Sidney Mintz, the cultural anthropologist credited with founding the field of food anthropology, has died at the age of 93, Mintz’s wife has confirmed.
Though he taught a number of subjects over the course of his career and is also credited with founding the anthropology department at Johns Hopkins University, Mintz is most known for his deeply motivated research on the role of food in shaping global societies.
In his own words, Mintz described his work on food as an effort to understand “how world food habits are changing, how the causes of such change work; how the food systems of the West and Asia are interpenetrating; what ‘cuisine’ is, and how cuisines evolve over time; and what the future may hold for the food systems of human beings everywhere.”
Mintz’s most influential works included Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History and Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History. In Sweetness and Power, Mintz praised Americans for their ability to streamline entertainment: “Watching the Cowboys play the Steelers while eating Fritos and drinking Coca-Cola, while smoking a joint, while one’s girl sits on one’s lap, can be packing a great deal of experience into a short time and thereby maximizing enjoyment.”
Mintz himself was the son of a restauranteur — a dishwasher who eventually bought the diner where he worked. It became “the only restaurant in the world where the customer was always wrong,” Mintz said.
In an interview with American Anthropologist, Mintz described his love of food as being the direct result of being his father’s son. “I came by my interest in food honestly; feeding people had become what my father did for a living. As I grew, I was able to help.”