Defining food risks and food anxieties throughout history
Nowadays, safe food is at the centre of concern of governments, scientists and the public. This essay surveys the social implications of this concern, and particularly addresses the question how historical wisdom may contribute to present-day understanding of food scares. After reminding briefly of social implications of today's food fears, it presents three scholarly approaches to food crises and anxieties in the past (labelled “teleological” and “contextual”, with a division of the latter into “limited” and “broad”), and provides one example of a complex relationship between food and health in the past. The essay concludes that it is not only indispensable to conduct historical research to situate present-day developments with regard to legislation or consumers’ reactions, but that it is also needed to acquire a sense of relativism with regard to present-day food safety, quality and scares.