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Why study beer and food cultures?

More than 4,000 years before the Common Era, Babylonians were devising recipes for making beer.  Since then, evidence exists that the fermenting of grains has occurred on every continent.  From Ancient Egyptians to Asiatic peoples, from Assyrian to Incan cultures, from southern Africa to northern Europe, beer has served as nourishment, social lubricant, currency, product of trade, and a source of tax revenue.

Such an arguably essential product deserves closer examination with regard to 1) The Chemistry of Beer – understanding the role various ingredients play in the makeup of beer varieties, the chemical process by which grains are converted into alcohol, how hops bitter the liquid, and the importance of yeast in the fermentation stage; 2) The Craft of Brewing Beer –  undertaking a hands-on introduction to the equipment and techniques required to produce beer from selecting a style to developing a grain bill, performing mash and hop addition calculations, through final bottling, with an educated eye toward the range of the world’s beer provenances and expressions; 3) The Cultural Role of Beer – considering the deep role beer has played in the histories of many cultures, while examining the prominence of beer in everyday social and political life, thereby engendering an understanding of the varying sensibilities by which beer is inseparable from the cultural identity; and 4) The Industry of Beer Production – scrutinizing the commercial monetization of beer, including its large-scale production and marketing, and contextualizing the recent renaissance of the craft and micro-brewery movements as a reflection of a general impulse toward more artisanal forms of being and creative expression.

Meanwhile, because food is the center for all life, it is not only a cure for hunger but also a builder of communities. Food Studies as a discipline examines the environmental consequences of food production while asking questions about the historical, political, cultural, diasporic, environmental and economic dynamics of food. As people examine craft and artisanal forms of food and drink, the social and historical importance of regional and ethnic food and drink becomes a vital part of understanding the vernacular of cultures.

So, why not study beer and food cultures?

© Dr. Robert A. Cole, Professor, Roger Williams University