Towards a History of Hospital Food

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While contemporary grumblings about hospital food have become the quintessential hospital complaint,1 it is undeniable that a clean, warm bed, rest and the provision of food and drink, rather than medicines and therapies, have over the course of history greatly increased hospital patients’ chances of recovery. From the time of Galen, diet has been a central part of institutional medical therapy. However, even if central to the day-to-day routine of Roman hospitals, Victorian workhouses and colonial asylums, food and drink continue to be overlooked in historical accounts of hospitalization. More than likely, food and drink are so central to daily life that they easily become part of those “(initially) invisible structures” of the everyday and are, therefore, frequently overlooked by contemporary observers and historians.2 If we are to write the history of medicine from below, however, as evidenced by important work undertaken since the 1980s, 3 historians must make greater efforts to address those subjects which were ubiquitous in the hospital experience and central to institutional care in the past.
Food history, as the readers of this journal already know, is a thriving field
of study, with annual conferences, workshops, networks and a substantial and
expanding literature. The conference at which the six articles comprising this
dossier were first presented was the first of its kind in the English language
and aimed to foreground the role of food and drink in health care institutions
over two millennia. Held in Brussels in April 2013, the event, sponsored
by the Wellcome Trust and the Society for the Social History of Medicine,
was a collaboration between the International Network for the History of
Hospitals and the research group Social and Cultural Food Studies (“FOST”)....
Original languageEnglish
JournalFood & History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017


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