The History of Meat

image courtesy jypsygen
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Taught by Heather Hess

Heather Hess is an art historian specializing in the aesthetics of dining and banqueting since the Renaissance. What started as an interest in eighteenth-century porcelain (i.e., those adorably cute—or some might, wrongly!, say tacky—Meissen figurines) led to bizarre world of decorative meat carving. (Despite that, she doesn’t eat beef or pork. It’s always open season on ducks, though.) She has lectured widely on the history of meat, most recently at the ‘Food in History’ conference in London and at the Museum of Modern Art.

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Eating cooked food and the use of tools, rather than ripping into raw flesh with our hands, sets man apart from beast. This class examines the history and aesthetics of meat in Europe and the United States: how we eat, what we eat and why it looks that way.

We will look at some bombastic early modern feasts (where, occasionally, a dwarf jumped from a pie) and the curious genre of carving manuals, which turned the everyday practice of dismembering and serving cooked flesh into the seventeenth century’s version of performance art. Along the way, we’ll look at the changes in what gets served (it’s no longer in good taste to serve cow eyeballs to a bride) and question how recognizable our food should be.

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