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Abstract

The burgeoning interdisciplinary field of diet studies examines representations of food, eating and drinking, and other aspects of consumption in literary and non-literary texts. It emerged in the field of British Romanticism, at the intersection of materialist and formalist criticisms, and draws on food anthropology, food history and consumption studies. It also seeks to intervene into philosophy and aesthetics by revealing the corporeal and gustatory tropes that sometimes ground these fields. The Romantic period has proven to be a fertile literary moment for questions about diet. Coinciding historically with the consumer revolution, the period between the 1780s and 1830s saw many changes in diet, including the rise of haute cuisine, and the introduction of luxury foods like tea, sugar, coffee and chocolate. Dietary reformers also sought to introduce potatoes into the diets of the poor in the wake of food shortages. In tandem with this historical context, the 18th century is also known as the ‘century of taste’, and diet studies examine the gustatory dimensions of the aesthetic concept of taste. In diet studies, food is read as a sign that can demystify ‘Romantic ideology’ but that can also maintain its status as a figure. In this article, I review some of the most important works in the field, and suggest some of the reasons that diet studies has proved to be such a productive intervention into Romantics studies.