INTRODUCTION what should my field of study be



I have always been somewhat of an
indecisive person when presented with the opportunity to choose between
anything that I find interesting. That’s because I have always loved to do and
explore a wide variety of subjects and activities. It’s why I chose to develop
a career in graphic design and why I am deeply curious now about branding &
identity design.

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So what should my field of study
be about? Well I thought very hard about this, I had a proper long session just
asking myself: what do I really need to know? what am I always saying ‘oh I
wish I knew more about this’? Jokingly every time an opportunity to write my
own brief has come up, I say I’m going to do it about food, and then do
something completely different.




This time it will be about food.

More importantly I have decided to focus this term to looking at
recipes. Where does the history of recipes begin? How have they changed and
evolved over time? What are the different ways in which they manifest
themselves today? And how are they affecting our eating behaviour and overall


I decided to start my search
chronologically. What was the first recipe ever recorded? Well to my surprise
it seems like it is a recipe for beer, the rations tablet that were issued daily
to many workers is displayed in the British Museum as seen in Fig.1. The
interesting part is that it was passed down as a song. “The Hymn to Ninkasi is
at once a song of praise to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, and an
ancient recipe for brewing. Written down around 3000 BCE, the hymn is no doubt
much older.” (Mark, 2011) Refer to Appendix A for the translated song.


I went on to try and tackle the
enormous task of finding a complete history of the recorded recipe with little
success. I found many different accounts of old recipes but I was struggling to
create a timeline. That is until I found a website where a librarian with a
passion for food history had created an extremely detailed timeline of food and
recipes throughout history (Fig.2 & Fig.3). Lynne Olver
said about her project that “information is checked against standard reference
tools for accuracy. All sources are cited for research purposes. As with most
historical topics, there are some conflicting stories in the field of food
history. We do our best to select and present the information with the most
documented support.” (Olver, 2015) In the section about early recordings of
recipes I found a list of useful sources that gave me a good overview of the
history of early recipes in history. “The earliest known recipes date from
Mesopotamia in the second millennium BCE. It would be rash, however, to
conclude that the Mesopotamians invented cooking. They simply had reasons to
write down their recipes and were the first, along with the Egyptians, to
possess the means to do so; without writing, recipes cannot survive. Yet the absence
of written recipes does not rule out an interest in gastronomic matters of the
existence of sophisticated culinary techniques. For example, the ancient
Egyptians apparently felt no need to write down their recipes, yet we find
instructive traces of their cooking methods in tombs dating from as early as
the fourth millennium.” (Flandrin, Montanari and Sonnenfeld, 1999)


As for the modern history of the
recorded recipe, with the development of the printing press, of which the
earliest mention was in Strasbourg in 1439 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017),
many books were being printed on food preparation and household management. For
example, “books such as Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) by Eliza
Acton, and Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton
(published in volumes between 1857 and 1861) became handbooks for the Victorian
housewife. In the US, American cook Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School
Cookbook became a bestseller in 1896 and featured nearly 2,000 of her recipes.”

(McElwain, 2016)




Nowadays recipes are easily found
in seconds thanks to the internet. They are also not restricted to a single
format, there are videos, blogs, gifs, drawings, and more. In fact, the way
recipes are communicated to us today is extremely varied. I have searched
online, questioned people of different backgrounds and ages, read through a
number of books, and even combed through supermarkets in order to find as many
different types of recipe manifestations as possible. My findings yielded some
very interesting results and I have been able to come up with categories, some
of them predictable, others unexpected but intriguing.


But first, what is a recipe? What
is the recipe for a recipe? Or in other words what elements must there be for
something to be qualified as a recipe? According to the Oxford dictionary a
recipe is “a set of instructions for preparing a particular dish, including a
list of the ingredients required.”


My main categories for recipes
are format and type. Within these I have divided everything into subcategories
as can be seen in Fig.4.




As I have mentioned before,
recipes come in many different formats. When it comes to print, recipes will
appear in more traditional forms such as in books, magazines, and recipe cards.

