Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, the inaugural project of the Mellon initiative in collaborative research, will use the pervasiveness of food in everyday life as a window into early modern culture. Food, then as now, is a basic human need. It also has a history and is a gateway to understanding society and culture. In the course of this project, we will investigate big questions about the way food participates in and actively shapes human knowledge, ethics, and imagination. Such issues as the unevenness of food supply, the development and spread of tastes with their darker supply sides of enslaved labor, and the socially cohesive rituals of eating together will be explored. With fresh understandings of a pre-industrial world, this project also gives us purchase on some post-industrial assumptions, aspirations, and challenges encapsulated in any idea of recovering simpler, local, and sustainable food chains.
Three co-directors are orchestrating the inaugural project’s agendas and activities. They include David Goldstein, Associate Professor of English at York University in Canada; Amanda Herbert, Associate Director for Fellowships in the Folger Institute; and Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger. Before ‘Farm to Table’ will mine rich and underexplored collections at the Folger; it will highlight new voices and genres from the past; it will create a hub in a network of scholarly projects; it will advance the maturation of scholarly discussion and debates in the field; and it will contribute to social and cultural histories as well as forge new grounds for meaningful conversations with experts from outside the humanities. Within in the Folger, Before ‘Farm to Table’ will spark new conversations with our audiences, from young to old.