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Sampling the Changing Face of Food

Painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
You are What You Eat?

Food gives us the energy to be and the rituals associated with consuming it – whether they are as simple as sitting down to a meal or as complicated as a Passover Seder – define us.  We are what we eat; but we are also defined by how we eat.  Eating is one of the things we all have in common and it has long been a topic for study.  Food preparation also defines us: making and taking time, bringing families and friends together as well as separating them.  Food is also big business and in various parts of the world – and certainly America – a hobby and “guilty pleasure”.  And food and its preparation are entertainment: from dinning at a favorite restaurant to watching a cooking program on television.  As the world grows closer and closer together – entwined in a web of influences and dependencies -- we can look to the discovery of the New World as a continuing example of the first globalization.  What is referred to as the Columbian Exchange – the trading and cross fertilization of life and disease between the Old and New Worlds – continues to change the planet.  Early on it had dramatic effect: from population growth to war and famine.  Potatoes and corn have spread to feed millions and millions of people and Italian food wouldn’t be the same without the tomato.  Today more than ever, but only because of the scope of human habitation and the reach of our technology, we have reasons to be concerned for the food supply as for as for what we eat.  Food is fun; but it’s a very serious economic, environmental, cultural, demographic, scientific, social, and political topic.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”  You can understand this on a variety of levels.  One level of understanding, of course, might be quite literal.  For instance, a mother might point to a newborn child and proclaim, “Made with beans” or, perhaps, “Made with beef.”  Or a keen observer might note that because your favorite foods are Italian you have some degree of Italian ethnicity.  In today’s world, especially, both conclusions might generally be incorrect, since Americans customarily eat a varied and non-exclusionary array of foods and ethnicity, alone, does not control food choices.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”  The phrase is believed to have been first been used by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).  A great lover of cheeses, he is also credited with writing: “A desert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”  Brillat-Savarin is considered by some to be the father of the low-carbohydrate diet.  He believed obesity was caused by sugar and flour and that a meat diet kept one thin as did a vegetarian diet until the inactivity of old age took control.  The phrase’s form used by philosopher and theologian Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872), in his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1843), is more famous: "Der Mensch ist, was er ißt” “Man is what he eats.”   Feuerbach saw food as having ethical and political importance.  In 1850 he wrote: “Food becomes blood, blood becomes heart and brain, thoughts and mind-stuff.  Human faire is the foundation of human culture and thought.  Would you improve a nation?  Give it, instead of declamations against sin, better food.” The phrase has been popularized since then and is now a favorite with healthy eating advocates.  Feuerbach was a vegetarian.  He recommended beans as a cheap substitute for meat and argued that the revolutions of 1848 failed in Europe because of the poor energy reserves of the masses.  He was also an atheist and a materialist.

So how about this portrait?  There are many of these composites.  Well, there’s no evidence this man ate exclusively the foods used to create his portrait.  It’s interesting, nonetheless, and it features things common in Europe at the time of its creation.   The artist is Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593).  He became the court portraitist in 1562 to Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna and then, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II in Prague.

To learn more about Arcimboldo and his portraits, visit the article Arcimboldo's Feast for the Eyes and be sure to watch the associated video.  See also:  Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, ed., Arcimboldo, 1526-1593 (Milan: Skira, 2007) and Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Arcimboldo: Visual Jokes, Natural History, and Still-Life Painting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).  For the former: Lockwood Library ND623.A7A4 2007.  Consult the catalog for availability for the latter.

Reference Works about Food, History and Culture

The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (Online)

Cambridge World History of Food (Online)

SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues (Online)

A Cultural History of Food Lockwood Reference Collection: GT2850.C8528 2012

Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink
Lockwood Book Collection: TX349.O94 2007

Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia
Lockwood Reference Collection: GT2850.F666 2011

World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-gatherers to the Age of Globalization Lockwood Reference Collection: TX349 .S66 2013

Nectar & Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology Lockwood Reference Collection: GR498.A53 2000

Books (owned by UB Libraries) Dedicated to a Single type of Food



Use the following subject keywords when searching the Library Catalog to find other books dealing with food
(Also see our Pinterest page of book covers of recent food-related items)

Dinners and Dining
Food Consumption
Food Habits
Food History
Food in Art
Food in Literature
Food Industry and Trade
Food Preferences
Food Writers
Food Writing
Wine and Wine Making
Wine Industry

Films about Food

American Meat.  This documentary chronicles the grassroots revolution in sustainable farming. "Directed by New York City filmmaker Graham Meriwether, the movie explains how America arrived at its current industrial meat system, and shows you the feedlots and confinement houses, not through hidden cameras but through the eyes of the farmers who live and work there. The film examines the debate over whether small-scale sustainable farming can ever produce enough food to feed America. The film also features both farmers who run confinement operations and raise their animals outside without the use of antibiotics. Meriwether and his team spent four years traveling across the country interviewing farmers, taking care to provide a balanced look at the economic and environmental issues facing them today."--Website.

