Programme de recherche : The global lives of food and material culture – Université de Leiden

Universiteit Leiden – The Netherlands

Kikkoman Chair of Asia-Europe Intercultural Dynamics

Shared Taste? The global lives of food and material culture, 1500 to the present

This multi-facetted research project explores the emergence and development of shared tastes as food and material culture were exchanged throughout the world between 1500 and the present. Food, material culture and social life are inextricably connected, in today’s world as much as in the remote past.

From 1500 onwards, those connections gained global dimensions: food and material culture began to be exchanged not merely within cultural zones as they had always done, but across vast distances encompassing the globe: from Africa to the Americas, from the Americas to Europe, from Europe to Asia, from Asia to Africa and the Americas.

Modes of connection, such as gift-giving, long-distance trade, and the transmission of ideas also intensified during this period. This raises questions about how food, material culture and social life were transformed in the context of these growing global connections.

What is food? What is edible? How is it produced, prepared, and presented? The answers to such questions, as anthropologists have long told us, are socially and culturally constructed, but they are also historically constructed. Tastes, flavours, smells and textures are all embedded in socio-cultural contexts that change over time. Precisely because the experience of food and its meanings are embedded in contexts and embodied in ideas about self and other, they form meaningful topics to study through the lens of intercultural dynamics.

How did global commodities like tea, soy, coffee and rice become embedded in different local contexts?

The topic of food encompasses a wide range of aspects for research, from the production and distribution of foodstuffs to the cultural contexts within which food is prepared, presented and consumed.

The status and distinction conveyed by food, the aesthetics of food and food presentation, the metaphoric and ritual meanings of food, the sharing of food, tastes and techniques of cooking and modes of presenting, all these changed as the globe became connected.

This project seeks to explore how global connections changed food, material culture and social life through a series of research-based activities.

The project is carried out under the aegis of the Kikkoman Chair for the study of Asia-Europe Intercultural Dynamics, generously funded by the Kikkoman Foundation and the Vereniging Vrienden der Aziatische Kunst.

19 Sep 2014: Launch of website ‘Shared Taste’ and announcement of ‘Shared Taste Lecture Series’. Venue: cafe ‘Grote Beer’, Rembrandtstraat, Leiden, 17:00 – 18:30 hrs.

12 Dec 2014: Inaugural lecture of ‘Kikkoman Chair’ professor Anne Gerritsen, Academiegebouw, Leiden University, 16:00 hrs

January 2015: ‘ideas lunch’, to share and exchange ideas on Asia foodways and food culture, Leiden

13 Feb 2015:  »De vroege wereldreizen van een theekopje ». [In Dutch] At Princessehof Leeuwarden, accompanying the exhibition ‘Time for Tea

1 May 2015: Dr. Ines Prodöhl (German Historical Institute, Washington DC), ‘The global history of soy [title tbc], University of Leiden

end of Aug 2015: Intensive Workshop / Conference on Food and Foodways: Asia and Europe


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