Pelham’s Paul Freedman combines interest in food and history in new book ‘Why Food Matters’


Paul Freedman

Pelham resident and historian Paul Freedman has devoted a large part of his life to studying and teaching history. His most recent work, “Why Food Matters,” combines his interest in food and history into a detailed analysis of the importance of what we eat. 

Freedman, a professor at Yale University specializing in medieval European history, has previously written “Images of the Medieval Peasant” and “Ten Restaurants that Changed America” and contributed to “Food: The History of Taste.” He earned his BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and both an MLS and a Ph.D. in history from the University of California at Berkeley. He’s published more than eight books and essays over his career as a historian. 

“My work on food and cuisine is relatively recent,” Freedman said. “It comes out of finding out how people position themselves socially, what kinds of things they think mark them off as upper class or sophisticated. Food is an important topic of study not only because we can’t live without it, but because it symbolized who we are in terms of cultural traditions, class, gender (do women prefer certain foods?).” 

“Why Food Matters” is scheduled for release in September by the Yale University Press.

Freedman’s studies in the history of food and cuisine have become quite well-known. He has written two books and edited one on the subject of food. His work focuses on how food tells a story and the way it brings people together. “Food: The History of Taste” emphasizes how fine dining has changed over time and how people’s palettes have developed throughout history.

His interest in history stems from a simple curiosity to learn. By high school, he had become fascinated with the subject. “Like many born postwar, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the Second World War and the reasons for the rise of Naziism,” he said. “I read William Shirer’s ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ with great attention.”

Freedman has studied and taught medieval history for most of his academic career. Along with this topic, he said he was interested in “how religion intersects with war—why people with Christian convictions in particular were motivated to fight in crusades or against heretics.” He has never professionally written about this subject, but he enjoys researching the reasons why violence breaks out among people.