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The Taste of Health

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Photograph of three glass test tubes lined up on a bright blue background. Each test tube has a different herb in it, their stems in a small amount of water and their leaves and flowers rising out of the top. In the left hand test tube is mint where there is also a tea bag string and paper tag hanging down. The centre test tube contain Camomile with its bright white and yellow flowers and the right hand test tube contains a herb with a tight knit form.
Love, longing and tea from the polski sklep. © Anna Keville Joyce for Wellcome Collection.

Okakura Kakuzō’s ‘The Book of Tea’ begins with the striking line “Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage” – a truth that extends to the history of many of the practices that we now associate with eating and drinking for pleasure. Since Okakura wrote this, there has been a bifurcation in food and health culture. With the rise of modern medicine, as well as the compartmentalisation of food into mere lifestyle choice, the origins of food as a way to combat unhealth have become obscured; at the same time, an obsession with a depoliticised wellness culture has individualised communal and culturally specific knowledge.

In this series of essays chosen by Vittles editor Jonathan Nunn, five writers look at the documents and places where the link between food and health, as well as its negative – unhealth – have not been forgotten: from the pages of Renaissance food diaries to the policies of 20th-century anticolonial leaders, from the kebab shop to the polski sklep, showing how the personal and political implications of food, health and unhealth cannot be untwined.