Harvard University Exhibition Gives Food Scholarly Merit

By Phyllis Hanes, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 1993 | Go to article overview

Harvard University Exhibition Gives Food Scholarly Merit


Phyllis Hanes, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


`NO Food in the Library" might be a familiar rule, but now it takes on new meaning as the title of a major food exhibit at Harvard University.

"No Food in the Library" - with a slash across the "No" - is the first show of its kind, featuring food-related materials from 17 different libraries of the university. A team of scholars gathered together objects and books relating to food from the fields of anthropology, art history, literature, politics, and more.

The exhibit, open until April 30, features rarities - such as Platina's 1474 "De Honesta Voluptate," containing the earliest printed recipes - as well as some amusing surprises. There is a lunch box belonging to United States Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; an edition of Mrs. Beeton's Household Management; a Delacroix lithograph of Macbeth's witches cooking up a sinister stew; and a stunning watercolor of an imaginary fish with a recipe for sorrel sauce.

Set in Harvard's handsome Widener Library, "No Food in the Library" presents food in an academic way. The enormous scope of the collection, dating from 2400 B.C. to the present, makes it a standout with its contrasts of early and often rare prints, papers, and books, along with such items as a recent publication entitled "Junk Food," which spoofs modern American eating habits.

The exhibits are arranged in 14 themes showing how food has affected life around the world and throughout human history. Organizers include Barbara Haber, curator of printed books at Radcliffe College's Schlesinger Library; Joyce Toomre, a fellow at Harvard University's Russian Research Center; and Barbara Wheaton, culinary historian and author of "Savoring the Past."

`WE want to bring credibility to food as a serious subject of study," Ms. Haber says. "We are seriously interested in the significance of food rituals, family customs, and notions about nutrition and how they have changed. …

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