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Eating Exchanges: Food and Religious Encounter in the Early Modern World

Eating Exchanges investigates the role of food in the encounter between those of different faiths in the early modern world (c. 1570 - c. 1690) and the far-reaching consequences of these interactions.


From the apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the maize offerings of Powhatan Indians, and the dietary laws of the Qur’an, the world’s religions have long used food to define the boundaries of faith and community.

The early modern period was marked by both unprecedented interfaith encounter and the exchange of new foodstuffs, as, for example, chocolate and potatoes travelled from the Americas, wheat and livestock moved from Europe, and tea and coffee was traded from the East.

Eating Exchanges zooms in on moments of food exchange between people of different faiths to better access cross-cultural encounter and its wider historical implications – including how we understand colonialism, globalisation, lived religious experiences, and co-existence.

Research questions

The major project research questions are:

  • How did people understand the diet and eating practices of other faiths?
    • How did dietary difference contribute to the construction of religious identities and (colonial) power structures?
  • How was food exchanged between people of different faith groups, both through trade and around the dinner table?
    • How did this impact on interfaith relations?
  • How did immigrants and travellers adapt their food practices to new ecological and cultural environments?
    • How did this affect their religious identities?

As the most essential feature of ordinary people’s daily lives, a focus on food has the unique potential to reveal the values and experiences of religious minorities who are otherwise hidden from the historical record. The latest scholarship is breaking down the Christian-centric approach to the religious history of the Reformation era, and Eating Exchanges pioneers one of the first global and interfaith studies of early modern religion.

Case studies

Focusing on two major case studies – the Republic of Venice and colonial Virginia -  Eating Exchanges takes into account the entangled experiences of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, West Africans, and Native Americans. The history that the project reveals continues to shape the multicultural societies of today and the often unequal distribution of global foodstuffs.

Funded by The Leverhulme Trust

Principal Investigator

Picture of Eleanor Barnett

Dr Eleanor Barnett

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

+44 29225 14678