repas normal” and the reality of workers’ lunches, the popular image of the midinettes as carefree, happy-go-lucky, and indifferent to food was very far from the reality. Kenneth Mouré‘s, “La capitale de la faim: Black Market Restaurants in Paris 1940-1944,” demonstrates that access to Paris’s most exclusive restaurants became a trophy first seized by German forces in 1940 and then claimed by the Americans in 1944.
The special issue of French Historical Studies attests to academic interest in food history while opening new vistas into French history.