People will also have recipes scribbled on notebooks or post-it notes around
the house (Appendix B). One of the perhaps overlooked forms of
printed recipes come in the form of food packaging. Aside from cake mixes,
nobody really thinks to purposefully look at the many suggested recipes found
on different products such as flour, mince, and even breadcrumbs among others.


Digital recipes are perhaps the
most widely used today, especially by millennials and young adults (Appendix

A quick google search for the
word ‘recipe’ yields 306,000,000 results (Fig.5) and a
YouTube search for the same term resulted 24,900,000 videos (Fig.6). There are
also countless blogs and websites dedicated to recipes and cooking, not to
mention there are still a lot of cooking channels alive and well on TV and some
great shows available on streaming services such as Netflix.


Verbal recipes, those passed down
by word of mouth are the oldest method for communicating recipes, and it is
still being used today.




During my research I have also come
across a number of types of recipes that caught my attention. The first of
which are translated recipes. It is no news that there are many great chefs
from all parts of the world publishing recipes, and that perhaps someone from
the completely opposite part of the world may want to give it a go. This
sometimes calls for the need of a translator to be able to accurately convey
the original recipe to someone from a different culture and background, which
presents some problems, namely the following: availability, cuts of meat,
measurements, and implements (pots & pans). For more detail refer to pages
48-51 of my visual summary, but the general idea is that sometimes ingredients
are not available or they are very expensive in different parts of the world,
the measuring systems vary and conversion charts may be needed, and many
cultures have their own tools for cooking, or they may use drastically
different words for a similar tool. It is recommended to always do a side by
side comparison test of the original recipe and the translated recipe in order
to be certain that the translation is appropriate.

(Köhler, 2011)




The second type of recipes are
those kept under lock and key, meaning secret recipes. One of my case studies
for this and arguably one of the most famous secret recipes around the world is
Coca-Cola. Many have tried to re-create it. It is even rumoured that only two
people at a time ever actually know the recipe and that they aren’t allowed to
fly together in case the plane crashes. “In February 2011, This American Life
published a story in which they claimed to have revealed Coca-Cola’s original
secret after unearthing a newspaper column published in the Atlanta Journal-
Constitution from February 18, 1979 that showed a hand-written copy of John
Pemberton’s formula.” (Banks, 2016) They even got to recreating this recipe and
had an archivist from Coca-Cola taste test it. However, what I found most
interesting in this radio show was one of the last things Phil Mooney,
archivist for the Coca-Cola company, said that, no matter how close you can get
to the real recipe, even if someone copied their manufacturing process
completely, they still wouldn’t have this very special thing Coke has that
nobody can touch: brand loyalty


“There’s a psychological element
to this product. We’ve got a 125 years’ worth of marketing and advertising. And
people’s memories.” – Phil Mooney

(This American Life, 2011)


Coca-cola have even launched an
installation experience of their secret formula vault, adding to their whole
mystery hype (Fig.7).




Another interesting type of
recipes I found were fictitious recipes. That is recipes that are born from a
fictional world, whether it be a book, movie, cartoon, series, comic strip,


Binging with Babish is a cooking
channel that features iconic recipes from cartoons, films, tv, and literature.

He has recreated everything from a krabby patty to Homer Simpson’s moon waffles


But why do people obsess over
fictional food? Why, when given free reign, do we choose to create fictional
worlds filled with banquets, edible surroundings, and an endless bounty of
sweets? Bee Wilson suggests an interesting point in one of her articles for The
New Yorker. She says that “for most of history, while communities lived in
constant fear of the next famine, the culinary imagination was dominated by
Rabelaisian excess. In children’s books, we are all still ravenous. We share
the hunger of Laura Ingalls Wilder for maple sugar and candy canes. In real
life, sugar is now almost as freely available as the gingerbread on the cottage
in Hansel and Gretel, yet in our bedtime stories it remains a precious
commodity. The sweets in the Harry Potter series, whose release coincided with
an inexorable rise in childhood obesity, are no less lavish and no less lusted
over than those in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

(Wilson, 2014)




Thinking about imaginary food and
food being pulled from digital media such as film and TV I wondered why some
people seem to be obsessed with making food taste like something that it isn’t.

