Food, Time, and History

Elias Mandala

in The Oxford Handbook of Food History

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199729937
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Food, Time, and History


In the African countryside, food has a social biography which is both linear and cyclical. According to the golden-age theory, every member of the community deserves access to food, while the alternative perspective argues that not all members enjoy those rights. Both theories fall within what Stephen J. Gould called "time's cycle" or "the intelligibility of timeless order and lawlike structure." As components of time's cycle, the alternative vision and the golden-age theory address the problem of order and represent peasants' collective protest against what Mircea Eliade termed "terror of history," which refers to terrifying events such as famine. The linear nature of the social biography of food is part of Gould's "time's arrow." The old Mang'anja of Malawi referred to famine, a one-time event, as chaola, or moment of rottenness, which is different from recurrent hunger or njala. The history of Malawi's food system represents a story about irreversible change and about days and seasons.

Keywords: food; time's arrow; time's cycle; Stephen J. Gould; social biography; Malawi; famine; seasons; terror of history; Mircea Eliade

Article.  5702 words. 

Subjects: History ; World History

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »