Tasty tidbits: History professor makes connection between human movement and food

Did you know a slice of pizza or a box of Chinese take-out can act as a road map depicting the flow of human movement and technological advancements throughout history? NKU’s own Dr. Jonathan Reynolds certainly thinks so.

For NKU’s International Education Week Reynolds gave a speech titled “Every Bite a Taste of History” on Wednesday. He discussed the many ways that historians have been able to disseminate food items and trace the movement of humans throughout history.

The small group in attendance was given an insight as to how historians have changed their opinions regarding food as an informational tool over time.

“Every single thing we are capable of doing in the world right now, even holding the World Series or making movies, is actually dependent on sedentary agriculture,” said Reynolds. “If it wasn’t for sedentary agriculture, we would still be chasing Mammoths with sharp sticks.”

One main example Reynolds used within his speech was the story of pizza, and the way which the history of the Italian people can be traced through the transformation of their diet. Pizza was originally a flat piece of bread with olive oil drizzled over top of it. The bread itself gives historians a way to measure human movement, the flat bread coming from the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

What we all recognize today as pizza would not have come into existence if not for the discovery of the Americas, which led to the discovery of the tomato. Tomatoes are not indigenous to Italy, and only with the help of human movement throughout history were the Italians able to gain access to many of the ingredients we now recognize as staples of Italian food.

Tomatoes from the Americas were introduced to Italy in the late 1400s or early 1500s. Mozzarella cheese, another main ingredient of pizza, comes from water buffalo, which are indigenous to South East Asia, Reynolds told the group. “Pizza is a result of world history bringing the ingredients in pizza to Italy,” said Reynolds.

Pizza is just one example of how we view food as being very cultural. BBQ is another great example of how people are misinformed as to where their food originates. Many people think BBQ is an American cooking style, but Reynolds said BBQ has its roots in West Africa, or possibly Korea, where the indigenous people there have a long history of cooking food over an open flame.

Drake Karpinsky, entrepreneurship major, said he found the speech interesting. “We think that one country has a specific food item, but in actuality the ingredients in these foods come from many different places,” Karpinsky said. He said after attending the speech, he will be more inclined to research where the food he eats comes from.

Andrew Kist, NKU freshman, said the speech won’t change the way he eats, but it will most certainly make him think about where his food comes from. “You never think that pizza is from anywhere but Italy, but some of the ingredients are from Mesopotamia and South East Asia. I thought it [the speech] was really neat,” said Kist.

When asked about the turnout of around 20 individuals, Reynolds said he would have liked to see more students attend the speech, but recognizes the time of the speech and the busy lives of many NKU students may have hindered attendance.

“One of the things I love about Northern Kentucky University students is that they are real people and they work for a living. And so I understand if people have to go out and earn some money,” stated Reynolds.