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Making a Meal of History

A new exhibition has opened in Vevey looking at the food that was eaten in the year 1000, and what it can tell us about early medieval society.

A new exhibition has opened in Vevey looking at the food that was eaten in the year 1000, and what it can tell us about early medieval society.

Historians at the Alimentarium museum are using recent finds from two very different archaeological sites - at Lausen-Bettenach, near Basel, and Charavines, near the French city of Grenoble - to give an insight into life in Europe in the early 11th century.

"This is not an exhibition about gastronomy," said the Alimentarium director, Martin Schärer. "It's about putting food into a social and economic context, especially by looking at agriculture."

What the two sites show is that the years around the turn of the last millennium were a watershed in the production and consumption of food.

"Starting in the 11th Century, there was a change in food production, and new methods were developed to increase the yields of foods - especially cereals. This was accompanied by an increase in the population," Schärer said. "As a consequence, the diet changes. People ate more cereals in the form of porridge and bread, and the consumption of meat decreased."

The period under scrutiny was also one of massive social change. The Church had an increasingly important influence on people's lives, and was one of the main producers of food. The feudal system was taking shape, with the aristocracy becoming more powerful. But this emerging class structure did not necessarily affect what people ate.

"At the start of the 11th Century, the big difference between rich and poor was not the quality, or richness, of what was eaten, it was the quantity," Schärer said. "Poor people ate less, but both ate cereals. It was only in late medieval times that there was a differentiation in what rich and poor ate, and that more importance was placed on the preparation of food."

The Food in the Year 1000 exhibition is at the Alimentarium in Vevey until October 29.

by Roy Probert


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