This is what I have called ‘impostor recipes’.


My case study for this was about
fake meat (pages of my visual summary) and understanding how they do it, to
what degree of success, and most importantly the reasons why. I chose to look
into the ‘Impossible Burger’ created by the company Impossible Foods (Fig.9).

Founder Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., says that “Our burger is made from
simple, all-natural ingredients such as wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes. What
makes the Impossible Burger unlike all others is an ingredient called heme.

Heme is a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants, but it’s
uniquely abundant in meat. We discovered that heme is what makes meat smell,
sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty. Consider it the “magic ingredient”
that makes our burger a carnivore’s dream.” (Impossible Foods, 2017)


As for its success and the
reasons why, it seems that “Nutritionally, the Impossible Burger is a lot like
a classic beef burger (but with more protein and no cholesterol, hormones or
antibiotics). Environmentally, there’s a bigger difference: According to
Impossible Foods, making the plant-based meat uses 99 percent less land, 85
percent less water and emits 89 percent less greenhouse gas than traditional
beef production. The company has attracted high-profile investors including
Bill Gates.” (Sterling, 2016) For the full case study refer to pages 60-65 of
my visual summary.




Finally, the last type of recipe
that I found were what I have called ‘abstract’ recipes. What I mean by this is
taking the full ingredient list from food products, mostly through their
packaging, and using that as the recipe for the product. By doing this I have
highlighted some of the big issues with processed foods (fig.10), mostly the
fact that the total sugar content is dangerously high on many processed foods.

Sometimes we don’t even know what we are eating anymore. Sure we can know the
ingredients, but in many cases they are listed by using complex names for
example saying ‘ethyl maltol’ which is a type of sugar, thus slipping in an
ingredient list undetected by consumers.




After my experiment with abstract
recipes I was left wondering how recipes are affecting our health. By this I
mean recipes used by big companies manufacturing our foods, and recipes created
by chefs, cooks, and individuals to create meals. I have started to believe
that our relationship with recipes is very important to our health. The
documentaries ‘In Defense of Food’ and ‘Hungry for Change’ outlined how, in the
case of people who eat mostly processed foods, even though they are consuming
plenty of calories, their bodies are actually starving. This happens because
calories do not equal nutrients. If people eat only empty calories and not
enough fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods, then your health will


 The documentaries name some of the biggest
culprits of chemical additives and ingredients in our food such as: High
fructose corn syrup, MSG, propylene glycol, and other artificial sweeteners. As
a solution to this, journalist Michael Pollan suggests that we should eat food
made by humans, not too much of it, and mostly plants.


 After doing all of this research I was
starting to grow curious and more self-conscious of my own diet. Up until now I
hadn’t really questioned my diet, after all I was eating the foods that I had
been fed all my life by my parents. Meaning my overall diet hasn’t changed at
all, specifically because I am someone who sticks to routine without thinking
twice about it. The saying ‘you are what you eat’ has inspired me to create a
30-day food diary and create a food pyramid that is a metaphor of the current
recipe for my body (Fig.11) which has
raised some concerns and served as a wakeup call for my eating habits.




This unit has made me change the
way I view our relationship to food, and has definitely changed my opinion on
the value of recipes and cooking. I believe that moving forward I will stray
from the specific subject of recipes, although they will always be a key
component of my study, and focus on eating habits, nutrition, and understanding
why we eat the way we do and how we can change these habits for the better. I
have already begun looking into this as I found two key texts that I have
helped grasp a better understanding of why we eat what we eat; those being
‘Food and Culture: A Reader’ by Counihan and Van Esterik as well as ‘Changing
Food Habits in the UK’ by Chris Wardle (visual summary pages 42-45). I want to
make healthy food more attractive for everyone, I want to make a dent in the
growing statistics regarding childhood obesity, I want people to stop being
afraid of cooking, I want to find a way for low income families to have access
to fresh fruits and vegetables. I want to go back to basics.