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From Our Followers

Sam Hollins | Lancaster University

Leading up to EPOCH’s sixth Issue, we took to Twitter (@HistoryEpoch) to ask our followers for interesting facts relating to our themes – food and travel. We received a healthy number of fantastic replies to our two tweets, justifying this article. It would be a shame not to highlight our follower’s facts! The takeaway from these threads has been much in-line with how we have felt about the broader Issue. Food and travel, as two fairly broad themes, are intimately tied into different areas of historical interest. That they relate to themes as diverse as conflict, religion, ethnicity, and slavery is perhaps indicative of the complex web of relations between diverse factors. There is certainly a wealth of research being conducted relating to these themes, and this is shown quite clearly in Issue 06. On that slightly pretentious note, we move onto our threads.

Abby Riehl (@thecannibalkid)

Abby Riehl from Trinity College Dublin (who wrote for EPOCH’s Issue 01) tweeted us about cannibalism. Food of a morbid kind for sure, but food nonetheless. As Abby discusses, ‘Jeffrey Dahmer believed that eating pieces of his victims would ensure that they became a part of him forever.’ For Abby, the Catholic practice of the Eucharist – consuming the body and blood of Christ through proxies of a wafer and wine – can be viewed in a similar light. Medieval priests often prescribed the Eucharist as a medicine, believing that the body of Christ would bring the consumer salvation and good health. Abby goes on to explain that theophagy, or god eating, is a historically common ritualistic practice with ‘similar ideological motivators’ to the Eucharist. Beyond health, it has often been the belief across cultures that the consumer, by consuming the flesh of a god, would be able to attain some godly attributes. These attributes, according to Abby, ‘can be passed on to inanimate objects, so that the Eucharist or other foodstuff serving as the godflesh maintains the same efficacy as the deity itself.’ As such, Abby concludes that Eucharist can be considered to be a cannibalistic ritual practice much in the same way as those performed by the Fore people of Papua New Guinea. They eat their deceased elders in order to preserve their knowledge.

Rebecca Jones (@beckmjones)

With the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, meat substitutes are becoming a larger part of the average person’s diet in the west. Rebecca Jones points out that ‘Lots of people, particularly in the West, seem to think tofu is new or faddish – it’s certainly stereotyped as the food of choice for the twenty-first century vegan diet.’ Rebecca suggests that in reality, tofu has been around for a millennium, with the predominant belief being that it originated in China in the third century B.C. China. Now a staple of our modern diets, its history is evidently vastly more interesting than you might think.

Sophie Young (@jeunesophie)

Carrots are orange right? Well, not always, as it turns out. According to Sophie Young, ‘Almost all carrots were purple until orange carrots were bred by Dutch growers in the late 16th century. Our modern-day orange carrots get their colour from beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A (retinol) in the body.’ As Sophie further explains, a deficiency in Vitamin A can lead to vision loss, providing a somewhat scientific basis for the myths surrounding eyesight and carrots. The myth itself might be the most interesting part. As Sophie goes on to explain, ‘this myth may only have become popular as a result of WW2 propaganda, which suggested that carrots would help you see during blackouts in the Blitz.’ The hope was that the Germans would believe that the reason why British pilots were so successful in shooting down enemies was that they were eating carrots, not because of new top-secret British radar technology.

Gareth Johnstone (@Ganattus) & Samuel Hollins (@SamuelHollins5)

Gareth and I, being avid historians and always wanting to share weird and wild historical facts, both contributed to the Twitter thread. We had smaller comments, but they fall along the same lines: Medieval leaders choking to death on food and drink. I commented that, ‘Pope Adrian IV supposedly choked on a fly which had landed in his wine in 1154.’ This is speculation, however. Gareth is currently researching Henry I. According to Gareth, Henry I died from eating a surfeit of lampreys. Gareth concludes by asking, ‘Lesson to learn – don’t eat too many eels?’ Men with incredible levels of wealth and power being slain by food certainly humanizes them in strange and morbid way.

