Historians with a little food for thought

Posted by pt91 at Aug 04, 2010 04:50 PM |
Can a 21st century household survive on local produce alone?
Drs Naomi Sykes and Richard Jones

Tonight’s dinner will, more likely than not, consist of food that has travelled hundreds of miles to reach your dinner table. It's a very different story from our pre-industrialised world, where communities would rarely source anything outside the boundaries of their own settlements. Is such a lifestyle even possible today? Lecturer Richard Jones, from the Centre for English Local History, is about to investigate.

He will be joining his partner, archaeologist Dr Naomi Sykes from the University of Nottingham in a truly ‘live’ experiment; for the month of September they will live entirely from food sourced within a mile and a half of their Nottinghamshire home.

The plan is to do more than just investigate whether it is a viable option to ‘live off the land’ – they want to study how far a community of today can support two of its members. Far from the dream of self-sufficiency in the BBC’s ‘The Good Life’, Drs Jones and Sykes will instead be relying entirely on what their local village can supply.

The academics will be churning their own butter, baking their own bread, growing their own veg and raising their own chickens. In the process, they’ll be learning skills that medieval communities once relied upon. Anything they can’t make themselves will be bought direct from farmers, and with any luck even their neighbours will pitch in. And they plan to try their hand at some lesser-appreciated alternative foods, such as nettle tea and dandelion coffee.

Dr Sykes is a specialist in medieval food production, as well as an animal archaeologist. Dr Jones is a Lecturer in Landscape History and his research interests, from place-names to medieval manure, are underpinned by the theme of the relationships between people and the land. Living this lifestyle themselves will help them better understand how the land helped to define past communities as well as how it affects us still today.