Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Food for Thought

It is Thanksgiving Week and a guy's mind naturally turns to food. (I'm not a sports fan, otherwise I'd have two things on my mind, leaving little gray matter to devote to blog writing.) Over the past few years I've developed an interest in the variety of dietary patterns that must have existed throughout the Chesapeake region. Specifically, I've been interested in the differences between households along the Bay and its principal tributaries and those occupying upland areas. Certainly the availability of fish and shellfish was greater for those along the coast, while inhabitants of the uplands may have had greater access to game and certain wild plant foods. Certain cultigens also may have characterized the diets of uplanders.

Our work at Port Tobacco raises another dimension of dietary variability: the urban-rural continuum. How did the diets of Port Tobaccoans differ from those of their neighbors farther inland? With a heterogeneous population (Scots v. English, free citizens v. slaves, owners v. laborers), might we see differences in dietary patterns within town? And how might those patterns have changed over the course of 200 years?

Addressing these questions requires that we carefully excavate deposits that represent relatively short periods that we can date with accuracy and precision. We will have to recover bones and burned plant remains from past meals. And we will have to be able to relate those deposits to specific households, or at least to classes of households (e.g., wealthy merchant, tradesman, clergyman). A tall order, to be sure, but one I expect we will fill. Of course, we still need comparative data from other sites, and that material is not ready at hand. The quality of dietary data recovery and analysis for archaeological sites in the region can be much improved upon, but I'm hopeful.

For now, think about what you are eating, what your friends and neighbors are eating, and what those similarities and differences say about life and society in the early 21st century.


1 comment:

Dancing Willow said...

Boy Jim... no offense but your personal "dietary investigation" would bore one to tears! How in the world could one trace back tofu?! Tee~hee.
I could definitely see where this would be interesting to find out. Who knows, you might trace back some anthropophagic action much like Albert Fish.
Now I'm intrigued! ..."Grandpa, what's for supper"?

Happy Thanksgiving PTAP Crew!