Harvard University Exhibition Gives Food Scholarly Merit

`NO Food in the Library" might be a familiar rule, but now it takes on new meaning as the title of a major food exhibit at Harvard University.

"No Food in the Library" - with a slash across the "No" - is the first show of its kind, featuring food-related materials from 17 different libraries of the university. A team of scholars gathered together objects and books relating to food from the fields of anthropology, art history, literature, politics, and more.

The exhibit, open until April 30, features rarities - such as Platina's 1474 "De Honesta Voluptate," containing the earliest printed recipes - as well as some amusing surprises. There is a lunch box belonging to United States Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; an edition of Mrs. Beeton's Household Management; a Delacroix lithograph of Macbeth's witches cooking up a sinister stew; and a stunning watercolor of an imaginary fish with a recipe for sorrel sauce.

Set in Harvard's handsome Widener Library, "No Food in the Library" presents food in an academic way. The enormous scope of the collection, dating from 2400 B.C. to the present, makes it a standout with its contrasts of early and often rare prints, papers, and books, along with such items as a recent publication entitled "Junk Food," which spoofs modern American eating habits.

The exhibits are arranged in 14 themes showing how food has affected life around the world and throughout human history. Organizers include Barbara Haber, curator of printed books at Radcliffe College's Schlesinger Library; Joyce Toomre, a fellow at Harvard University's Russian Research Center; and Barbara Wheaton, culinary historian and author of "Savoring the Past."

`WE want to bring credibility to food as a serious subject of study," Ms. Haber says. "We are seriously interested in the significance of food rituals, family customs, and notions about nutrition and how they have changed."

Women's issues over the years are a natural part of food history and are well represented in the exhibit. The theme "Imagined Worlds and Planned Utopias, for Better or Worse" encompasses visions of utopian cuisines and societies for women.

Examples of the significance of food politics are numerous enough for two sections: "The Politics of Food I: The Rulers" and "The Politics of Food II: The Ruled."

"Feeding the Imagination" is the title of a museum case with an Albrecht Durer woodcut of St. John Devouring the Book (1498), along with Maurice Sendak's sketches for his book "In The Night Kitchen."

"We hope other libraries will get similar ideas for food exhibitions," Haber says, "and that scholars will understand the potential for looking at food for ways of understanding individuals, cultures, and nations."

In addition to the Widener exhibition, several other libraries have joined the celebration of food as a scholarly subject:

* "If Music Be the Food: Music Scores on Food and Drink," in the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library.

* "Food In The Jewish Tradition: A Sampling of Harvard Judaica Library Materials Related to Culinary History," also at the Widener Library.

* "Sundry Good and Needful Ordinances: Food and Drink in the Law Library," at the Law School Library, Langdell Hall.

* "Beer, Bread, and Mess Pie: A Selected History of Food," at the Pusey Library.

* "Food and Ritual in East Asia: An Exploration of the Role of Food in the Social and Religious Traditions of China, Japan and Korea," at the Harvard-Yenching Library.

* "The Political Cookbook," at the Schlesinger Library.

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