University of Leeds

University of Bradford

Wakefield Council

You Are What You Ate

Food lessons from the past

Learn more about the history of food, health and medicine in medieval and early-modern times

Food in the Middle Ages
Food in the Early Modern Period
Mood Food in the 17th Century

Image from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Book of Hours, Calendar, January, MS. 9, f. 1v.

History - food lessons from the past

The history of food and the history of medicine are interdisciplinary fields that explore health, illness, nutrition, food production, cooking and eating behaviours over hundreds of years. Through the involvement of specialists from these disciplines in the project, members of the public will be able to explore the ways in which our environment and culture shape our illnesses and eating habits.

Focusing on the medieval (13th to 15th century) and early-modern (16th to 17th century) periods in Yorkshire means we can use a rich range of heritage sites and museum objects, such as those found at Sandal or Pontefract castles. These will help reconstruct past lifestyle choices and encourage reflection on modern choices. The use of modern interactive displays and historical re-enactment methods in cooking combine science and history in rewarding ways.

Food historians work from original recipes and utensils to recreate medieval recipes. This process of re-enactment raises fascinating questions about food processing, food preservation, flavourings and cooking methods. Food historians also use archaeology, financial records and art history to bring the past to life. Medical historians are interested in the relationship between learned dietary theory and healthcare practices. Regulation of diet has always been important in medicine, but were people of the past more likely than us to listen to their doctor?

Food in the Middle Ages

Food in the Early Modern Period

Mood Food in the 17th Century