Meredith Guthrie (@MeredithGuthr17)

‘You can’t risk crumbs on a spacecraft, apparently.’ According to Meredith, some of the first meals NASA produced for space travel were compacted into small bite-size cubes or packaged into tubes. Why? Well, Meredith comments that this was ‘in part, to prevent crumbs that could potentially damage the equipment on board.’ The Pillsbury Company was eventually contracted to produce a coating that prevented food crumbs from breaking off during eating. You can read much more about the History of NASA and food on their website.

Sophie Merrix (@_SophyM)

Accidentally finding medical cures and not realising it is a tale as old as time. Sophie Merrix pointed out that ‘Dr Nathaniel Hodges (1629-1688) managed to avoid the plague despite staying in London and treating patients throughout the epidemic.’ How? Well, as it turns out, Dr Hodges took Nutmeg first thing daily, and he drank walnut infused sack in the evenings and ate meat and pickles. Whilst Dr Hodges was aware that something in his odd routines was keeping him healthy, he was not sure what. Others, seeing his avoidance of the plague, copied his routines. What allowed Dr Hodges to remain healthy despite his close proximity to the infected is a mystery, but many suggest that Nutmeg’s antimicrobial and miasmic properties are to thank.

Amy Louise Smith (@AmyLouHistory)

As it turns out, the English drank coffee before they drank tea. Further, they most likely ate it before they drank it, either as the beans themselves or in a paste. Amy tweeted that, ‘The first English coffeehouse was established in 1652, and just a decade later there were over 80 coffeehouses in London.’ Amy points out that coffee was marketed for its supposed medicinal properties, as well as its energizing effects. It was preferred to alcohol as it encouraged productivity rather than “sinfulness”. This continued well into the eighteenth century. ‘Even though, by all accounts, it was pretty gross before they started adding milk and sugar.’

Jenny McHugh (@jmc_hughy)

Travelling by sea has always been dangerous, and not always because of the turbulence of the sea. Jenny McHugh tweeted that, ‘In 1337, the Bishop of Glasgow, John Wishart, and his crew were captured by Englishmen who confiscated their ship and goods. He had been in France to be consecrated as Bishop at papal Court, but probably went home via David II’s exiled court at Chateau Gaillard’. The ship itself had been carrying a large stash of money that was intended to help the war effort in Scotland. In response to the killing of his crew, the bishop went on ‘a hunger strike and the chronicles described him dying “through excessive vexation” at his captors!’

Sophie Merrix (@_SophyM)

Sophie Merrix recounted the story of Olaudah Equiano, who ‘was part of an expedition to explore a north-east Arctic passage to India in 1773.’ Sophie tweets that Equiano was on several such sailing adventures, but he admits that “we fully proved the impracticability of finding passage that way to India.” As Sophie highlights, you can read much more about Equiano’s maritime experiences in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Oluadah Equiano. Sophie has compiled relevant quotes and mapped locations located mentioned in his autobiography here:

Gareth Johnstone (@Ganattus)

According to Gareth Johnstone, the Kingdom of England was thrown into chaos due to a travelling accident. He tweets that, ‘The Wreck of the White Ship off the coast of Normandy meant Henry I lost his son and his niece along with many others’. The following reign of Stephen would, as a result, be plunged into anarchy.

What an excellent array of factoids! This article was assembled by Samuel Hollins from tweets from Abby Riehl (@thecannibalkid), Rebecca Jones (@beckmjones), Sophie Young (@jeunesophie), Gareth Johnstone (@Ganattus), Samuel Hollins (@SamuelHollins5), Meredith Guthrie (@MeredithGuthr17), Sophie Merrix (@_SophyM), Amy Louise Smith (@AmyLouHistory), and Jenny McHugh (@jmc_hughy). Read the rest of Issue 06 for much more.


Sam is currently undertaking an AHRC funded PhD in History at Lancaster University, where he is exploring the political, economic and strategic rationale of Britain during the Cold War. Sam’s research focuses primarily on the development of the Panavia Tornado Multi-role Combat Aircraft as an example of early European defence procurement collaboration. Sam also serves as the International History Editor and Social Media Manager of EPOCH.



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