Skip to main content

Eating Yourself Young

The latest strand of this wider research project brought digital methods to bear on the history of eating, vitality and longevity before nutrition science. Supported by an award of £10,000 from the British Academy and JISC, "Eating Yourself Young" explored the UK Medical Heritage Library to identify connections between medical and popular texts on how diet contributed to longevity and bodily vitality. The project investigated how ideas about what constituted a "healthy diet" changed in an era before vitamins and a scientific approach to nutrition management. What was "healthy eating" before these ideas came to dominate? How was it practised? What did medical texts say about the importance of food and diet? And how were these ideas reflected in historical recipes? The project is funded through the new Digital Research in the Humanities programme.

Alongside the work of Principal Investigator Professor James Stark, the project's Research Assistant, Dr Richard Bellis, transcribed unique manuscript recipes from the nationally-significant Cookery Collection held in Special Collections at the University of Leeds. As well as these critical transcriptions, the project team drew on diet and nutrition as a case study in interdisciplinary science in the Victorian period for a chapter in a proposed edited collection to be published with the University of Chicago Press.

During the academic year 2020-21 a team of second year Liberal Arts undergraduate students on the FOAH2001 module at the University of Leeds explored creative ways of using these amazing sources to engage wider audiences, producing a cookbook based on selected recipes. This continuation - "Food, Glorious Food: What the Victorians Ate" - showcased the role of recipes and diet within wider Victorian society.