In Babette's Feast, a woman flees the French civil war and lands in a small seacoast village in Denmark, where she comes to work for two spinsters, devout daughters of a puritan minister. After many years, Babette unexpectedly wins a lottery, and decides to create a real French dinner--which leads the sisters to fear for their souls. Joining them for the meal will be a Danish general who, as a young soldier, courted one of the sisters, but she turned him away because of her religion. The village elders all resolve not to enjoy the meal, but can their moral fiber resist the sensual pleasure of Babette's cooking? Babette's Feast deservedly won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This lovely movie is impeccably simple, yet its slender narrative contains a wealth of humor, melancholy, and hope.  –
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2480: PR6003 .L545 B32 2001

Eat Drink Man Woman.  Writer-director Ang Lee's 1994 Oscar nominee tells a family story about a chef and his three daughters through the meals the chef prepares and serves his family. This touching, dryly funny story of a family coping with personal lives and the way those lives intersect with the family relationships captures a shift in generations in Taipei. The father, a famous chef who has lost his taste buds, still cooks, though he draws no pleasure from eating. His daughters, meanwhile, deal with both the disappointments and surprises of daily living and the way their adult lives compare to the expectations the widowed father had for them. A subtle, amusing--and mouth-watering--comedy of impeccable manners. -
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2488: PN1997 .Y47 2002

Farmageddon. Americans’ right to access fresh, healthy foods of their choice is under attack. Farmageddon tells the story of small, family farms that were providing safe, healthy foods to their communities and were forced to stop, sometimes through violent action, by agents of misguided government bureaucracies, and seeks to figure out why. – Farmageddon Official movie site (
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2481: HD1476 .A3 .F37 2011

Fast Food Nation exams the health issues and social consequences of America’s love affair with fast food.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 1448: PN1995.9 .M45 F378 2007

Food Design takes a look at the secret chambers of a major manufacturer of food, where designers and scientists are defining your favorite mouthful of tomorrow. It shows how form, color, smell, consistency, the sounds made during eating, manufacturing technique, history and stories are all aspects of food and eating that both influence food design, and are created by it.
Watch via SnagFilms:

Food Inc. Explores the U.S. commercial food industry, examining corporate control of supply and market. The film seeks to demonstrate how the incentive for corporate profit can overwhelm consumer health needs, as well as the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and the environment. Reveals various details of food ingredients and additives, and how contemporary mass production methods of food affects U.S. culture.
Silverman Library [Capen]/Reserve: DVD 1726: HD9005 .F66 2009

FoodMatters With nutritionally depleted foods, chemical additives, and our tendency to rely upon pharmaceutical drugs to treat what’s wrong with our malnourished bodies, it’s no wonder that modern society is getting sicker. Food matters sets about uncovering the trillion-dollar worldwide ’sickness industry’ and gives people some scientifically verifiable solutions for curing disease naturally.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2372: RA784 .F66 2009

Forks Over Knives examines the claim that most if not all degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. It traces the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Although they didn’t know each other, their individual research led to startlingly similar conclusions: degenerative diseases could usually be prevented--and in many cases reversed--by adopting a whole food, plant-based diet. Despite the profound implications of their findings, their work has remained relatively unknown to the public. The filmmakers explore the ancient idea of food as medicine, following "reality patients" who have adopted a whole foods plant-based diet as the primary approach to treat their ailments.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2374: RA645 .N87 .F67 2011

Fresh celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet. Among others, Fresh features urban farmer and activist Will Allen, sustainable farmer and entrepreneur Joel Salatin, and supermarket owner David Ball.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2483: HD9005 .F74 2012

The Future of Food.  Documents the trend of unlabeled genetically-modified foods which have become increasingly prevalent in grocery stores. Unravels the complex web of market and political forces that are changing the nature of what we eat. Explores organic and sustainable agriculture as alternatives to large-scale industrial agriculture.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2249: TP248.65 .F66 F88 2007

Ingredients unearths the roots of the local food movement and digs into the stories of the chefs, farmers and activists transforming our broken food system.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 2482: HD9005 .I54 2011

King Corn.  Fueled by curiosity and a dash of naiveté, college buddies Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis return to their ancestral home of Greene, Iowa, to find out how the modest corn kernel conquered America. With the help of real farmers, powerful fertilizer, government aid, and genetically modified seeds, the friends manage to grow one acre of corn. Along the way, they unlock the hidden truths about America’s modern food system.
Law Koren AV Center / 3 Day: DVD HD9049 .C8 U65 2007

Like Water for Chocolate.  Romantic fantasy set in Mexico during the early 20th century. A young couple is blocked from marrying by the demands of the young woman’s cold and selfish mother. To be near his love, the young man marries her sister, and she expresses her passion for him through her cooking.
Silverman Library [Capen]/Reserve: DVD PN1997 .C657 2000

