Alan Davidson

Laureate Erasmus Prize 2003

Theme: Food Culture

‘Food Culture’ was the theme of the Erasmus Prize in 2003. Its choice expresses the idea that food is an undervalued subject that can be studied from a variety of angles: historical, culinary, sociological and biological. The person who embodied this idea was the laureate Alan Davidson.

Alan Davidson was born in 1924. As an employee of the British Foreign Office, he was posted to cities in various parts of the world (The Hague, Cairo, Tunis, Brussels and Vientiane). During his years outside Britain, he began to write books about fish. His first book, Mediterranean Seafood (1972), became a classic because of its combination of biology and recipes. The hobby of writing about fish in the places where he was posted gradually became a career in food history. He was a recognized connoisseur of Laotian cuisine, but the highlight of his work is the authoritative Oxford Companion to Food.

The Erasmus Prize was awarded to Davidson because his infectious enthusiasm led to his reaching a wide audience and to opening many people’s eyes to the great variety in our food cultures and to the importance of food history. His message has also been communicated through the magazine Petits Propos Culinaires, which he founded together with his wife Jane, and through the conferences he initiated and organized, called the Oxford Symposia on Food and Cookery. Alan Davidson died shortly after the award ceremony in 2003.