We’ve reached that inevitable point in the middle of the summer months that dooms all bloggers. That is, the stretch of time where there is just nothing to write about. No movie or sports news—we are still waiting for a little bit of both. Because of that, I thought it was about time to finally set pen to paper on an idea I have had for a new television show, one that would combine history with the single item we can all find common ground on: food! There are an endless amount of documentaries on all time periods in history (though that number has been shrinking in recent years due to a mass-encroachment from mindless “reality”-based shows), but how many of them ever take the time to go into detail on the food consumed in whatever particular time period they are focusing on? The only one that comes to mind is one of my favorites, The Naked Archaeologist, hosted by Simcha Jacobovici, which I love for its simplistic, down-to-earth approach to archaeology, making it fun, interesting, and easy to learn for everyone. The reason why the show is titled as such is because he peels back the layers, so to speak, making the archaeology “naked”. Many times his shows will include little tidbits on food and lifestyles, which I always found fascinating. I think it is a topic that could do very well as a show of its own, because if there is one thing that can humanize a group of people who have been dead for hundreds or thousands of years, it would be details about, and demonstrations of how to cook the food they ate.
This is a show that would require a very large travel budget, as a crew and host would need to span the world in search of different civilizations and explore what they liked to eat, and how they cooked. I would very much like the show to have that easy-going feel of The Naked Archaeologist, where the host allows the guest historians/experts/local storytellers to do the talking, while injecting his own opinion throughout to guide it along. Episodes would be kept to thirty minutes, so that the pacing is quick, with no need for useless filler. Each episode would start out by telling the background history of the particular topic for that week, through on-location interviews and exploration before the host helps out a local living-historian, preferably in period dress, cook a variety of foods. They would then take a step back and give them a taste, with honest facial expressions and opinions to tell us whether or not they really enjoyed it. That would be crucial, because although I imagine some ancient exotic foods would taste great, many would probably be very unappealing to our modern palettes. I also want information of why certain foods were important, and whether or not they inadvertently caused anything special to happen in history.
Below is a short list of possible episodes:
- Wine-making and Spirits of Ancient Rome
- Stadium Fare: Feeding the Masses at the Coliseum
- Olive Oil Pressing and Mediterranean Cuisine of Ancient Greece
- What Would Jesus Eat: Foods of the Bible
- Conquering the Mongolian Steppe: The Foods of Genghis Khan
- Gods of Beer: The Brewers of Ancient Sumeria and Egypt
- Lords and Ladies: Dinner Inside a Medieval Castle
- Let them Eat Cake: The Foods of 18th Century France
- A Revolutionary War Feast at Colonial Williamsburg
- Life of a Soldier: Campfire Eating During the Civil War
And here we have some holiday-themed episodes:
- Victorian England: Christmas Dinner with the Cratchit Family
- An Authentic Thanksgiving Dinner in Plymouth Colony
- An Ancient Celtic Feast on Halloween
Now, what we would call a show like this? How about simply, Eating History? The opening tagline for every episode could be, “We’re going to learn about [insert subject here] one bite at a time!” Something like this could be very marketable and appealing to people of all ages, as well as people who do not even like history. It is also something that can be shown in a classroom after teaching a particular subject. I truly believe students would actually pay attention, because as I said earlier, food can humanize any person or time period in history because we all have to eat. Maybe they would not care about Ancient Rome, but might have their interest sparked if they hear the Coliseum compared to a modern-day football stadium (in function and structure, not entertainment), and instead of hot dogs and popcorn, learn about what the Romans ate instead while watching gladiator matches, among other events.
How amazing would it be to sample freshly made olive oil while standing amidst the ruins of the Parthenon? How about having a glass of wine and breaking some flat bread in the rumored location of Jesus’ Last Supper? Does having a beer in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza intrigue anyone? Better yet, for the Victorian England episode, we could take a look at the differences between Christmas dinners for a wealthy family and a less-fortunate one like the Cratchits, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The list of possibilities is endless. The above list is just a short sampling.
The host and crew of this show would be incredibly lucky, getting to travel the corners of the earth to eat their way through history. I would not even begin to select a host for this, though Jacabovici could probably capture the essence better than anyone else. The person needs to be well-versed in history, be enthusiastic about food, and also have a sense of humor to liven things up, yet not go over the top. Another very important aspect of a show heavily based in conversation is to have a host comfortable with actually letting the guests talk without jumping down their throat, something that the egomaniacs of television today cannot help themselves in doing. Thinking about that conjures up my favorite TV show host of all-time, Mike Rowe, who could be the perfect fit in the personality department. The third name that comes to mind is Bobby Bognar, who hosted Food Tech on the History Channel; someone I admired for the way the episodes of the show were structured and played out.
So, what does everyone think? Would a show like this work? I sure hope that someone involved in television looking for an idea happens to stumble upon this article and finds something useful here. This has been in my mind for quite some time, as I have always wanted to travel the world and try different, exotic foods (wouldn’t we all?). Something like this would be perfect, though I would have to relegate myself to merely a viewer, or possibly, a crew member if the show was produced and those in charge were kind enough to bring me aboard, since I have no experience in front of a camera. But hey, a guy can dream, eh?