Super Size Me.  Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock embarks on a journey to find out if fast food is making Americans fat. For 30 days he can’t eat or drink anything that isn’t on McDonald’s menu; he must eat three square meals a day, he must eat everything on the menu at least once, and supersize his meal if asked. He treks across the country interviewing a host of experts on fast food and a number of regular folk while downing McDonald’s to try and find out why 37% of American are now overweight. Spurlock’s grueling diet spirals him into a metamorphosis that will make you think twice about picking up another Big Mac.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]: DVD 402: TX945.5.M33 S87 2004

What We East. This video series examines the origin of regional agricultural products and their dissemination throughout the world.
Silverman Multimedia [Capen]:  DVD 2582: TX645 .B97 2002


  • Food Timeline
    A U.S. based food timeline from 17000 BC to the present. It is not a single website but a collection of related websites with links to food, online cookbooks and recipes of a particular period. There are also food history lesson plans and resources for teachers available.
  • Anthropology of Food 
    A webjournal dedicated to the social sciences of food. Anthropology of food is an open access multilingual academic journal (French, English, Spanish and Portuguese). Since 1999, this journal is produced and published by a network of European academic researchers sharing a common intellectual interest in the field of social sciences and food.
  • BBC: Food Podcasts
    BBC Radio 4’s weekly look at food topics.
  • Big Business: Food Production, Processing & Distribution in the North 1850-1900
    This online exhibition features lithographs, chromolithographs, trade catalogues, trade cards, and product labels from the American Antiquarian Society’s collection that help shed light on major changes in the way Americans in the North produced and sold their food in the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • Cindy Renfrow’s Thousand Eggs
    Site contains information about ancient and medieval cooking and links to further resources.
  • Culinary Historians of New York
    Culinary Historians of New York (CHNY) was founded in 1985 to stimulate and share knowledge of the ways food has affected humans (and humans, food) since earliest times.
  • Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project
    The Feeding America project has created an online collection of some of the most important and influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century. The digital archive includes page images of 76 cookbooks from the Michigan State University Library's collection as well as searchable full-text transcriptions. This site also features a glossary of cookery terms and multidimensional images of antique cooking implements from the collections of the MSU Museum.
  • Food History News
    Site contains an international listing of collections and museums dedicated to food, as well as a list of culinary history organizations.
  • Food Museum
    The Food Museum celebrates food, exploring its history, heritage, and cultural influence worldwide.
  • Food in the Arts
    “A celebration of food's relationship with the Arts.”  Themes covered include food in film, music, literature and art.
  • Food: NPR
    Audio stories on food, nutrition, recipes, cooking, cookbook reviews, and health.
    Site keeps track of hundreds of food blogs from around the world.
  • Edible Geography
    One of the web's best and oldest food blogs. 
    “ is an eccentric world of fascinating food information and fun. Articles, Trivia, Recipes, Cooking Tips, Food Festivals, Today in Food History, etc.”
  • Gastropod
    “Gastropod looks at food through the lens of science and history”
  • iTunes Podcasts: Food
    Podcasts dealing with topics such as beer, coffee, culinary knife skills, vegan cooking, and a whole lot more.
  • Key Ingredients: America by Food
    Online companion site to a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition.  “Key Ingredients examines the evolution of the American kitchen and how food industries have responded to the technological innovations that have enabled Americans to choose an ever-wider variety of frozen, prepared, and fresh foods. Key Ingredients also looks beyond the home to restaurants, diners, and celebrations that help build a sense of community through food.”
  • Meaning of Food
    PBS documentary series companion site; “The Meaning of Food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.”
  • Mediterranean Food History
    Deals with the origins of foods such as macaroni, gazpacho, lemonade, and many other foods used in Mediterranean cooking. 
  • Not by Bread Alone (Cornell University Library)
    Explores the influences and inventions that have shaped American food habits over the past two hundred years (site was created to accompany an exhibit that was on view in the Kroch Library from June 6 to October 4, 2002).
  • Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery
    An annual conference held on food history.
  • The Salt: What's on Your Plate
    NPR's The Salt is an extraordinarily entertaining food blog with an eye toward "food news from the farm to the plate and beyond..
  • Science of Cooking
    Examines the chemistry and science behind food and cooking.
  • Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks
    Handwritten cookbooks, circa 1600s-1960s, documenting culinary history in America and Europe and how tastes have changed over the years.
  • What’s on the Menu?
    New York Public Library's ongoing crowdsourcing project to digitize and transcribe its collection of 40,000 restaurant menus dating from the 1840s to the present.
  • Yahoo! Food
    This site marries the elegant design of a traditional magazine with bite-size stories, engaging videos, and stunning photos.

The Western New York Food Scene


Western New York Food Festivals (arranged by month)