Davidson, Alan Eaton 1924-2003

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DAVIDSON, Alan Eaton 1924-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born March 30, 1924, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland; died December 2, 2003, in London, England. Diplomat and author. Although his first career was that of a British diplomat, Davidson is remembered primarily as a food historian who was considered by many to be the father of food studies. Serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1943 to 1946, he earned a master's degree from Queen's College, Oxford, in 1948 and then joined the British Diplomatic Service. Working for the Foreign Office, Davidson was given assignments all over the world, including Washington, D.C., the Hague, Cairo, and Tunis. In 1967, he was made head of the Central Department of Foreign Office, and from 1968 to 1971 he was a member of the English delegation to NATO. After serving a year as head of the Defense Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he spent his last few years in the Foreign Office as British ambassador to Laos. It was while stationed in Tunis that Davidson first became interested in the science of food. His wife was having difficulties making sense of all the different names that were given to the same species of fish, and so he decided to study the subject. The result was Seafish of Tunisia and the Central Mediterranean, a pamphlet that became the basis for his first book, Mediterranean Seafood (1972; 2nd edition, 1981). The book was a first of its kind, combining the science of taxonomy with the field of cooking in a guide that proved extremely helpful to cooks and chefs working with foods from around the world. The success of his debut led to other seafood books, including Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos (1975) and North Atlantic Seafood (1979). Leaving government work behind in 1975, Davidson concentrated on research and writing about the history, language, and science of food, publishing such works as Science in the Kitchen (1982), A Kipper with My Tea (1990), Fruit: A Connoisseur's Guide and Cookbook (1991), and, with Helen Sabieri, Trifle (2001). With his wife, in the late 1970s he also founded the small-press culinary magazine Petits Propos Culinaires; later, from 1982 to 2000, he was managing director of Prospect Books. By the 1980s, Davidson was widely recognized as a food authority, a position that was solidified by his work in founding the Oxford Symposium on Food in 1981 and by the publication of the authoritative reference work The Oxford Companion to Food (1999), which he spent twenty years editing and to which he contributed much of the text. Davidson was recognized for these achievements in 2003, when he received the Erasmus Prize from the Dutch government. Other honors included being named a Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1974 and receiving the James Beard Foundation/Kitchenaid Book Hall of Fame Award in 2002. Also the author of a satirical thriller titled Something Quite Big (1993), Davidson more recently moved on to the study of 1930s American comedies, and he was working on a book on the subject just before he passed away.



Independent (London, England), December 4, 2003, p. 22.

Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2003, p. B12.

New York Times, December 5, 2003, p. C12.

Times (London, England), December 4, 2003, p. 40.

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Davidson, Alan Eaton 1924-2003

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